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)


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

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

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

Lunar eclipse, May 12, 2022
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 23 - 29, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 21 rewilding the imagination in dangerous times 5362430 1920
Rewilding the Imagination in Dangerous Times
by Natureza Gabriel Kram
In a world that often seems intent on destroying itself, I find myself curating beauty -- the kind…
group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
elephant walking in front of a setting sun
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 16 - 22, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.
a composite photograph of a total lunar eclipse
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 9 - 15, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
a man writing a letter
Writing the Truth and Allowing the Emotions to Flow
by Barbara Berger
Writing things down is a good way to practice truth telling.
Emotional-Spiritual Quarantine Survival Guide
9 Tips: Emotional-Spiritual Quarantine Survival Guide
by Barry Vissell
There has been a lot of emphasis on physical survival, which of course is important. The following…
The Safe Place: Why The Present Is A Place Of Peace
The Safe Place: Why The Present Is A Place Of Peace
by Sandy C. Newbigging
I would often say that I felt there was a party happening somewhere, but I wasn’t invited. Can you…
Why It's Time To Move On From Yes We Can To Git Er Done
Why It's Time To Move On From 'Yes We Can' to 'Git Er Done'
by Robert Jennings, InnerSelf.com
While discussing the poor potential of the incoming administration recently, a friend expressed…

MOST READ

finding what you are looking for 5 25
Use Horary Astrology to Find What You Lost
by Alphee Lavoie
There has always been a lot of controversy among astrologers as to what time (and even location) to…
rebuilding environment 4 14
How Native Birds Are Returning To New Zealand’s Restored Urban Forests
by Elizabeth Elliot Noe, Lincoln University et al
Urbanisation, and the destruction of habitat it entails, is a major threat to native bird…
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
by Gretchen E. Ely, University of Tennessee
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the…
how much sleep you need 4 7
How Much Sleep You Really Need
by Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, University of Cambridge, et al
Most of us struggle to think well after a poor night’s sleep – feeling foggy and failing to perform…
benefits of lemmon water 4 14
Will Lemon Water Detox Or Energize You?
by Evangeline Mantzioris, University of South Australia
If you believe anecdotes online, drinking lukewarm water with a splash of lemon juice is…
trusting societies are happy 4 14
Why Trusting Societies Are Overall Happier
by enjamin Radcliff, University of Notre Dame
Human beings are social animals. This means, almost as a matter of logical necessity, that humans’…
group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
economy 4 14
5 Things That Economists Know, But Sound Wrong To Most Other People
by Renaud Foucart, Lancaster University
A curious thing about our profession is that when we academic economists largely agree with each…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

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