Decades after Anita Hill proved Congress doesn’t understand sexual harassment…Congress may not understand sexual harassment.
New York’s junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) reports in her upcoming memoir that her male colleagues have made comments about her body and weight in the Capitol gym, on the campaign trail, and even on the House floor.
The choice remarks included:
“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!”
“Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”
And the delightful backhanded compliment: “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”
Gillibrand, a rumored future candidate for President, is speaking out as Congress takes some small steps to combat the sexism and inappropriate behavior long reported in its marble halls. This spring, the House unanimously approved a measure to fund better sexual harassment training for lawmakers and their staffers. But unless the Senate amends the language of the measure, it won’t be mandatory.
“This is the House of Representatives, not a frat house,” said bill author and California Democrat Jackie Speier. “It is time for all of us to recognize what sexual harassment is, and how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens.”
Sexist comments and body policing has long been cited as one reason women are deterred from running for office—and it comes from the media as well as politicians. The Women’s Media Center notes that certain demeaning words tend to be exclusively reserved to describe female candidates for office, such as “sassy,” “emotional” and “perky.” Gillibrand is all too familiar with such theoretically gender-neutral terms.
Studies have found that any discussion of the physical appearance of women running for office—whether it’s positive or negative—hurts their chances of winning the election.