What’s it like to be a newly elected woman in government?
While women got elected in record-breaking numbers across the country, including here in Connecticut, many of us can attest to the fact that despite our progress, women still get berated for their ideas, criticized for taking a stand, and judged for their appearance. Not convinced? Think we — like women everywhere — are still making it up?
Here’s a small sampling of comments culled from emails I and some of my fellow freshmen women in the House of Representatives have received since being sworn into office just one month ago:
“You are an old cow” whose “hermones [sic] make you mentally deficient”
“Are you a paid agent or just stupid?”
“Your husband must hate having sex with you.”
And perhaps the most egregious: “C***” (this epithet appears repeatedly)
Most of these comments come from people (presumably men) hiding behind the veil of internet anonymity; some, however, give their names. Some are constituents; others live as far away as California. Some start out with a reasoned disagreement and then devolve into trash talk; others launch right into the vitriol.
What they have in common is the presumed right to attack us for being women, and for having the temerity to lead on legislation ranging from environmental protection to gun safety to incentives for small businesses to healthcare.
It’s important to point out that we have also received many calls and emails, and have seen Facebook posts, lauding our work and thanking us for taking a stand. Each of us appreciates hearing from our constituents — including (or perhaps especially) those who disagree with us on policy matters, as long as the correspondence is accurate and civil. Everyone running for elected office knows it’s a rough-and-tumble world. We expect push-back, and we signed up for scrutiny. But criticism of our politics should not be based on our gender or our sexuality; we won because we worked hard and have skills that we have chosen to bring to bear to help our state.
It’s too easy to blame the current president for setting this tone, but it sure is tempting. Even as he pleads for civility and bipartisan cooperation, he and his minions vilify women both in word and in deed. And one need not look only to Washington for the hate. At least, two of us have been targeted by the Connecticut Republican Party with video attack ads that distort our voices and intentions for legislative we’ve introduced. This institutional attack is highly unprofessional and undermines any call for bipartisanship.
And during the State of the Union address Tuesday night, New Britain Chamber of Commerce President Timothy Stewart, the former New Britain mayor, posted on Facebook calling the Congresswomen in white, “Bitches in heat!”
So please forgive us for being a tad skeptical of the call for civility. For now, while it might be nice to hang out and exchange insults, we’ve got work to do forming public policy that will enhance the lives and livelihoods of all of Connecticut’s residents, including those who sling the mud at us.
Christine Palm is the state representative from the 36th District covering Chester, Deep River, Essex and Haddam.
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