Alas, South Dakota isn’t the only state with a Capitol hostile to women. Daniel C. Vock’s new article in Governing says female lawmakers in California, Rhode Island, and other states are reporting sexual harassment and assault in their state legislatures as bad as what we’re hearing happens in Pierre.
Vock says former legislator Angie Buhl O’Donnell is on the right sociological track when she says legislators, lobbyists, and other Capitol critters act like horndogs at summer camp:
Even within the male-dominated political world, state legislatures can be especially treacherous places for sexual harassment to thrive. A makeshift community of lawmakers, lobbyists, staff members, interns and pages convene for long hours – often far from home. Socializing, often with the addition of alcohol, is often par for the legislative course. And there are huge power disparities that make it difficult to police or punish sexual harassment.
And it’s not just legislators who harass women. It’s lobbyists and staffers, too.
“In this [California] legislature, [sexual harassment] is more prevalent among the lobbyists than it is among the members. The lobbyists have nothing to lose. They’re not in the public eye. The members, even though they’re not at home, they still have potential to be outed and named as harassers,” says Susan McKee, who served as a district director for Darrell Steinberg for 17 years, including when he was president of the California Senate [Daniel C. Vock, “As Outcry Over Sexual Harassment Grows, Focus Shifts to State Legislatures,” Governing, 2017.10.18].
Vock notes that increasing the number of women hasn’t reduced harssment or violence against them. If anything, there’s a backlash:
For years, researchers and advocates thought that simply increasing the number of women in politics would reduce the amount of harassment and violence they encountered. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case, even in places where the numbers of women in high government office have been on the rise, says Mona Lena Krook a Rutgers political science professor. “The resistance to women’s participation has just taken new forms,” she says. “There’s been a pushback against women’s inclusion” [Vock, 2017.10.18].
That doesn’t mean women shouldn’t run and we shouldn’t vote for those who do; that means more women should run, and we men should stop acting like Donald Trump and surrender male privilege.
Related Reading: Dr. Krook has two thought-provoking articles on women, politics, and violence:
- In this August 2016 blog post, Dr. Krook says gender quotas in the UK Labour Party’s process for selecting members of Parliament produced MPs who were at least as experienced, asked more questions, and brought more healthily diverse viewpoints to Parliament.
- In this August 2017 blog post, Dr. Krook says violence of all forms (sexual, physical, verbal) against female politicians has bad consequences for democracy.