Refinery29: Women In Politics Are Also Saying #MeToo
By Andrea Gonzales-Ramirez
In the wake of the sexual violence allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, survivors across the globe and from all types of industries joined their voices to share harassment and assault stories using the hashtag #MeToo — and women in politics have not been the exception.
More than 140 women in the state of California signed a letter denouncing the "pervasive" culture of sexual harassment in politics. The document was signed by a mix of lawmakers, lobbyists, Capitol staff members, and political consultants — including six of the 26 women currently serving in the Legislature and state officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
"Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes, have undermined our professional positions and capabilities," the letter reads. "Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like."
The signatories said they're done being silent and won't tolerate abusers or enablers whose actions perpetuate a culture of sexual violence.
Meanwhile, in Michigan, gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer is also saying "me too" and encouraging other survivors to speak up. Whitmer made waves back in 2013, when as a state senator she disclosed that she is a survivor of sexual assault during a debate about an abortion bill.
In a video posted Monday on social media, she joined the #MeToo movement "in hopes that future generations won't have to."
"Too many women every single day are dealing with this across our country," Whitmer said. "And as the mom of two daughters, I think it's important that I say 'me, too' so they don't have to, so fewer women in our country have to face this."
Another lawmaker who spoke up about being sexually harassed at work was state Rep. Teresa Tanzi, a Democrat from Rhode Island. In an interview with The Providence Journal on Monday, the representative said she was sexually harassed by someone in a higher-ranking position and didn't speak up because she feared she wouldn't be taken seriously.
"I can say that as an elected official, as a state representative, I have experienced this first-hand," Tanzi said. "I have been told sexual favors would allow my bills to go further."
In response to Tanzi's claims, Republican National Committeewoman Lee Ann Sennick urged the Rhode Island General Assembly to investigate the issue. Her concerns were echoed by party chairman Brandon Bell, who said the "alleged State House harasser should be identified and removed from his high-ranking position."
The wave of survivors speaking up against sexual violence has helped change perceptions of how deeply rooted this issue is in American culture. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Tuesday found that 64% of Americans believe that sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem, in the wake of the allegations against Weinstein and several other powerful men in the past year. A similar poll in 2011 showed that only 47% of Americans thought sexual harassment was a serious issue.