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City councilwomen address #MeToo movement


Susan Sandberg discusses wages for firefighters and police officers Oct. 8, 2014, at the City Council Meeting in City Hall. When Sandberg joined Bloomington City Council, it was an all male council.  Bari Goldman Buy Photos

Bloomington City Councilwoman Susan Sandberg said she knows what it’s like to fight for respect in a male-dominated field. 

After all, she said, the females of city council are the workhorses of the group.

“Since women have to work twice as hard for half the respect, you can count on women to work hard,” Sandberg said. 

Sandberg is an IU alumna who currently works as a career adviser with the Career Development Office in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

She served as a social worker, community volunteer and member of the Bloomington Utilities Service Board before being appointed to the Bloomington City Council by the Democratic Caucus in 2007. At the time of her appointment, the city council was all male.

Since then, three other women have joined her, making the total female count four out of nine. These women are Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Dorothy Granger and Allison Chopra.

Bloomington City Council President Dorothy Granger speaks before the listening session about the armored vehicle. The Town Hall Listening Session took place Tuesday, Feb. 20.  Ty Vinson Buy Photos

Councilwoman Isabel Piedmont-Smith asks for more information from city planning presenters Sep. 14, 2016. Piendmont-Smith says she believes female representation in politics is important because women bring fresh perspectives to the system.  Matt Rasnic Buy Photos

Sandberg has been participating in women’s marches since the 1960s, when she first became eligible to vote. When she was first approached about joining city council, she was a single mom and wasn’t sure if she could fill the role because she was so focused on her child. This is a feeling Sandberg said holds a lot of women back.

Sandberg expressed great admiration for the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. She said she is no stranger to sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Sandberg described various incidents at her first jobs in which she faced sexual misconduct. At one of her jobs, she said her boss would call female employees by the body parts he liked about them, such as legs or boobs, rather than using their names.

She described another incident at a holiday party, in which her boss dressed up as Santa Claus and had all the female employees sit on his lap and tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. She said she hid in the bathroom for the entire holiday party to avoid being forced to sit on his lap. 

“I knew in my heart this isn’t right, but I didn't have the guts to speak up," Sandberg said. "Instead I ran and hid. It’s not easy to speak out because you don’t think anybody will listen to you or believe you. You don’t feel you have a platform to say ‘this isn't right.’” 

Piedmont-Smith said female representation in politics is important because women bring fresh perspectives to the system. 

She also said she's optimistic about the #MeToo movement.

"These attitudes that powerful men have in regard to women have been ingrained for many generations, but we’re finally on the path to change,” Piedmont-Smith said.

Sandberg attributes the recent resistance among women as a direct backlash from President Donald Trump. She said his frequent misogynistic comments, such as the one caught on an "Access Hollywood" tape, have encouraged women to rise up. She predicts that in the upcoming 2018 elections, people will see women roar.    

“Women are not just toys that men can grab whenever they want to," Sandberg said. "Their time is up.”

Today, Sandberg said she is happy to see the increase in female representation among the city council. She says her fellow male members are respectful and enjoyable to work with, although she still faces minor offenses such as being referred to as councilman even though she prefers the gender-neutral term councilmember. 

She advised young women seeking leadership roles in politics to know the time commitment, budgeting and communication that it takes. She also suggested finding a mentor, herself included. She said she's more than happy to share her knowledge with anyone who wants to someday join city council. 

“The more women step up to lead, the more equality we have," Sandberg said. "Take your rightful place at the table.”

An updated photo caption incorrectly identified Susan Sandberg as the first woman to join City Council. The IDS regrets this error.

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