You may have heard that the upcoming midterm elections have attracted an unprecedented number of female candidates. You may not have heard that an unprecedented number of them are scientists, doctors, and engineers, exactly the sort of clear-thinking heroines — or Strong Female Characters — we focus on here at Fangrrls. So we decided to talk to them about who they look up to, and how science informs their candidacies. Welcome to the first in an occasional series.
Chrissy Houlahan is running for Congress to represent a district just outside Philadelphia. She’s a former sneaker executive, an Air Force reserve officer, and a Stanford University-trained engineer.
Who were your heroes growing up?
What is really actually pretty tragic about them is most of them are men or boys. Probably my biggest hero is Indiana Jones. I admired him and his combination of intellect and physicality and grit, and his passion for traveling and seeing the world and for adventure. When I went to college interviews with my father, one of the interviews was at a prestigious Ivy League school not-to-be-named, and the interviewer asked me who my heroes were, and I told him, “Indiana Jones.” I thought that that was a good answer, and I walked out and I told my dad that that's what I said. And my dad was just mortified, because he could not believe that I hadn't come up with like some historically important figure. And the funny thing is, I did get into that school.
And did you like Han Solo in the Star Wars movies? Or Princess Leia?
I think both, to be honest. I never really resonated with Luke Skywalker, but definitely, the kind of rebellious characters like Leia and like Han were probably people that I related to more — their cynicism and a sense of irony. I never really quite understood Leia’s bikini getup, but I guess that wasn't her choice.
How important is it create more female heroes for the girls that are growing up today?
Well, this weekend I made my husband take me to Lara Croft — the new one, 'cause I think she's a badass. Actually, I see every action movie I can. And it is important that people see themselves in film, and I am heartened to see that more. I'm really hopeful that we're making a difference not just in the media, but also frankly where it matters as much in terms of representation — in business or representation in government, as well. I spend as much as I'm able to talking to young girls and young women about this run. I know that they're not necessarily voters, but I don't really care. I think that it is important to see somebody who is like you, who might be somebody you could be someday. And I certainly never remember seeing anybody standing in front of me running for office or hopefully holding office. You know, Pennsylvania is the largest state in the country that has no females representing it.
How do you think your science and engineering background has prepared you for working in Congress?
I think that the vast majority of people in Congress, certainly in the Pennsylvania delegation and possibly across the country, too, have backgrounds of law or, in some cases, backgrounds in business. It's really important to add to that mix people who have backgrounds in engineering or in the STEM fields, because it's just a different way of thinking about things. It’s a thought process of branching ideas and logic; “If this happens, then that happens, or else this happens.” We no longer live in an agrarian or agricultural society. It is no longer necessarily even an industrial society; it’s much more of an information technology society. Our legislators should be able to have that vocabulary to be able to talk about those issues and think about those issues — like cybersecurity or like biosecurity or national security in general.
You served in the Air Force Reserves — do you think you could handle the Millennium Falcon?
Heh. Well, one of the reasons why I went into the Air Force originally is that my father and grandfather are both pilots. They're both naval pilots, and I wanted also to be a pilot. I specifically wanted to be an astronaut, and my understanding of the best path to do that was to follow in the path of Sally Ride. And Sally Ride went to Stanford, which is where I went. And my understanding was that it wasn't enough to just go and be just an engineer at Stanford, you also needed to be a pilot too. And so my dad actually advised that there were more pilot slots in the Air Force than there were in the Navy. And that at the time, certainly, it was better for women and their opportunities in the pilot seat to be in the Air Force rather than in the Navy. And that's one of the biggest reasons why I went into the Air Force. It ended up that I decided not to pursue being a pilot, but instead decided to continue on my path to being an engineer. But yes, I absolutely could handle the Millennium Falcon. Without a problem.
Are you thinking piloting? Navigation? Being a gunner?
I could do all the things. I know, I'm confident that I could do all of them.