The Harvey Weinstein scandal seems to have brought on never-ending reports of sexual harassment by men in power. After Donna Karan’s remarks, the social media movement #MeToo, and the subsequent movement, #HowIWillChange, there seems to be no end to the long-overdue changes being wrought.
This week, women in the California State Legislation are speaking up against years of sexual harassment and poorly-handled complaints. Nearly 200 women have written and signed a letter reproaching the sexual conduct in the state government, referencing their experiences of being groped, threatened, and mistreated.
“As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different,” the letter says. “It has not. Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men in power in our workplaces. Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities.
“Why didn’t we speak out? Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame. Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands.”
Not only does the letter claim that the government is rife with figures who are prone to sexual harassment, but it also reproaches the state’s human resources system, claiming that the system it has in place for complaints is far from decent. Nancy Finnigan, one of such women who has previously filed a complaint, describes her experience with Steve Fox, a legislator for an area around Los Angeles. During her time with Fox, she claims she’d been subjected to views of his genitals, as well as to running personal errands such as buying shower curtains and new blankets.
following her complaint, Finnigan’s first meeting with Fox consisted of Fox “berating and threatening” her over her job performance; a month after she’d lodged the complaint, she was fired. She only this year won a $100,000 settlement from the Assembly (the ethical ruling body that handles complaints) for wrongful termination, harassment, and retaliation.
Her experience in the Assembly system has only proven the system’s flaws, yet it took almost 200 women for the state government to admit that the system needed changing. “I would never depend on any rules committee to properly conduct an independent investigation, or to remedy sexual harassment,” says Micha Liberty, a California lawyer. “The only way to obtain justice in these settings is to actually seek justice in the judicial branch.”
Anthony Rendon, a speaker for the California State Assembly, acknowledges the letter’s existence but does not think that it is enough to launch an investigation into the system, since no names are mentioned. “The letter shows that sexual harassment is as prevalent in the Capitol as it is anywhere else in society,” he says. And prevalent it is – but never has it been so prevalent that women have had to take protections into their own hands.
“We all talk to each other,” says Caity Maple, a former intern of the State Assembly. “We all know who the creepers are.”
While Rendon has announced that the State Assembly had, in August, created an ethics committee to establish new rules cracking down on harassment and intimidation, the fact that the women still mobilized, created, and signed the letter is a clear testimony to the idea that perhaps the committee isn’t working as well as they’d like. It is a classic example of a workplace system: there will always be claims of change, but the effects won’t always be what they should. Our only hope is that a real change will soon be made, and women in government will finally get the respect they deserve.
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