#MeToo in California’s Capital

Posted by on Oct 25, 2017 in United States
microphones at a press conference

Female legislators in California added their voices to the story of sexual harassment in America.

You may have heard about Harvey Weinstein, the film producer and former film studio executive who is accused of sexually harassing and/or assaulting more than 50 women in Hollywood. The Weinstein scandal set off a tidal wave of women all over the country coming forward to share their own stories of harassment and assault, often using the social media hashtag #metoo. Last Tuesday, more than forty female lawmakers, aides, and lobbyists in California spoke up in a letter about their similar experiences of abuse in the state capital.

What Happened?

The authors of the letter stated that they had experienced a range of sexually offensive behavior, such as being touched inappropriately or told that they needed to make inappropriate choices to move their bills forward. They say that male lawmakers also talked about their bodies and appearance in a sexualized way. In some cases, the harassment would happen routinely over a period of several years.

Why Now?

Some people might wonder why these women didn’t speak out sooner. There are many factors involved. First, the women might feel shame or embarrassment over the incident (even though it wasn’t their fault). Second, they might feel afraid physically of the man they are accusing, or afraid that he could damage their careers if they tell what happened.

Instead, the women say that they helped each other quietly, by offering tips and advice to other women about which men and situations to avoid. Now, the fact that so many women have come forward about Harvey Weinstein has given female lawmakers and lobbyists the courage to speak up about their own stories as well.

What Next?

California Senate leader Kevin de Leon has announced that he will hire two outside firms to look into the matter. While this is happening, the California General Assembly will conduct public hearings about the accusations. In the meantime, the California women who signed the letter have formed a group called “We Said Enough.” This nonprofit organization’s goal is to develop a plan for how to improve the way that harassment and abuse complaints are reported and handled.

Of course, it is unlikely that sexually threatening behavior is something unique to California’s legislation. Now that the California women have spoken up, it is likely that female lawmakers from other parts of the country also will feel empowered to share their stories. Already, female representatives in Rhode Island and South Dakota have come forward with their own accusations of harassment.

Dig Deeper Unfortunately, sexual harassment by lawmakers is not a unique situation to California. Using internet resources, spend a few minutes researching the sexual harassment scandal that erupted in Albany, the state capital of New York, in 2012. How was that situation similar to the one in California? How was it different? What actions do you think state legislation can take going forward that would put an end to this kind of inappropriate conduct and ensure a safe work environment for women?