Just go read Olivia Messer’s story in The Observer about that great bastion of good-ol-boyism, the Texas Legislature. It’s appalling, but sadly not unexpected, nor unsurprising. I’ve heard way too many stories like it, from way too many women, in way too many contexts, to claim otherwise. I don’t have a good answer other than “we need to elect more women”, but I do want to note one facet of Messer’s story:
At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.
What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.
Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.
Yet, despite their strong feelings, women in the Capitol rarely talk about, except in the most private discussions, the misogyny they see all the time. It’s just the way the Legislature has always been.
When I asked why other women don’t speak up about the atmosphere, [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson cited political ambition. “Everybody who comes here, they’re looking at, ‘Can I go higher politically?’” she said. “To some degree, political office and winning is so important and imperative to us that we are willing to turn our heads and tolerate things that wouldn’t uphold the dignity of a woman. I’m not sure if we contribute to that. And it bothers me.”
She added, “I’m just not sure right now we have enough women who are willing to [speak up].”
I totally understand why more women don’t want to speak up about this – one need only look at some of the vicious things that have been said about Sen. Wendy Davis since her filibuster to comprehend why – but I wish they would anyway. Not as a first resort – it’s always best to speak to the offender directly, because some people do learn and some people really do mean no offense – but for the frequent flyers, many of whom fly beneath the radar on this. There ought to be some cost to being a pig. Some day, when stuff like this costs someone re-election, maybe that will have a more permanent effect. I sure hope so, anyway.