Sen. Gillibrand and The Pigs

"I yield to the distinguished gentleman from the sty..."

“I yield to the distinguished gentleman from the sty…”

People magazine revealed an intriguing bit of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) new memoir, “Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice to Change the World” that suggests that members of the Senate are not the “Distinguished Gentlemen” they are supposed to be, at least when it comes to basic manners involving female colleagues:

“Gillibrand isn’t especially offended by her coworkers’ remarks. ‘It was all statements that were being made by men who were well into their 60s, 70s or 80s,’ she says. ‘They had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say to a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby or to women in general.’ ”

Now some critics on the Right are using this as a “gotcha!”, suggesting that Gillibrand is protecting Democrats from negative attention for the same kinds of conduct that Gillibrand’s party and colleagues are quick to use against Republicans in its “war on women” strategy.

This accusation is beyond disingenuous, not to mention stupid. If Gillibrand were to publicly accuse a GOP colleague of such conduct, she would be accused, by these same critics, of being a hysteric, a bad colleague, unprofessional and petty—and they would be right. No professional woman responds to this kind of crude, obnoxious, “Look! I’ve-been-hiding-in-since-1970,” training-wheels harassment by making a public accusation that embarrasses not just the individual at fault but the organization they both work for. For Gillibrand to do this in the U.S. Senate would instantly make her a pariah even in her own party.

More importantly, it would be wrong.

Should she have mentioned the incidents at all, then? Sure. It accomplishes many objectives to do this. It alerts the clueless Senators involved that they were out of line. It lets the public know that the Senate still operates like an Old Boy’s Club where women are treated as exotic oddities—you know, like in a Fortune 500 boardroom. In a book that, like all autobiographies, is intended to put her in a positive light, the revelation lets readers know what Gillibrand has to put up with. These are all valid reasons to tell the story, though not name names.

I presume, without knowing, that the Senator dealt with these incidents the collegial and kind way anyone deals with co-workers who commit gaffes in their presence: educate them, firmly and quickly. These exact kinds of behavior launch sexual harassment suits in the private sector, but never mind that: what the hell is the matter with these men? It’s rude! It’s obviously rude, and the fact that they reached this stage of life thinking such demeaning treatment of women is acceptable is an indictment of the upbringing, attentiveness, ethical instincts and common sense.

The L.A. Times’ Robin Abearian has a different, also sexist, also obnoxious take on this issue.

“Oh, for heaven’s sakes. We’re not talking Bob Packwood here. We’re not talking about sexual harassment, or even, really, fat shaming. (Hey, that one guy said he likes ‘em chubby!) We are simply talking about the kind of offhand remark to which the pudgy have been subjected forever. The men who made such comments to Gillibrand are not “harassers.” Gillibrand is most certainly not a “victim.” And this is not an Anita Hill moment. It does offer an object lesson to men, however: If ever you are tempted to remark on a female colleague’s weight, just shove a doughnut in your mouth til the urge passes.”


  • It is sexual harassment, or can easily become it. A workplace where this kind of conduct is routine is hostile to women.
  • “Every woman has to put up with this” is just “everybody does it” in a skirt. How would Abearian respond if a man used that excuse for his piggish ways, as in, “Hey, get used to it! We’ve always treated women like toys and pets!”
  • It isn’t just about weight. It is about women having to make sure their weight pleases men, an inherently denigrating attitude to both the particular woman, in this case Gillibrand, and women generally.

On balance, the Right’s fake indignation over Gillibrand not outing the Senatorial Pigs is more offensive that the feminist columnist’s “all men are pigs, so its hopeless” reasoning why she was correct to leave them un-named. The bottom line, however, is that Senator Gillibrand did the right thing.


Sources: L.A. Times, Hot Air

15 thoughts on “Sen. Gillibrand and The Pigs

  1. Autobiographies as a source of new information are generally worthless. Jack points out that they are intended to show the author in a favorable light; in this case a further purpose is to advance a narrative that is essential to the viewpoint/agenda of the Democrats. Anecdotes like the one referenced seem to never have a context: these are presented as random remarks, are we certain there was no prior conversation? Perhaps insults were traded, and one of the elderly ‘gentlemen’ was reacting to a slight about his age/hair loss/impotence/weight gain. It hardly matters in the greater scheme of things, but it is not unreasonable, when someone is citing an example of ‘institutional sexism’, to ask for a bit more than ‘an unnamed person at an indeterminate time in the past said something like this’.
    The reaction from conservatives may be a bit over the top, but can be understood best as an ongoing refusal to let liberals construct compelling, yet false narratives that advance their agenda, which are then so very rapidly spread through the utterly complicit media. In short, the conservative party line in these matters boils down to: Yeah? Prove it! This hard line calling of Bullshit! can be traced to the Congressional Black Caucus staging a walk through the Kill the Bill! rally on March 20 2010 ( an anti-obamacare rally), and then claiming that they were spit upon and called ‘the N word’ (Lord I hate that phrase). This narrative was challenged by the protesters and no proof of such name calling or other abuse of the CBC managed to make it onto the 100’s of video/audio records of the incident. Breit Bart famously offered $100,00 to anyone who could provide any proof at all that the alleged abuse happened. This did not for a moment stop the CBC from repeatedly making the false claims, or it being widely reported, in spite of all of the major networks somehow missing the ACTUAL incident with their ubiquitous cameras. This particular false narrative was of course designed to tar with the racist brush those who opposed obamacare.
    So, Gillibrand’s anecdotes signify nothing other than that she wishes the Senate to be viewed as an old-boys-club, and herself as easily-able-to-handle-it. Is there any perspicacity there? Not really. Both may or may not be true. The very self-serving nature of both conclusions, as well as the too ready-made for the press nature of them give me more than enough cause to say: Yeah? Prove it!

    • Except I’m a guy, and I have seen so much of this behavior in elite, mostly male-dominated DC institutions and organizations that it is near certain that such episodes occurred, and occur to every woman on the Hill more attractive than Barbara Mikulski. The spitting incident was slander, and simply fed into confirmation bias against the Tea Party. But the piggish conduct of middle aged power brokers on the Hill is no myth. She doesn’t have to prove it. If it didn’t happen, then she’s using some one else’s experience as her own. That’s not right, but the message isn’t false, either.

        • IF it’s fake. She deserves the benefit of the doubt. If it is true, she is right to keep it anonymous. If it isn’t, she is wrong, but nobody should fool themselves into thinking the characterization isn’t accurate.

      • The message may not be false, but it’s too cute. There are 20 female US Senators, not counting Al Franken, so they aren’t exactly scarcer than hen’s teeth. Claiming an experience as your own in order to make a point is surely unethical. I somehow don’t think the narrative would be as well served if she stated in her autobiography: ” I heard about this…”; I don’t think that excerpt would be widely quoted. I’m certain that Gillibrand has not made it through life without running into an asshole or two. To which I say: So what? There’s no political narrative served by that, though.

        • An aside about autobiographies.
          The only autobiographies I’ve read which really rang true are Joseph Heller’s and Keith Richard’s. Each presents themselves as an ego-maniacal sociopath asshole. I believe them.

        • I just looked at the photos and ages of the female Senators. If one was going to be harassed, it would be her. Maybe Kelly Ayotte. There isn’t a lot of competition, and this involved pregnancy, remember.

        • I love it. You’re saying that sexual harassment shouldn’t be mentioned. We should just ignore the assholes! That’ll make them go away! This goes round and round in circles: when women speak up about sexist behavior, they’re told to be quiet, and when women stay quiet, they’re told they should speak out. I’ve seen plenty of both attacks.

          Clearly, this has to be an attempt to score political points. I can’t imagine what an example of sexism would have to do with the autobiography of a woman who rose to power in a male dominated field.

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