Kirsten Gillibrand pushes back at sexism on Capitol Hill

Updated

NEW YORK – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wasn’t afraid to tell a male friend what she really thought about his suggestion she was so fat that she wouldn’t want her picture splashed across the covers of the New York tabloids. 

“F– you. F– you. F– you, a–hole,” the New York Democrat told him over dinner, according to her new book, “Off the Sidelines.”

“I had some colorful language for him,” Gillibrand said, laughing, during a one-on-one interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

She was, however, more reserved when it came to fellow members of Congress who made repeated comments about her weight, including when she was pregnant. One southern congressman, she says, told her, “ ‘Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.’ Um, thanks?” she said in the interview.

In the book, she writes that she thought to herself: “Please keep your thoughts about my pregnant body to yourself.” 

Gillibrand’s book is of course a political one, tracing her evolution from young, eager Hillary Clinton acolyte to congresswoman to senator, and outlining her positions on issues–including how her views on gun control shifted when she made the switch from representing an upstate New York House district to being a statewide elected official courting liberal voters in New York City.

The book is also remarkably personal, with Gillibrand discussing what it was like to be pregnant in office, her struggles with her weight, and dishing – often using expletives –on how male members of Congress can sometimes talk down to their female counterparts.

“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky,” one told her as she worked out on an elliptical machine in the congressional gym. She writes: “Thanks, a–hole.”

Gillibrand’s profile has risen quickly in the Senate–no small feat in a body that values decades of service and paying dues. She was appointed in 2009 after serving just two terms in the U.S. House when Clinton gave up the Senate seat to become President Obama’s first secretary of state. At 42, Gillibrand was the youngest serving senator at that time. She was elected in her own right in a 2010 special election and then to a full six-year term in 2012.

Still, her ascent hasn’t been without bumps. When she was first appointed, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd compared her to Tracy Flick, the agressively ambitious blond from the movie “Election,” a dig that still grates on Gillibrand. And she ended up in a public spat with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., over legislation to address sexual assault in the military – McCaskill disagreed with Gillibrand’s push to take consideration of such crimes out of the military chain of command. 

“Well, there’s no rift. There was just a policy disagreement. And I can tell you, I disagree with my male colleagues all the time,” Gillbrand told MSNBC.

Since then, the two have worked to repair their relationship, with McCaskill at one point tweeting a photo of the two under the same umbrella leaving the White House. 

Gillibrand also tackles broader issues facing women in the workplace, declaring that she thinks the woman’s movement is in trouble. Asked if she considers herself a feminist, she said: “Definitely. I’m not afraid of words. I like that word. Doesn’t bother me at all.”

She also argues that the word “ambition” is negative for women but positive for men. Asked in the interview if she considers herself ambitions, she declared, simply: “Yes.”

But she was coy about what those future ambitions may be, even as a super PAC called “Off the Sidelines” doles out money to women candidates and she works to raise her profile both on Capitol Hill and nationally. 

Asked if she wants to be president someday, Gillbrand said: “No. No.”

Kirsten Gillibrand pushes back at sexism on Capitol Hill

Updated