As a writer for a women’s website, I have been on an explicit mission to meet young women at the Republican National Convention this week — a task which sounds simple, but was surprisingly, disappointingly difficult.
After Tiffany Trump’s speech on Tuesday night, I walked in circles around the drab beige halls of the Quicken Loans Arena, hunting for young women to interview.
But after two hours passed, I began to feel less like a reporter and more like a desperate pick-up artist on the prowl.
I waited outside the women’s bathroom, eyeing up women who looked my age, and tried to approach females who were alone or idle. I perfected my “pick-up line,” so to speak: “Hi, I’m a reporter interested in talking to young Republican women about the election. Would you be willing to talk to me?” I even cornered older women, practically crying, “Help me find the young!” One woman I interviewed, a delegate from Texas, actually laughed and wished me luck finding anyone who was not a 50-year-old man. Young women at the RNC, it felt, were an endangered species.
When I ran into another reporter I knew and told her about my plight on Wednesday night, she said she had observed the same.
“We’ve done several interviews with young Republicans, student Republicans, college Republicans, for NowThis, and all of them have been male. They’ve been a little bit diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation, but not in terms of gender,” said Versha Sharma, managing editor of NowThisNews. When I asked if she was looking specifically for men, and that’s why she ended up with these interview subjects, she said, “No — we’re just looking for specifically young.”
“We need to grow the number of young people, and also women, but that’s something we already know,” said Viviana Freije, 37, an alternate delegate for Donald Trump from Puerto Rico. When I told her about my difficulty finding young women, she said, “I agree with you, yes, it’s mainly middle-aged people” at the convention. But when I followed up and asked if
she noticed any gender gap, she said, no, “there’s no gender divide,” and when I asked her how the party could help attract young people, she said, “I don’t know.”
Courtney Neracker, 22, an alternate delegate for Georgia, didn’t have the answer either. “I think, definitely, there are more young men that are here than young women,” she said. But then she contradicted herself, adding, “But I think it’s pretty proportionate, actually.”
Then she said: “I honestly don’t really think about gender, to be honest. I don’t really think about how many women are here, how many guys are here. I see all of us as equal. As of right now, there are more guys here, but it’s not prevalent to me, like I would notice it.”
Piper Hutchinson, 20, an alternate delegate from Georgia, also said she did not notice a specific gender disparity. Instead, she focused on the lack of millennials in general. “There isn’t a ton of young women here, but there are a good number,” she said, adding, “It is hard for young people to get involved in politics.”
Explaining that many 20-somethings still rely on their parents for financial support, she said, “For most people, it’s not feasible for them to come here and become delegates until they’re in their 30s. For [young people] it’s kind of a fluke.”
It should be noted that this is a political event where the biggest moment so far (aside from the plagiarism story) has been a middle-aged white guy snubbing white guy in an arena where the mood can be best described as a preppy baseball game.
The biggest celebrities are Kid Rock and Scott Baio — not exactly appealing to the Coachella crowd, and in addition to delegates, typical convention guests include seasoned professionals from political organizations and the media. Political conventions are not known for attracting large crowds of young people of either gender.
Meredith Karbowsky, 17, attended the convention with Junior State of America, a bipartisan nonprofit organization focused on engaging young people in politics. Karbowsky identifies as libertarian but told me that she supports Trump because of his history of employing and promoting women within the Trump organization.
“I went out and did my own research, and one of the things I found was that Donald Trump hires a lot more women and he appoints women to CEO positions a lot more often than other major corporations. In this case, actions speak louder than words.”
Though she won’t be 18 by election day, she was more blunt about her opinions on the perceived gender gap within the RNC. “I think that they could be doing a lot better,” she said of her party’s outreach to young women. “They don’t always talk about the issues that young women care about, and they don’t make an effort to reach out to young women and see what issues they care about.
They kind of assume what issues young women care about.” She cited paid family leave and equal pay as issues she’s passionate about and wants Republicans to address in their platforms.
“A lot of people care about the social issues,” she continued, “and the way that women are treated in society.” Karbowsky identifies as a feminist and and says she is frustrated that feminism is often treated as a dirty word in Republican circles. “It’s something the Democrats talk a lot more about than the Republicans.”
“I feel like there definitely could be a lot more young women [at the RNC]. And I feel like, with the way society views women in politics today, they are kind of influenced to not get involved in politics,” she said.
“And so I feel like if we work to break that stigma and work to get more women involved in politics in both parties, then I think you’re going to get a lot more women to come to events like this.”