8 Ways Female Politicians Have Stood Up To Their Male Colleagues
The United States' 2016 presidential election provided plenty of fodder for discussion about sexism and misogyny in politics. Yet gender-based prejudices against women are not a new thing in the political sphere. For as long as women have been in politics they have been subjected to sexist abuse, Be it a campaign strategy, an intimidation tactic, or a means of diminishing women's voices, sexism is all too often a casual and routine workplace occurrence for female politicians. Yet female politicians are standing up to their male colleagues more and more in an effort to confront sexism head on.
Ideally, governing bodies would set an example for the communities they govern. Yet despite women's increasing involvement in politics, sexism and harassment still continue to plague them in parliaments and congress. In fact, many female politicians have reported experiencing sexism in one form or another while in office. Even more disturbing is that an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) report on Sexism, Harassment and Violence Against Women Parliamentarians released last year found that more than 80 percent of the world's female politicians have been subjected to psychological violence while in office.
Indeed for many female politicians, the sexism and harassment that come along with the job means a thick skin and mental toughness have become required components for the job. "Threats of violent abuse, of rape, are far too common. A woman in public view may expect to receive them almost daily," former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned women aspiring to political positions late last year.
Sadly, the list of incidents in which a female politician has been subjected to sexist remarks or behavior from a male colleague is dishearteningly long. However, it's important to note that it isn't just male politicians who direct sexist abuse at female politicians. Rather, women in politics are also attacked – often anonymously – by their constituents and members of the public.
Here's how a number of female politicians have taken a stand against their male colleagues' inappropriate behavior:
1. Sen. Elizabeth Warren
When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used Rule 19 to silence Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren during debate over Sen. Jeff Sessions' nomination for attorney general in February, he inadvertently drew the public's attention to a sexist double standard at play in the United States' male-dominated Republican-controlled Congress. While McConnell may have been able to temporarily silence Sen. Warren on the Senate floor, she refused to back down. Instead Warren took her message to social media, where she garnered far more attention that she likely would have had she spoken only in the Senate. "I will not be silent," she wrote in a tweet detailing the incident and her criticisms of Jeff Sessions. "Let me say loudly & clearly: This is just the beginning," she wrote in a separate tweet published the following day.
2. Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman
Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman called out her "white male" colleagues for repeatedly leaving the chamber when black female politicians took the floor to speak. "I hate to break up the 100 percent white male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate," Hortman, a Democrat, said before moving for a "call of the House," which requires all absent members of the House to return to their seat. When members of the House Republicans accused Hortman of being "racist" she clapped back and refused to apologize for demanding women of color be treated with respect in the chamber.
I have no intention of apologizing. I am so tired of watching Rep. Susan Allen give an amazing speech, Rep. Peggy Flanagan give an amazing speech, watching Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn give an amazing speech, Rep. Rena Moran give the most heartfelt, incredible speech I’ve heard on this House floor, as long as I can remember, watching Rep. Ilhan Omar give an amazing speech … and looking around, to see, where are my colleagues? And I went in the retiring room, and I saw where a bunch of my colleagues were. And I’m really tired of watching women of color, in particular, being ignored. So, I’m not sorry.”
3. Kirsten Gillibrand
In her book Off The Sidelines, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand shared more than one soberingly sexist encounter she's had with her male colleagues over the years in an effort to show why it's so important women "speak up" and "support one another." "If we do, women will sit at every table of power making decisions," Time reports Gillibrand writes in her book. While Sen. Gillibrand didn't name names in her book, her willingness to talk openly and candidly about the sexism still present on Capitol Hill helps to raise awareness and serves as one of the first steps toward ending sexism in politics for good.
4. Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia Perez
When Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a Polish member of the European Parliament, stood up and said (out loud in 2017) that "women must earn less because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent," one female politician became every feminists' hero when she responded with I don't think so. Spanish MEP Iratxe Garcia-Perez wasted no time in taking the floor to shut down Korwin-Mikke's sexism:
According to your opinion, I shouldn't have the right to be here as a member of parliament. And I know that it hurts you and bothers you that today women can sit in the House to represent citizens with the same rights as you. I am here to defend all European women from men like you.
5. Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard
In 2012, then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave an infamous 15-minute speech against misogyny and the sexist antics of Tony Abbott then-the leader of the opposition party. Gillard was Australia's first female prime minister and she took offense to Abbott lecturing her about sexism while moving to have another parliamentarian removed as Speaker:
The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the house of representatives, he needs a mirror.
Gillard then went on to list the sexist remarks Abbott had made, including cat calling her, calling her a witch and a "man's bitch," questioning whether it really was a problem that men held more power than women, suggesting that women were physiologically and temperamentally inferior to men when it came to being in command, and reinforcing outdated gender stereotypes while attempting to explain a carbon pricing plan. Unfortunately not all of Australia was as incensed by Abbott's sexist actions as Gillard was. Abbott succeeded Gillard as prime minister, serving from 2013 to 2015.
6. Australian MP Ellen Sandell
Frustrated with the sexist bullying happening in the Victorian Parliament, Greens state MP for Melbourne, Ellen Sandell, sought to hold her male colleagues accountable for their actions by proposing rules that prohibit recording or sharing video taken of politicians in the chamber be changed in 2016. While Sandell has yet to succeed in changing the law, her public confrontation of the sexist workplace environment Victoria's parliament was for women shined a much-needed light on the issues.
7. Hillary Clinton
Last September Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a very public stand against the sexist rhetoric her rival, Donald Trump, often employed. In an ad campaign entitled Mirrors, Clinton paired Trump's sexist and derogatory comments with images of young girls staring at themselves in mirrors for a wholly disheartening examination of how such words impact women. "Is this the president we want for our daughters," the ad asked.
8. Canadian parliament member Michelle Rempel
Canadian Parliament member Michelle Rempel is no stranger to confronting misogyny and sexist remarks head on. In April 2016 she wrote a scathing op-ed detailing what she called "the everyday sexism" she has faced during her five years as a female parliamentarian:
The everyday sexism I face involves confronting the “bitch” epithet when I don't automatically comply with someone's request or capitulate on my position on an issue, confronting assumptions that I have gotten to my station in life by (insert your choice of sexual act) with (insert your choice of man in position of authority), enduring speculation and value judgements about my fertility, and responding to commentary that links my appearance to my competency. It involves my ass being occasionally grabbed as a way to shock me into submission. It involves tokenism. It involves sometimes being written off as not serious when I’ve clearly proven I am.
Among the incidents Rempel recounted were male colleagues suggesting they wait to discuss issues when she was "less emotional," tips she be "nicer in the future," and comments about how much of a turn on her directness was. A few months later, Rempel took to Twitter to call out whomever had sent her an anonymous letter asking if she'd worn a bra a few days prior and scolding her for not dressing modestly enough.