Debby: Hello, and welcome to Feminist Utopia. Today…can you imagine a feminist utopia where women who are politicians weren’t singled out for extremely violent rhetoric and death threats? Let’s try…
I’m going to start because I have a story about living here in Seattle. And there are two people. One was a member of the Seattle City Council, the other one had to run for Seattle City Council. The one who is currently a council member..his name is Rob Johnson. And he has decided not to run for reelection in 2019. And one of the reasons was the good old fashioned “I want to spend more time with my family” which is refreshing coming from a male politician to be honest. But the other reason he gave was that he had started getting death threats and I’m going to put air quotes around “death threats”. And when asked for proof by the Seattle Times that best he could show with someone on Nextdoor, which we all know is the 4chan of the 40-plus set, posted that Rob Johnson was a ‘dead man walking’ in a fierce discussion about bike lanes that weren’t really wanted by the local population in his district. I’ve seen the threat. It was not meant to say “we’re going to come after you and kill you” as meant like, “you’re not going to get reelected”. And it’s quite true. The real reason he isn’t running isn’t because of death threats. It’s because he can’t get elected. And then shortly after that, this is the one that really burns my butt, there was a Seattle politician by the name of Christopher Rufo, who tried to present himself as the solution to the homeless problem in Seattle, which is a tremendous issue in large part because nonprofits haven’t followed best practices as outlined by HUD and other cities. They insist on trying to do it their way. They insist on using failed old methods. But it turns out that Christopher Rufo was not entirely honest. He neglected to mention his affiliation with the Discovery Institute, which is a far right wing think tank that promotes intelligent design in schools… took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. They’re anti- choice. They are anti separation of church and state. Also Christopher Rufo is a well known libertarian and libertarians come in different forms. They’re not all the same but he’s an objectivist libertarian, which means he’s an Ayn Rand “I’ve got mine forget you” kind of person. In addition, Christopher Rufo was a huge fan of Charles Murray who I don’t know if you remember the book called The Bell Curve, about 20 years ago.
Debby: Eugenics! But dressed up in a ‘we’re not really telling you its true, technically We’re just showing you the data and what you take from it.’ And so Christopher Rufo named Charles Murray,one of the greatest thinkers in American culture right now. So all this was coming out and Christopher Rufo was like ‘but ..but ..but we should all work together I just worked with them I don’t agree with intelligent design’ so Christopher Rufo didn’t like the backlash he was getting in Seattle on his Facebook campaign page. Someone took issue with some of these right wing positions and his wife weighed on it and said to this guy ‘I know our kids go to a name to the school we’re both kids attended and said ‘we’re parents’ named the other person’s child and said we should sit down and go for coffee and so the guy got mad that his kid was effectively doxxed on a controversial politicians page.
Debby: And told her to “get fucking bent” Christopher Rufo have decided to withdraw from the campaign because his wife had gotten threats of sexual violence. Compare this to two years ago when five female members of the Seattle City Council voted down a bond and funding bill that would have brought a NBA team to see up which a lot of people were very excited about. They said basically it doesn’t make financial sense. Tons of tweets and emails directly to them posts on Facebook offering to ‘curb stomp the head’ of Kshama Sawant, who was one of the members and calling the women c-words and bitches. I mean garden variety insults that I think women are just conditioned to accept. But the one that really got me and I’m going to read this, this is a tweet in a note email that was also sent. “As women. I understand that you spend a lot of your time trying to please others mostly on your knees. I can only hope you each find ways to quickly and painfully end yourselves. Each of you should rot in hell from what you took from me yesterday. Please don’t misunderstand me. I truly pray for nothing but horrible things for each of you moving forward. You have made this world a worse place by whoring yourselves out to the highest bidder. Please, please, please do the honorable thing and end yourselves. Each of you are disgraceful pieces of trash that deserve nothing but horrible outcomes.” Was this written by some mentally ill person living in his mother’s basement? No. It was written by a lawyer named Jason M. Feldman, who was eventually suspended by the Washington State Bar for a brief period of time being our practices law in a Seattle suburb. So you’ve got these guys in Seattle ‘Oh, my gosh, all this harassment’ And then you’ve got the women,five sitting council members who got this. You know what they did? They made jokes of it. They went on Samantha Bee and they just kept doing their jobs. And in doing the research for this episode this is not unusual stuff that happens to women running for office.
Benita: Not at all! And I think that it would be really difficult to find any woman candidate that didn’t experience harassment. But I know I was deeply involved in Rita Lucido’s campaign for Senate District 17 in Texas, the State Senate. And we actually didn’t talk a lot about harassment and I don’t recall any specific incidents of harassment. But we also didn’t allow commenting on posts. We did use Facebook but we monitored what was posted in shut that down. Also, I think that Rita has been in a male dominated field for so long that she doesn’t even hear it anymore. And I know that other candidates when they’ve been interviewed, some of them have initially said that they really hadn’t been harassed until you give them specific examples like what harassment looks like and examples of social media messages. And then they were like ‘Oh, yeah. I get those’ And I believe fervently that it keeps a lot of women from running in the first place. You see it as par for the course and part of running for office. And it shouldn’t be that way. And it affects different people differently. For example, Rebecca Thompson, who’s a Democrat who ran for the Michigan house in 2014. She said she felt unsafe through the entire campaign. And it was psychological warfare. And she was on edge all the time, not knowing where she could go in the city without feeling like she was being watched and followed.
Debby: It does keep women out of politics. So the Lawless study, which we referred to in our other episode, about women in politics….one of the things that female candidates discussed was ‘I didn’t want to put up with the threats’ and I assumed all politicians got threats and they all do but seeing what the Seattle politicians get here. ..the women get ‘I want to curb stomp your head bitch’ and the men get ‘you’re a dead man walking’ and they get all the feels about it and I’m saddened tremendously by that… not just that the the men didn’t think they could tough it out a little bit more but more that we have so accepted the misogyny directed at these women that you know ended up in a guy having his law license suspended for a few months that was it that whole thing and only gets as a few months.
Benita: That doesn’t seem right but they’re no laws right now
Debby: Right …. no laws here
Benita: And what the white women politicians get is horrific but it’s magnified if you’re in a marginalized community. If you happen to be black or brown or part of the lgbtq community it is much worse
Debby: Annise Parker, former mayor of Houston, very out and proud lesbian and a long term partnership with children and stuff, I’ve heard stories I’m not going to talk about them. Because again, these were people that worked with her on different campaigns. And I don’t want to speak out of turn. But they were always always had violent undertones and almost always related to her sexuality included that she had the temerity to exist. And this is what I think a lot of these threats have to do with… the temerity of women to think that they should exist and have a place at the table enrages so many men,
Benita: Right! There aren’t any independent organizations here in the United States that formally track incidence of harassment in politics. There are several groups that work with candidates that say they provide personal safety training. But in Britain, there’s a group called Adelanta their group that is trying to boost the number of women in senior government jobs and they did an interesting study where they analyze tweets sent between September and November in 2017 to three prominent pairs of female and male politicians in Britain, South Africa and Chile and Atlanta found 3/4ths of the Twitter posts sent to women were related to their appearance or their marital status. And most of them were negative and unrelated to their competence as politicians. So this goes back to the point where they’re just objectifying women and bringing everybody down.
Debby: Yes, that there is that study that was published in a communications journal then and the title of the article I read was “She’s so Hot.” What they found was that when they started saying, “You know, you’ve got this really hot politician here, isn’t she awesome?” that also had a degrading effect on all female candidates by not talking about their policy positions, they all became just, you know, a pantsuit and a hairdo. Their value was how pretty they were. That was the most disheartening thing to me to read that and realize, “oh, even when it’s positive, it’s negative, Benita, right? Because I don’t want to be objectified even if it’s in a banal way, like nice hair or something. It’s like there’s a brain under that here, right?
Benita:There was another study in 2016 by the Inter Parliamentary Union and they pointed out that 45% of all women had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their term.
Debby: I have a feeling that doesn’t happen in those same numbers for men. If it actually did happen in those numbers we’d have more laws addressing then we currently do. The fact that we don’t and we tell women to tough enough is aside that it hasn’t happened to them.
Benita: And men don’t believe women Yes, when they say they get these threats even when they have proof
Benita: They say, ‘Oh, that was taken out of context’ as if you could ever tell somebody to end of themselves and have that be in a context where that would be okay.
Debby: Yes. And here’s the problem. It isn’t just threats. I don’t know if people have been following Brexit but it was a really brutal battle. The people that wanted to stay as part of the EU were condemned by the other side as being unpatriotic. They were demonized. It ended with not just hurt feelings, but the actual death of a politician. A female politician named Jo Cox was a 41 year old mother of two. She was shot and stabbed to death a week before the vote. They killed a female politician they didn’t kill the male heads that were leading either side. They killed a woman for have having the temerity to speak up and take a stand. So now that was all cheery, wasn’t it?
Benita: Yeah, I mean, the consequences of misogyny in politics is really stunning. It has a detrimental effect on women politicians, professional and personal lives and forces them to implement security measures that takes a heavy toll. And no wonder it’s difficult for women to stand up and run for office. This problem undermines women, politicians and our democratic process.
Benita: It really needs to be addressed. It’s unclear how we’re going to go about this. But since its Feminist Utopia, we want to end on a positive and talk about the possibilities and how to fix these issues. And one of the things we touched on in the previous episode was quotas for women to be in politics. I mean, the decision of the Electoral Commission in Pakistan they nullify the votes of any district in which women did not comprise at least 10% of the votes to ensure that women participate in the electoral process. And in Mexico, they have an initiative to identify and sanction violence against female candidates. And in Bolivia, locally elected women also lobbied for the first law in the world criminalizing political violence and harassment against women.
Debby: We like to look down on Mexico and in all these places and Pakistan, and the fact is, they’re doing a better job. We can’t even get companies like Facebook and Twitter to agree to deplatform, people making death threats against people of color, black people, brown people or women. I think it’s really telling that we like to think of ourselves, especially white Americans, like to think ourselves as the pinnacle. The research that we’ve been doing on these topics is shown me how much we have to learn from these dare I use Trump’s language here, air quotes ‘shithole’ countries, that are frankly creating more positive experiences. And so I think that for us as Americans, I want us to talk more about what they’re doing in other parts of the world, especially when they’re doing it a whole lot better than we are. Because I think there is a huge bias against these countries, even among progressives. But Trump likes to demean these places. And I think Mexico and Bolivia have a lot more going on than we do in terms of protecting people …a lot more than Britain. It’s a tremendous issue. And so in terms of what can we do, those of you who are listening to this, I think we have to start in our own homes and in our own social media groups and our own dinner tables. And when your Uncle Bob starts talking about Hillary Clinton’s cankles, call them out in a gentle Well, maybe you would want to do it in a gentle way. And you the general listener, I would probably just tell him to shut up. But if he didn’t like it he could leave and don’t let the door hit him in the ass. But we have to start addressing it and making it unacceptable in our own spaces first before we can really expect there to be an institutionalized acceptance of it.
Benita: And if you’re uncomfortable calling him out.. if Uncle Bob or your mom says she doesn’t like the hairdo of you know one of the politicians, you can always redirect and say, “Did you know her policy on prison reform?” and one of the best ways that we can promote and support women politicians is by talking about their policies…by putting it out there on our Facebook feeds and re-tweeting their tweets and when they are actively engaged in the political process to take charge of the conversation and redirect towards the boots on the ground hard work they’re doing. If you can’t call out the misogyny directly at least redirect and say, “Yeah, but isn’t this policy that she’s supporting amazing? Can’t we agree that health care reform is necessary? And this is her idea? Yes, or whatever it is.
Debby I freely think redirection is awesome. I just don’t always think of it at the time. And that’s my own personal flaw. Benita, of course, always has the most amazing words on stuff like that far better than me
Benita: Not always, not always.
Debby: I think she does.
Benita: Well, I think it comes from I have a really difficult time with that kind of direct confrontation. And it definitely is easier to say nothing and let it slide but that’s part of the problem. So I work and learning myself on how to empower myself to respond. And one of the things that we can do that anybody can do is just lift the voices of the female politicians that we have elected and follow by pointing out to everybody and their brother.
Debby: They’re doing it because, as we said in a previous podcast, that female politicians implement more policies and impact things like health care and the military. not as much as I would like, but I’ll take it. Everybody on all sides wants health care reform, I think that’s something we can all get behind. And so that might be a really great place to start with your Uncle Bob or your mom.
Benita: One of the things I can anticipate would be bringing up if you were point this out is the whole freedom of speech issue? Freedom of speech is essential within the political sphere but where it crosses the line, in my opinion, is whether it extends to sexual or personal comments. We all know you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater because it causes harm. And negative comments about women do harm
Debby: Tremendous harm
Benita: When Fred starts talking about ‘You can’t censor my freedom of speech when it crosses that line to harm. Yeah, we can’t
Debby: And the idea that it isn’t harmful has been disproven. They’re doing the research for this. We both saw so many studies about how harmful it is in a electorial sense, but you know, it ends in the deaths of female politicians and and all these things and I’m less worried about cousin Charlie’s ability to tell Kshama Sawant, a woman of color in Seattle, that she needs to get her head curb stopped. That isn’t freedom of speech. That is a threat. Just because it’s a threat against a woman doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. I’m going to leave you on a positive note that we promise positive note… is that you can be part of that change and if you’re a direct confronter like me, feel free to say something. If you want to be more tactful and maybe actually reach somebody in a more positive fashion, I really liked Benita’s suggestion of redirection.
Benita: We just need to lift those voices up. I feel really strongly about that. And I hope you’ll follow us on our Twitter feed. And we will be lifting up the politicians from our areas that we follow and find us on Feministutopia.net. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And let us know your thoughts about these issues and what other issues that you might want us to discuss or if you have stories of politics and misogyny, we want to hear about those too.
Debby: Yes, we do. And so thank you so much for listening,and we look forward to talking to you next week. Thanks.