Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) speaks in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, Nov. 19, 2013.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

New York’s Gillibrand shines a light on Capitol Hill harassment

When Mike Huckabee commented on contraception, women, and “their libidos” in April, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was disappointed, but she said the remark “doesn’t stand out as anything unusual from what we hear” on Capitol Hill. She added at the time, “You don’t have a long enough show for me to go into what you hear around here from the members of Congress.”
 
Not surprisingly, Pelosi isn’t the only woman on Capitol Hill who’s been disturbed by offensive comments from men.
If there was any question as to whether sexual harassment exists among members of Congress, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) confirmed the answer in a new interview with People magazine.
 
According to excerpts from the interview obtained in advance by the New York Post, the congresswoman recalled multiple male colleagues making disparaging comments about her body as she struggled with her weight after having a child.
One unidentified Southern lawmaker reportedly told Gillibrand, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.” Another told her at the House gym, “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!”
 
When she was elevated to the U.S. Senate, Gillibrand says an older colleague squeezed her waist from behind and said, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby.”
 
There is no workplace in the nation in which this would be considered acceptable. And yet, here’s a senator describing her experiences in the building in which federal laws are made.
 
As inexcusable as these male lawmakers’ conduct is, it’s important for perspectives like Gillibrand’s to be heard. Congress has a reputation for being a hostile work environment for many women – lawmakers and staffers alike – and the more we hear from those who’ve been harassed, the more likely it is conditions will change.
 
So why would anyone be skeptical of Gillibrand’s claims?
A senior congressional reporter for Politico tweeted on Wednesday evening that he did not believe Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s claims that she had been subjected to sexist remarks and actions from her congressional colleagues.
 
John Bresnahan is a longstanding and respected congressional reporter for Politico. But he responded skeptically after Gillibrand recalled several sexist encounters in a yet-to-be-released interview with People magazine about her forthcoming book. The New York Post reported on portions of the People interview Wednesday.
Bresnahan later apologized, calling his initial skepticism “completely moronic.”
 
Of course, it’s hard not to wonder which members, specifically, made these remarks to Gillibrand, but to date she has not identified them by name. I guess that’s understandable – lawmakers still have to work with colleagues on a regular basis – though I’d love to know what kind of senator thinks it’s acceptable to say “I like my girls chubby” while grabbing another senator’s waist.
 

Kirsten Gillibrand, Senate and Women in Politics

New York's Gillibrand shines a light on Capitol Hill harassment