How Sexist Abuse of Women In Congress Amounts to Political Violence – And Undermines American Democracy

In a widely publicized speech on the House floor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez carefully analyzed the harmful effects of sexism in Congress.
In a widely publicized speech on the House floor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez carefully analyzed the harmful effects of sexism in Congress.
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images

From plans to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s being called a “f—ing b—” by her colleague Rep. Ted Yoho, it’s been a nasty year for women in American politics.

Now, some women who’ve been targets of such misogyny want to put this problem on the congressional agenda.

On Sept. 24, 2020, House Democrats Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Jackie Speier introduced a resolution – a largely symbolic congressional statement that carries no legal weight but provides moral support on certain issues – recognizing violence against women in politics as a global phenomenon. House Resolution 1151, which is currently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee, calls on the government to take steps to mitigate this violence in the United States and abroad.

Violence is often equated with physical injury, but in policy and academic research the term is defined more broadly to mean a violation of integrity. Violence is any act that harms a person’s autonomy, dignity, self-determination and value as a human being.

H.R. 1151 marks an important moment in American politics. As record numbers of American women are running for and winning public office, their growing political power has been met with death and rape threats, sexist abuse and disparagement – including by the president of the United States himself.

Such attacks undermine not only gender equality but hurt democracy itself, my research shows.

Growing visibility in American politics

Tlaib was the first to enter the term “violence against women in politics” into the congressional record, with a one-minute floor speech in March of 2020. Calling it a “global problem,” she emphasized, “I also mean here in the United States. My family and I constantly face death threats and harassment.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords – here in 2013 with her husband, former astronaut and current Senate candidate Mark Kelly – was shot and severely injured while campaigning in 2011.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords – here in 2013 with her husband, former astronaut and current Senate candidate Mark Kelly – was shot and severely injured while campaigning in 2011.
Joshua Lott/Getty Images

In July 2020, after Rep. Yoho’s crude and sexist insult on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Ocasio-Cortez also addressed gender-based violence in the House. In a widely reported speech, she said “this issue is not about one incident.” (see the end of this article for the video of her response)

Ocasio-Cortez described what happened to her as a “cultural” problem – one in which men feel entitled to “accost women without remorse and with a sense of impunity.”

Her remarks apparently resonated with many women on Capitol Hill. On July 22, the Democratic Women’s Caucus issued a statement declaring “foul and personal attacks meant to intimidate or silence women cannot be tolerated.”

The next month, more than 100 women lawmakers, including Democratic women in Congress and female parliamentarians from Germany, Pakistan, South Africa and beyond, sent a letter to Facebook urging the social media company to more quickly delete abusive and threatening posts against female candidates and remove digitally manipulated images – like “deepfake” videos of Nancy Pelosi – that spread disinformation about female politicians.

Shortly after, the anti-workplace-harassment group Time’s Up Now launched a new campaign, #WeHaveHerBack, calling on news media to avoid gender and racial stereotypes in covering female candidates during the 2020 election cycle.

Political violence against women

Efforts to silence women in political spaces cause collateral damage for democracy, studies show. Violence restricts the scope of political debate, disrupts political work and deters women from entering public service.

That, in fact, is the goal of political violence. It seeks to exclude or suppress opposing political viewpoints through assaults on candidates and partisan voter intimidation.

Misogyny adds another level to political violence. As I explain in my new book, “Violence against Women in Politics,” sexist attacks against female politicians are not only driven by policy differences. They also question women’s rights, as women, to participate in the political process at all.

The most common form of violence against women in politics is psychological violence like death threats and online abuse, according to data from international organizations and scholars. But as the #MeToo movement has exposed, sexual violence is also a problem in U.S. state legislatures and elected assemblies around the world.

Actual physical violence against women in politics is rare, but it does occur.

The assassination of Brazilian city councilwoman Marielle Franco in 2018 and the attempted murder of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 are examples. When targeting women of color like Franco, such attacks often reflect a combination of sexism and racism.

Councilwoman and sociologist Marielle Franco speaking in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Her murder remains unsolved. Councilwoman and sociologist Marielle Franco speaking in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. Her murder remains unsolved. Midia Ninja, CC BY-SA

Costs to democracy and gender equality

Rep. Jackie Speier has called the violence she and her colleagues have experienced in Congress a form of “weaponized sexism.”

The perpetrators need not be men: Women themselves may internalize sexism – and racism – and deploy it against other women.

In September, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican congressional candidate from Georgia, uploaded a threatening photo to Facebook in which she was holding a gun alongside images of Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib, all women of color. Facebook soon removed the threatening image.

Violence should not be the cost of exercising women’s political rights, says Rep. Pressley.

“We have every right to do our jobs,” she said on Sept. 24, “and represent our communities without fearing for our safety.”The Conversation

Video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addressing confrontation with Rep. Ted Yoho:

About the Author

Mona Lena Krook, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Women & Politics Ph.D. Program, Rutgers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
Lunar eclipse through colored clouds. Howard Cohen, November 18, 2021, Gainesville, FL
Horoscope: Week of November 22 - 28, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
a young boy climbing to the top of a rock formation
A Positive Way Forward Is Possible Even in the Darkest Times
by Elliott Noble-Holt
Falling into a rut doesn’t mean we have to stay there. Even when it can seem like an insurmountable…
woman wearing a crown of flowers staring with an unwavering gaze
Hold That Unwavering Gaze! Lunar and Solar Eclipses November-December 2021
by Sarah Varcas
This second and final eclipse season of 2021 began on 5th November and features a lunar eclipse in…
"Breathing God": Staying Connected through the Breath
by Will Johnson
Waking up to the first faint suggestion of light, I don’t want to leave my bed. And so I don’t. I…
Were You Part Of The Problem Last Time? Will You Be Part Of The Solution This Time?
Were You Part Of The Problem Last Time? Will You Be Part Of The Solution This Time?
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
Have you registered to vote? Have you voted? If you are not going to vote, you will be part of the…
Happy Mothers' Day To All
Mothering Is In Everyone's "Job" Description, Not Just "Moms"
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
I remember reading years ago about people who used to send their mother flowers on their…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
What Men’s Roles In 1970s Anti-sexism Campaigns Can Teach Us About Consent
by Lucy Delap, University of Cambridge
The 1970s anti-sexist men’s movement had an infrastructure of magazines, conferences, men’s centres…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.