Nashville Voices: Local Women Share Their Thoughts on Power

Votes for Women Sets the Stage to Explore Women’s Rights

What does the future look like for women and girls?

That’s the question that Nashville Public Library (NPL) is asking with Votes for Women. The new exhibit, set to open June 8, will tell the pivotal and dramatic story of Nashville’s role in winning women the right to vote and also provide a space to explore the core themes surrounding women’s roles, democracy, and power.

To find the answer, we spoke with just a few of the countless amazing women who call Nashville home.

Here’s what they had to say.

Dr. Echell Eady

Dr. Echell Eady

Dr. Echell Eady is the Executive Director of Girls, Inc. and the Vice President of Community & Economic Development, YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee. Girls, Inc. equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers through long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and research-based programming. YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee is one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in the region focused on the needs of women, girls, and families. They are deeply committed to working on issues of gender, economic, social, and racial justice.

What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?

I want the political landscape to be different for the next generation. Women and girls have proven ourselves to be strong, capable leaders who possess every imaginable skill and ability to perform in every sector of society. It is shameful that identifying as a woman is still considered a disadvantage when running for public office.

What does the right to vote mean to you?

The right to vote means the right to weigh in on the creation of our own destinies. If having the right to vote wasn’t important, there would not have been so many efforts throughout history (and today) to usurp that right. Women must protect and exercise the right to vote for ourselves, our families, and our future.

What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?

I wish I had the power to be in several places at once. On most days, there are multiple opportunities to make a difference for someone at the same time we’re making a difference elsewhere. I try to mentor young people who aspire to serve communities. The practice of training and mentoring others can multiply impact, as my mentors have done through me over the years.

Kate Tanis McKinnie

Kate Tanis McKinnie

Kate Tanis McKinnie is the Director of Development for The Next Door Treatment Center for Women. The Next Door is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing a continuum of care for women with addiction in an environment of faith, equipping them for lives of wholeness and hope. The Next Door’s inpatient and outpatient treatment center provides services to women who are impacted by addiction, mental illness, trauma and/or incarceration.

What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?

I want voting rights for former offenders and those with past felony convictions to be different for the next generation of women.

What does the right to vote mean to you?

To me, it means empowerment! When you use your voice to cast a vote for the candidate that best represents your values and goals for the direction our country should be heading in, nothing feels better than making your voice heard through voting.

What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?

The power to make voting more appealing to more people – of all races, gender identities, backgrounds, faiths and social classes. 

Barbara Gay

Barbara Gay

Barbara Gay is the President of the League of Women Voters of Nashville, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation of citizens in government.

What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?

Our wish for the next generation of women is equal pay and respect in the workplace and full representation in all levels of government. The League of Women Voters looks to motivate the next generation of women to be confident and informed leaders.

What does the right to vote mean to you?

The right to vote amplifies our voice. Without it, those in power could dramatically change our lives. The League of Women Voters was created to support our democracy by educating voters and encouraging their participation in government.

What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?

Participatory democracy requires active participation of citizens. The League of Women Voters wishes we had the power and ability to engage all citizens as active participants in the election process.

Vanessa Helbig Johnson

Vanessa Helbig Johnson

Vanessa Helbig Johnson is the Director of Girls, Inc. and YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee. Girls, Inc. equips girls to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers through long-lasting mentoring relationships, a pro-girl environment, and research-based programming. YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee is one of the oldest and largest nonprofits in the region focused on the needs of women, girls, and families. They are deeply committed to working on issues of gender, economic, social, and racial justice.

What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?

I want safety, societal expectations, pay, treatment, and society’s value place on women to be different for the next generation of women.

What does the right to vote mean to you?

The right to vote to me means we can all be difference makers. The right to vote is hope.

What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?

The form of power that I wish I could have is that my voice would be valued by men.

Jen Starsinic

Jen Starsinic is the co-founder & co-executive director of Girls Write Nashville, a nonprofit songwriting mentorship program that cultivates empowered expression and positive community for teen girls. Their research-driven curriculum is designed to build resilience and confidence in girls while space-making for an inclusive and safe city-wide music scene.

What do you want to be different for the next generation of women?

Everywhere I go, I see advertisements and social media creating negative self-talk for girls and women; I see politicians talking about women instead of talking to women; I see girls being encouraged to compete with each other instead of supporting each other. I have interactions with men — and sometimes other women — both professionally and socially in which they talk down to me for no reason, and then don't even seem to be cognizant of it or willing to become self-aware about it when called out. I waste so much time fighting for my own intellectual space and fighting against automatic assumptions. I would love to think someday the next generation of women will be treated with enough respect by society to ask them directly what they think, feel, want, and need.

What does the right to vote mean to you?

The right to vote, especially in a representative democracy, is essentially an acknowledgement of personhood. It means I am a person in this country, and that I have the same right to self-determination and self-representation as every other person. It means autonomy, one of a person's most sacred and inalienable natural rights and needs. Not autonomy to do whatever you want, but the autonomy to impact reality based on your own decision-making.

What form of power do you not have that you wish you did?

I wish that women had more power, period. Government and leadership positions should be gender balanced. On a more specific daily level, I wish I felt more power in healthcare. Obviously I'm talking about the constant obsession with restricting a woman's autonomy over her body and healthcare decisions, but also I'm talking about things like the fact that women are still way underrepresented in clinical research studies. So often when people talk about human health they're talking about male bodies, and women suffer: we are mis- or under-diagnosed, our pain and issues dismissed. How is it true that in the U.S. the maternal mortality rate has been going up for almost 30 years and yet we are closing women's healthcare centers?

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