With the recent wave of sexual harassment stories coming to light in all spheres of life all over the world, I thought I would take this week’s column to discuss a subset of that, namely the policies and procedures that women have to go through to report sexual harassment if they work for the legislative branch of the United States federal government. Sexual harassment in government is pervasive and systemic, and no political party is exempt from the effects. Current and potential political figures across the spectrum including John Conyers, Al Franken, Senate-hopeful Roy Moore and the current occupant of the White House have been accused of sexual harassment and/or assault by multiple women.
For female lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides, the reporting process for victims of sexual harassment is a minefield. Under a 1995 law, accusers can only file lawsuits if they go through 30 days of individual counseling, 30 days of mediation and have a “cooling off” period as well. In the last month, both the Senate and the House have since mandated sexual harassment training for lawmakers and their aides. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. In order for women, and especially young women starting out their political careers as interns on the Hill to feel safe and able to do their jobs without fear of harassment, there needs to be a complete culture change. A change that will be difficult in what’s historically been a “boys club.” I think mandatory anti-harassment trainings are a fine first step, but that some people might just think training is all that needs to happen and be done with it. When in reality, trainings can only do so much. There’s so much more that I could say and that I want to say, but most of it involves cursing so I’ll try and be brief.
Like I said in my last column, political representation matters. It really does. It’s crucial for young girls to see themselves reflected in the wider world, whether that be in politics or business or medicine etc. And while some people are wringing their hands thinking of all the bright, successful male talent, both in the political arena and elsewhere, that’s being “wasted” (or as I like to say, held accountable), we all should stop and take a minute. Instead of being focused on the people doing the harassing, we should instead be focused on the women. How many young women dreamt of beginning their political careers in Washington D.C. only to leave politics altogether after they were exposed to a toxic culture of entitlement and harassment? How many young women’s careers did sexual harassment derail, not only in politics but in all industries? How many young women have had to silently put up with sexual harassment because they felt there was no other option but to stay quiet if they wanted to keep their jobs?
I wish I could be more eloquent when writing about this, as so many great writers out there are. But the truth is that I’m exhausted and am so full of rage that it’s hard for me to organize the mess in my head into coherent thought and not just screaming endlessly. But even though I’m feeling all of these things, as I’m sure so many girls and women are, I still feel hopeful for the future. We are at a watershed moment, where things once accepted as par for the course (like sexual harassment) now are no longer acceptable. Even incremental positive change, in Congress and in society, is a start to making the world more equitable and making people more aware of their privilege, whether it’s gender, race, class and so on.
If you have the time, I would encourage you to read these two pieces about sexual harassment and the wider #MeToo movement from Bustle and Refinery29, respectively. I think they’re spot on and worthy of sharing.
I feel like this column has been focusing on negative things politically impacting girls lately, so I will attempt to write about something political, positive, girl-related and awesome for next time! Unless of course I get sidetracked by a bigger story that I feel the need to write about (like sexual harassment in politics).
That’s all for this week. Be kind, stay involved in activism and what matters to you, and don’t touch people without their consent. Have a great week and I’ll be back in December!
Girl Museum Inc.