When Katie Hill made her powerful speech about misogynistic double standards on the House floor last Thursday before getting ready to resign, there were only a handful of other members of Congress on the floor: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York); Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts); Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minnesota); Rep. Lauren Underwood (Illinois), who is Hill’s roommate; and Joe Neguse (Colorado), her co-representative to leadership among the freshmen.
Hill made the decision to resign after allegations came out that she had had a relationship with a staffer on her campaign and another one with a campaign aide who went on to become her legislative director (the latter of which she vehemently denied). At the same time, nude photos of her were leaked to right-wing tabloids, which she blamed on her soon-to-be-ex-husband Kenny Heslep, whom she called abusive. The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into the relationship with the legislative director, but Hill resigned shortly after, saying she wants the House to focus on impeaching Trump — one of her last votes.
Some members of Congress, particularly younger ones, came to Hill’s defense by publicly acknowledging the fact that she is a victim of “revenge porn,” and that her intimate photos had been weaponized against her. But overall, the response was not a full-throated defense. Many members chose not to make statements, and others only made them after she had decided to resign. Some older members, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reportedly said they wish Hill had been more careful in transmitting her private photos.
When it comes to why so many lawmakers were quiet on the matter, including many of Hill’s fellow freshmen in Congress, their aides say there were various reasons.
“A lot of the show of support was done intimately and privately with Hill, out of respect for her,” Robert Julien, press secretary for Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, told Refinery29. “People didn’t want to be adding to the noise. We didn’t want to make press out of the pain and suffering she’s been through. She had private images published without her consent that have caused incredible pain.”
From off-the-record conversations, a few themes emerge around why there weren’t many ardent public defenders of Hill. One, when it comes to the news of the day, the resignation of a freshman member of Congress doesn’t compare to potentially impeaching the president, and members didn’t want their statements overwhelming the news. Two, some of her alleged behavior, such as the relationship with the legislative director, has made members uncomfortable despite agreeing that a double standard is at play. The statements they put out would have to be very nuanced, and that is a tricky thing to do.
“She was elected in the middle of the #MeToo era,” a communications director for another freshman member of Congress told Refinery29 anonymously. “It’s not really up for debate that there’s a power dynamic. You can’t have a consensual relationship with your staff who you’re paying. And yes, it sucks because there is a double standard: There are members walking around who have behaved poorer. There’s acknowledgement that her ex is a piece of shit, but at the end of the day a lot of people have chosen to be quiet because there’s not a huge upside to jumping to her defense.”
The “Squad” group of millennial freshmen Congresswomen were the most vocal about calling what had happened to Hill an injustice.
“This doesn’t happen to male members in the same way — revenge porn in this respect. It’s horrific,” Ocasio-Cortez told Politico, adding that she thinks this would deter some younger women from running for office. “I don’t think we’re really talking about how targeted and serious this is. We’re talking about a major crime… being committed against her.”
In an interview with Politico, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) said that Congress, where the average age of a member is 57.6, is still hopelessly stuck in its ways, viewing alleged details about Hill such as being in a “throuple” as transgressions rather than simply parts of her private life.
“I’ve only been here for 10 months, but it’s unbelievable, the kind of scrutiny and double standards that I’ve seen,” particularly for women and people of color, said Tlaib. “This place can be extremely defeating. You’re coming as your unapologetic self. You’re coming as a real person. They’re not ready for people like Katie and I, for people who are different… We needed Katie here and I hope she changes her mind.”
Both Pressley and Omar tweeted in support of Hill on the day of her speech.
“I have no doubt that so many people who have survived abusive revenge porn felt seen & heard today. You have many more chapters ahead sis & I look forward to all the good you’ll do,” wrote Pressley.
I have no doubt that so many people who have survived abusive revenge porn felt seen & heard today. You have many more chapters ahead sis & I look forward to all the good you’ll do.
“We have an entire culture that needs to change and we see it with clarity today” @RepKatieHill
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) October 31, 2019
Omar, who herself has been a target of racist and sexist attacks since she joined Congress, tweeted, “Best of luck on your new journey @KatieHill4CA, we got you,” adding, “To all the women/girls out there, do not be deterred from pursuing your dreams. We must and will create a society where you cannot be defamed, smeared and kept from your career aspirations because of smear campaigns!”
Best of luck on your new journey @KatieHill4CA, we got you ✊🏽
To all the women/girls out there, do not be deterred from pursuing your dreams. We must and will create a society where you cannot be defamed, smeared and kept from your career aspirations because of smear campaigns! pic.twitter.com/aXcPuNRWWj
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 31, 2019
In an interview with Mother Jones, Omar questioned why California’s Duncan Hunter, who has refused to resign even after being indicted for using campaign funds for at least five extramarital affairs (including allegedly with congressional staffers), is still a member of Congress. And, for that matter, why Donald Trump, accused of sexual assault by multiple women, is still president.
Last Friday, almost 40 lawmakers headed by Tom Malinowski (New Jersey) wrote a letter in support of the SHIELD Act, the first federal statute that would protect victims of “revenge porn.” Freshmen Congresswomen who signed the letter included Tlaib, Omar, Pressley, and Garcia, as well as: Rep. Kim Schrier (Washington), Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (Texas), Rep. Deb Haaland (New Mexico), Rep. Mikie Sherrill (New Jersey), Rep. Susie Lee (Nevada), Rep. Lori Trahan (Massachusetts), Rep. Jennifer Wexton (Virginia), Rep. Donna Shalala (Florida), and Rep. Madeleine Dean (Pennsylvania).
Whether or not this legislation goes anywhere, as more millennials continue getting elected, there will be more Katie Hills — and Congress needs to learn how to address it.
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