Nevertheless, They Persisted

With all of the news surrounding James Comey’s hearing and the Russia investigation, many stories seemed to have slip through the cracks or didn’t garner enough attention despite their significance. Although the insanity of the Trump administration and its eventual decline has been consistently flooding the news cycle, it doesn’t mean that the American people can allow things like rampant sexism to be swept aside or over looked as a result.

This week, I have seen many videos highlighting the lack of respect that women are afforded in their respective political careers. The videos feature highly intelligent and qualified women being put down or silenced by their male colleagues. They are all classic cases of misogyny that I am sure any woman can relate to and ultimately show the underlying sexism that still permeates within our society and our governmental institutions.

The first video is of California Senator Kamala Harris, the second black woman ever elected to the US Senate. She was subjected to outright sexist behavior on the part of Republican Senators John McCain and Richard Burr. As a member of The Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Harris was one of many who were tasked with questioning leaders of intelligence agencies on the investigation into the Trump administration’s possible collusion with Russia. Harris, who is known for her extensive experience as an attorney, pressed Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on the issue of extending complete independence to Robert Mueller and his special counsel’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. (Watch the exchange between Harris and Rosenstein here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pECZv4XWByE )

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In these types of hearings, Senators aren’t afforded a lot of time to get the answers they need, so interruptions are expected when people reply with lengthy answers in an effort to avoid a question or “run out the clock”. In this exchange, Rosenstein was obviously deflecting Senator Harris’ questions where she continually asked him if he would write a letter confirming Mueller’s full independence in the investigation; as a result, Senator Harris pressed him for a yes or no answer. She was then interrupted by Senator John McCain in an effort to halt her line of questioning, essentially wasting her allotted time to get a clear and concise answer from Rosenstein. Senator Harris then pressed Rosenstein further, which resulted in Chairman Burr reprimanding her for not extending Rosenstein “the courtesy” to answer. When Senator Harris then respectfully attempted to explain her reasoning behind pressing Rosenstein for an answer to her question, even citing how he notoriously filibusters in these types of hearings, Chairman Burr interrupted her again essentially silencing her for the rest of her questioning period. Two Republican male Senators took away Senator Harris’ ability to get an answer for the American public by allowing Rosenstein to deflect her questions entirely. Their fragile masculinity and intimidation by the presence of a strong female leader led them to treat Senator Harris as a second-class citizen.

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Unfortunately, it’s common for women in positions of governmental power to be scolded or punished for acting the exact same way as their male counterparts, who almost always go unscathed. There have been countless videos of male Senators such as Senator Warner, Senator Franken, Senator Cruz, etc., who have grilled countless people in their hearings and were never told to be more “courtesy” by their colleagues. And even more frustratingly, Democratic Senator Heinrich in the same exact hearing interrupted Rosenstein countless times during his line of questioning and wasn’t reprimanded once for doing so. So as you can see, this doesn’t have to do with Republican Senators scolding Democratic Senators, this has to do with male Senators and their incessant mission to put down female Senators.

Similarly to Senator Harris’ situation, Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the Senate by Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell a few months ago for reading a letter from the late Coretta Scott King. McConnell selectively enforced the archaic Senate Rule XIX to silence Senator Warren for merely reading a letter in opposition to the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Meanwhile McConnell didn’t dare to punish his male colleagues, including Senator Tom Cotton when he had called Harry Reid “cancerous” or Senator Ted Cruz when he had called McConnell himself a “liar”. Senator McConnell’s misogynistic treatment of Senator Warren led many women to turn McConnell’s quote “Nevertheless, she persisted” into a mantra that is now ingrained in the heart of the modern feminist movement. Senator Warren definitely related to Senator Harris’ situation and even reached out to her via Twitter stating, “Silencing @SenKamalaHarris for not being “courteous” enough is just unbelievable. Keep fighting, Kamala! #NeverthelessShePersisted”.

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But of course, the video featuring Senator Harris isn’t the only instance of sexism that stuck out to me this week. There is another video featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that also reeks of misogyny. Congresswoman Pelosi is one of the most influential leaders of the Democratic Party and was the first woman ever elected as Speaker of the House. She was interrupted by her male colleague, Republican Congressman John Faso not once, but seven times while she was speaking out against the GOP’s plan to repeal the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was instituted under President Obama after the financial crisis to create regulations that would protect Americans from the greed of Wall Street. Republican Congressman Faso interrupted Minority Leader Pelosi incessantly by yelling “How much time does the gentlewoman have?” in an attempt to silence her to which Minority Leader Pelosi responded, “I know you want me not to talk about this because it is the truth about what you are doing to the American people, but as the leader, I have the right to speak on the floor.” Despite Congresswoman Pelosi’s seniority over the newly-elected freshman Congressman (she was elected to the House in 1987 and has been re-elected every year since then), she was still treated as if she didn’t have the right to speak. Congressman Faso interrupted Congresswoman Pelosi throughout the entirety of her speech, but luckily she refused to be dismissed and held her ground on behalf of women everywhere. (Watch here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4673084/congresswoman-pelosi-interrupted-floor-speech-repeal-dodd-frank )

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Senator Elizabeth Warren later tweeted her support to Minority Leader Pelosi by tweeting, “Here’s a little hint for the @HouseGOP: NOBODY silences Democratic Leader @NancyPelosi. #NeverthelessShePersisted”. Kamala Harris also lent her support for Congresswoman Pelosi by tweeting, “You aren’t going to stop @NancyPelosi from speaking the truth.” Although the reoccurrence of attempts to silence female representatives makes me and presumably countless other women more angrier than words can describe, the amount of support these women have extended to each other sends a message that when women support one another, great things are possible.

Ultimately, when it comes to all of these situations, it is evident that a honest conversation regarding women’s representation and inclusion in government and the equality of treatment between men and women in leadership roles is necessary. In the House of Representatives, women only hold 83 of the 435 total seats and in the Senate women only hold 21 of the 100 total seats. And not only that, but globally, The United States is ranked #100 for women’s representation in government, which is frankly an embarrassment. But regardless of all of those things, even when women overcome these obstacles and get elected to such leadership positions, they still face unequal treatment. Due to a series of experiments led by Dr. Leah Sheppard from Washington State University, Dr. Maryam Kouchaki from Northwestern University, and Dr. Ekaterina Netchaeva from Bocconi University, they all concluded that men often feel threatened by female superiors and ambitious women, and as a result they act in a hostile manner toward them. This is unacceptable and as a society we need to teach both our sons and daughters that women are equally as capable, as intelligent, and as strong as men. It is also especially important that we help support women in their efforts to continue to break through glass ceilings for generations to come.

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Although fighting to eradicate sexism in a society that was built upon it has always been a long and hard battle, these issues and their consequences are too dire for us to just ignore, so here are a few things that you can do RIGHT NOW to lend your support to powerful women across the country:

  • If your representatives behave in a sexist manner, (like Congressman Faso, Senator Burr, Senator McCain, Senator McConnell, etc.) hold them accountable by calling their offices or by attending town halls.
  • Donate or volunteer for political campaigns run by women you believe in, especially for upcoming special elections on a local level or for the mid-term elections in 2018.
  • Do you want to help get Democratic, pro-choice women elected to office? Of course you do, so go check out the organization EMILY’s List: https://www.emilyslist.org ! You can either donate, volunteer, or run for office yourself.
  • Get involved in Emerge America, an training program dedicated to help get Democratic women elected across the country : http://www.emergeamerica.org ! You can apply to the program, recommend women to run, or donate.
  • Check out She Should Run, an organization that seeks to inspire women to run for public office throughout the US: http://www.sheshouldrun.org ! You can join the campaign, nominate yourself or another woman to run for office, or become a member.

Katie O’Sullivan

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