Media manages to make Senator Gillibrand’s teachable moment about sexism all about her mistakes

The media never ceases to amaze me. Its victim-blaming knows no bounds. Whether its Ray Rice’s then-fiancé who got herself attacked by not taking the stairs, or female celebrities responsible for getting hacked because they had naked photographs of themselves, the women who are assaulted and/or violated are always the focus.

This victim-shaming is so egalitarian and so equal-opportunity, it applies to extremely powerful people — like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Yet again, as Senator Gillibrand tries to raise the issue of sexism within the Senate, the media responds by blaming her for the way she’s doing it. Because… it’s a Tuesday. 

As we’ve covered before, Gillibrand’s new book, Off the Sidelines, recounts how she had to deal with comments about her weight and physical appearance, as well as touching, from her male colleagues. And, as we also covered, several politicians and pundits have responded by casting doubt on her claims, or by shifting the focus onto what Gillibrand is doing wrong. Today, MSNBCS’s Morning Joe show joined this cacophonous chorus. And remember, MSNBC is supposed to be the progressive channel. Host Joe Scarborough is, perhaps, the token conservative, but he is meant to be balanced out by co-host Mika Brzezinski, who is supposed to represent the liberal perspective and the woman’s view (problematic as that concept is…but that’s for another post).

Brzezinski did not hold back in accusing Gillibrand of doing the wrong thing: “Why wouldn’t you name names here?” Gillibrand tried to explain, “I want to elevate the debate. It’s not about a specific insult about one person… What this is about is how we elevate the debate to talk about these broader challenges.” Mika then replied by asking, “Wouldn’t you elevate the debate by naming names?” And Gillibrand said, “I want to talk about the bigger challenges, the fact that we don’t have equal pay in this country.”

Brzezinski also seemed make the argument that Gillibrand should have reported the harassment, as if a woman has the duty for the sake of the greater good. Alexandra has written on how this thinking is problematic:

We usually talk about victim-blaming as putting the responsibility not to get raped on potential victims, rather than potential perpetrators. However, we see a similar logic in the insistence that it’s survivor’s job to stop violence against others, even at the expense of their own healing and safety.

There are several reasons someone may not want to “name names.” As Fatima Goss Graves, the vice president for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center, told Think Progress,

There’s a lot at stake for men and women who come forward to talk about a hostile environment and workplace harassment…. Retaliation is very real, and it could come in the form of losing your job altogether or your boss making life your life terrible by controlling which job assignments you get, and whether you get a promotion or the pay you deserve. It could even take the form of additional sexual harassment. That’s why some people don’t want to pay the price for speaking out.

Graves also explains that reporting the issue without reporting individuals is, indeed, an effective way to not only encourage change but empower other people who have experienced the harassment:

It can make a real difference not only in the way Congress functions, but also how other people in other workplaces see themselves…. It can help them recognize that the conduct they’re experiencing is not isolated and there are things they can do about it.

And Amanda Marcotte argues that naming names would actually probably be counterproductive to having a broader conversation about sexual harassment:

Gillibrand’s stories have the potential to provoke a genuine discussion about the widespread nature of sexual harassment, which would be lost in the finger-pointing extravaganza that would result from making specific accusations. But maybe that’s been lost already: By shifting the focus away from the inappropriate comments and touching and toward blaming Gillibrand for supposedly not doing enough to hold her colleagues accountable, we’ve pretty much reached the unproductive portion of the conversation.

While the media criticizes Gillibrand for the way she is reporting behavior, people who think the problem is the actual behavior can sign this CREDO petition to tell male members of Congress: “The culture of misogyny at the U.S. Capitol is unacceptable. If you are making sexist comments stop. If you witness a colleague making sexist comments stand up and speak out.”

Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.



Originally posted on Feministing.

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