A woman has not moderated a Presidential debate in 20 years. In fact, only one woman — Carole Simpson of ABC– has filled that position since the Commission on Presidential Debates started hosting the events in 1988.
Three teenagers from New Jersey are looking to change that. Emma Axelrod, 16, Sammi Siegel, 15, and Elena Tsemberis, 16, started a petition to the commission that picks moderators asking them to consider a woman for the post. That quickly grew to over 117,000 signatures, and another petition, directly to the candidates, garnered another 53,000.
The girls are excited about their success, and now they’re taking the petition where it counts –right to the commission that decides on a moderator. ThinkProgress got a chance to speak with Emma, Sammi, and Elena while they were on their way to Washington to drop off their petition and sit down with the commission.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length
What led you guys to start this petition?
SAMMI: It kind of started off in school. It was mentioned to us that there hasn’t been a female debate moderator in 20 years and we just thought it was absolutely ridiculous and we decided to jump on the opportunity and bring this to the public’s attention and write a petition.
Why do you think it’s important to have a woman moderate the debate?
ELENA: I think just seeing a woman on the political stage in a position of power and prominence is important. There is a serious lack of women’s visibility in society and it’s teaching teenage girls to believe that they are not as capable and not as worthy or valuable or intelligent as men and it can be detrimental for many girls growing up in America.
EMMA: Twenty years is four years’ longer than I have been alive. The debates are very important in deciding who is going to be the future leader of America, one of the most powerful nations on earth, and the fact that half of our population has been missing for 20 years that’s longer than a coincidence, that’s a trend.
SAMMI: In a world where these girls and boys are watching as two men run for the highest position of power in our country, there needs to be a woman thrown in the mix to provide as a role model for people who are inspired to be in positions of power in the political realm. Watching a woman asking her own questions in her own voice is really important.
How has the response been from the people signing it?
ELENA: The responses online for the petition have been mixed. A majority are positive but when we appear in articles online, some people comment on them ‘oh women are meant to stay at home and make dinner, what are you guys doing?’ just very gender-stereotypical comments that are discouraging.
EMMA: A lot of people who are supportive of what we’re doing are calling into question why we are starting with something so small, the big problem is there’s never been a woman president. But, this is a very doable thing. And if we achieve our goal it could have a big impact.