Former Republican Rep. Mary Bono says she endured increasingly suggestive comments from a colleague while serving in public office. But when the congressman (who still serves) approached her on the House floor and told her he’d been thinking about her in the shower, she finally decided to confront the man. She told him that his comments were demeaning and wrong, and he backed off.
Bono, who arrived in the House at age 36 to replace her husband, Sonny Bono of “Sonny & Cher” fame, after he died in a skiing accident, said, “It is a man’s world, it’s still a man’s world. Not being a flirt and not being a bitch. That was my rule, to try to walk that fine line.”
Bono’s story, it turns out, is a common one, as new reports emerge that female lawmakers are claiming sexual harassment by fellow members of Congress.
Current and former female lawmakers are speaking out about incidents that took place years or even decades ago, mostly when the women were young newcomers to Congress. From isolated comments at a hearing to repeated, unwanted come-ons, and lewd remarks and even groping on the House floor, sexual harassment and gender hostility in the workplace take place even in the highest reaches of government.
“This is about power,” said former California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has her own stories about sexual harassment on the House floor. “That was an example of the way I think we were thought of, a lot of us. … It’s hostile and embarrasses, and therefore, could take away a person’s power.”
“When I was a very new member of Congress in my early 30s, there was a more senior member who outright propositioned me, who was married, and despite trying to laugh it off and brush it aside it, would repeat. And I would avoid that member,” said Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.).
“I just don’t think it would be helpful” to call the lawmaker out by name, she noted. “The problem is, as a member, there’s no HR department you can go to, there’s nobody you can turn to. Ultimately, they’re employed by their constituents.”
Former Rep. Hilda Solis, now a Los Angeles County supervisor, endured repeated unwanted harassing overtures from one lawmaker, though she declined to name him or go into detail.
“I don’t think I’m the only one. What I tried to do was ignore it, turn away, walk away. Obviously, it’s offensive. Are you supposed to be flattered? No, we’re adults, not appropriate,” said Solis, who left Congress in 2009 to join the Obama administration as labor secretary.
Women remain a distinct minority on Capitol Hill, making up only around 20 percent of members in the House and Senate. That’s up from fewer than 10 percent in the quarter-century since the political world’s Year of the Woman in 1992.
Representative Jackie Speier of California posted a video to Twitter last week, calling Congress a “breeding ground for a hostile work environment” and encouraging others to come forward.
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