September 11, 2014

REMEMBER THE LADIES | Thank You, Senator Gillibrand

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Despite her tireless work to improve the safety and welfare of Americans, despite proving time and time again that her mind is a powerful tool for progress and despite holding one of the most respected titles in the world, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is still a target of sexist remarks.

In her new book, “Off the Sidelines,” Senator Gillibrand cites examples of sexual harassment and sexism that she experienced in the halls of Congress. Though sexual harassment in the workplace is certainly not a new phenomenon, even in this infamously gridlocked Congress, Senators are still supposed to subscribe to a code of respect when talking to and about their colleagues. Apparently, though, sexism is an exception to that code.

It is not often that people in positions of power recognize their own limitations, especially in the hallowed halls of Congress. However, Senator Gillibrand publicly addressed that despite the fact that her title garners her the same level of respect as dignitaries beside her, there are times in which she is marginalized and kept on the outskirts of the “old boys club.”

Yet rather than commending Senator Gillibrand for making aware a topic that is too often hushed, the media continues to attack her and her credibility for not naming names. This attack of credibility mirrors the blame and unfair burden of proof placed on victims in sexual harassment and assault cases.

And the fact of the matter is, naming names is not a solution. If she gave up the identities of the colleagues who made inappropriate remarks, she would limit the scope of the conversation. It would be easy to point fingers at a few individuals and say that their actions were the exception and that sexism as a whole has been eradicated. This is certainly not to say that all senators and men are sexists. Countless men, both from within the Senate Chamber and without, have dedicated their work to the movement for equality, and it is with pride I count these men among my country’s leaders, my teachers, my neighbors and my dad.

Yet even with the important work and achievements of male and female feminists, sexism still exists.

Beyond the conversations about the wage gap, the absence of nationally-mandated parental leave, the lack of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs and the other topics that compose “The War on Women,” it is this everyday objectification of women that underscores the prevalence of gender inequality. While some think that unsolicited and crude remarks about women’s bodies are flattering, such comments are truly reminders that society feels a sense of ownership over women’s bodies.

Women are not supposed to dress, wear makeup and eat for themselves, women are supposed dress, wear makeup and eat so that their bodies can be objects of intrigue and pleasure. This sentiment was made clear when a colleague said to Senator Gillibrand, “Don’t lose too much weight now; I like my girls chubby.”

This type of discrimination is permeated through all sectors of industry. The way women look can have a great impact on the way they are perceived at work, regardless of their intellect and skills. According to a study, wearing makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and … her trustworthiness.”However,“women rated as very attractive face discrimination when applying to ‘masculine’ jobs.”

More women are pursuing higher education and more women are encouraged to seek their full potential, yet this objectification limits both women’s opportunities and their own visions of possibility. Senator Gillibrand came forward with her stories to “elevate the debate to talk about these broader challenges.” We must therefore use this as an opportunity to engage in discussion and demand better from our peers, colleagues and leaders.