Sexism In Capitol Hill Brought To Light Once Again

Sameera Ehteram
A controversy about sexism on Capitol Hill is really no controversy at all. It is routine.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash admits to being on the receiving end of sexist comments from male senators. She is by no means alone on this one. The topic came up while she was on air discussing Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s recent disclosure that she’s received comments from male colleagues calling her “chubby” and “porky.”

She even recalled one of them telling her, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

In her upcoming book “Off The Sidelines,” Gillibrand wrote how one male colleague squeezed her waist and implored: “Don’t lose too much weight now, I like my girls chubby,” after she lost weight following a pregnancy.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell also recently admitted there are some male senators she wouldn’t want to be in an elevator with.

Although Sen. Gillibrand attributed the sexism to generational differences, saying it was mostly the older generation of the senators who made such comments, it is indicative of the general atmosphere surrounding women on Capitol Hill.

When earlier this year former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee made a comment about the government helping women "control their libidos," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was realistic enough to say the remark “doesn’t stand out as anything unusual from what we hear” on Capitol Hill.

She added at the time, “You don’t have a long enough show for me to go into what you hear around here from the members of Congress.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier told a magazine how she learned to deal with the problem. She absolutely did not believe in feeling sorry or pitying oneself.

“Now sometimes when it is about me … you have to not just remain silent but try to figure out a proper response — again, though, not going to the place of anger and feeling sorry for yourself, because that kind of plays into the hands of the sexists,” she said. “It does take practice though,” she realistically added.

Sexism on the Capitol Hill is nothing new. It dates back to at least Arthur Singleton’s letter from Washington, D.C., in 1816, where he writes, “I bless myself, that this country is not subject to Gynæcocracy; that, by our Salique law, no woman is eligible to our presidency.”

Perhaps, we all need to take Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s advice. Adichie, a Nigerian writer, delivered a TEDx Talk in 2013 on feminism and how women face sexism and harassment at every level in their lives. She believes that people need to talk about the issue -- people, not just women.

“We don’t really talk about gender, and I’m very much a believer in the power of discourse, in having conversations, of trying to reach out,” she said in an interview.

“I think it’s a shame that it’s thought of as women’s business. Why aren’t men interested? It concerns both. The ideas are harmful to women, but to accept them also reduces men, the ability, the intelligence, the way so many people would be so much happier if we raised boys differently. I really do believe that men and women should all be feminists,” she added.

And for her, feminism has a really simple, cut and dried definition, “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

Maybe it is time to start a conversation rather than just saying it.