The growing charges of sexual harassment and assault against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have triggered a national response, with women echoing “Me, too” spreading into all walks of life, notably including state legislatures.
In the New York Times today, a front-page account reports from Sacramento on the California Assembly:
…more than 140 women — including legislators, senior legislative aides and lobbyists — came forward to denounce what they describe as pervasive sexual misconduct by powerful men in the nation’s most influential legislature.
Women complained of groping, lewd comments and suggestions of trading sexual favors for legislation while doing business in Sacramento.
I’d read earlier this week a detailed account in the Texas Observer by a woman reporter about male chauvinism and worse he encountered after returning to work in Austin after time away from Texas.
It didn’t take me long to realize that as a woman, and especially a young woman, I’d be treated differently than my male colleagues. Within weeks, I’d already heard a few horrifying stories. Like the time a former Observer staffer, on her first day in the Capitol, was invited by a state senator back to his office for personal “tutoring.” Or, last session, when Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton interrupted Marisa Marquez during a House floor debate to ask if her breasts were real or fake.
Thankfully I never experienced anything so sexually explicit. Instead, I encountered a string of subtle but demeaning comments. One of the first interviews I conducted for the Observer, in February, was with a male senator about an anti-abortion bill. I was asking questions about whether the bill would reduce access to abortion. At the end of the interview, as soon as I turned off my recorder, he said, “How old are you, sweetheart? You look so young.”
She commented on various pickup lines and continued:
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.
UPDATE: Coincidentally, Rep. Sarah Capp and other representatives are having a news conference at the Arkansas Capitol at noon today to announce a new initiative — ARGirls Lead — to encourage leadership among young women with a social media campaign that features stories from women representatives.
Arkansas already has a bipartisan organization, Women Lead Arkansas, aimed, as its website says, at empowering girls and women to engage in policy, politics, and leadership. The new group is unrelated, though the name is similar. A House spokesman said the new group is “geared more toward school age.”