A Woman’s Place is in the House and the Senate: Underlying Sexism in Congress

While overt sexism often gets the most attention in the media and the press for obvious reasons, covert sexism is often even more insidious because it dresses up as a compliment or a joke and is harder to unroot. Sexism can be found everywhere no matter the place of employment, and Congress is far from exempt. Recently, some female lawmakers have come forward to discuss what Rep. Katie Hill (CA) calls “archaic sexism,” pervasive in both the House and Senate.

Hill stated in a recent interview that a fellow male congressman made a very inappropriate remark towards her. Hill had called a fellow colleague “Mr. One Minute” in reference to his short speeches on the floor, and he replied that “'I can also be Mr. Five Minute Man or Mr. Whatever Minute Man You Want.” Hill decided to come forward after another female colleague revealed a similar remark had been made to her. Hill also stated that this is not the only example of sexism; she revealed that she and her other female colleagues are often referred to as “beautiful” and “darling,” which is part of the bigger picture of being dismissed as a congresswoman or senator. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) summarizes this as “systemic” and something that “has an impact.”

Hill is not alone in her statements. Bustle published a series of interviews with 19 women on Capitol Hill about the sexism they experienced before the introduction of the 116th Congress, which has a record number of women. Bustle author Monica Busch discussed that Congress is no longer a “boy’s club,” but it’s culture is “designed with men in mind.”

Rep. Betty McCollum (MN) stated that she was often viewed as a spouse of a congressman rather than a congresswoman, and that at one point she even rolled up newspaper to swat away a harassing colleague. Rep. Joyce Beatty (OH) relates to not being seen as a representative. As a black woman, Rep. Beatty’s recalls a story of being mistaken as a member of the wait staff and being asked to get a man a cup of coffee at a large county meeting she was hosting.

While many would expect that Capitol Hill would be beyond these microaggressions and sexist commentary, it’s sadly unsurprising that this is common, even at the highest levels of our government. Rep. Barbara Lee (CA) explains this by saying, “The House is a microcosm of our larger society—racism and sexism are present in many forms." This, however, is not a lost cause because as Congress becomes more diverse and truly representative of Americans across this country, the idea of Congress being a “boy’s club” will be a thing of the past and hopefully so will this disgusting and discriminatory behavior.