‘Enough’: California’s Women in Politics Call Out Sexual Harassment

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is among more than 140 women who signed the letter detailing sexual harassment in politics and demanding that it end. (Bert Johnson/KQED)

A bipartisan group of more than 140 of some of California’s most powerful women — including lawmakers, lobbyists and consultants — are calling out pervasive sexual harassment in politics and across all industries, penning a public letter with one simple message:  Enough.

The letter comes a week after revelations that one of Hollywood’s most powerful men, Harvey Weinstein, had sexually harassed or abused dozens of women over decades in the movie business — and as thousands of women are sharing their stories of abuse and harassment on social media, with a simple statement: “Me, too.”

But Sacramento lobbyist Samantha Corbin, who helped coordinate the letter, said the issue had been percolating at the Capitol long before the Weinstein controversy broke.

“It elevated conversations that already happened under the radar between women colleagues and friends for years,” said Corbin.

“It’s a pretty regular thing in Sacramento,” she added. “A lot of us are fed up with power dynamics that are not on our side.”


Corbin said she and fellow organizers contacted more than 500 women about signing the letter. She noted that many, while supportive, expressed concerns about retaliations by their bosses if they spoke out.  She noted that of the women who originally signed the letter, only five are staffers at the Capitol.

“It’s a power dynamic that’s difficult even for female lawmakers,” Corbin said. “Even for women in the Legislature, men often control fundraising, your ability to get bills passed — even women at the highest levels feel that they’re not insulated” from retaliation.

She stressed that many men at the Capitol have reached out to ask what they can do to help. But Corbin noted, some men are oblivious to sexual harassment, even when it happens right in front of them.

“They don’t know what it looks like or how to intervene,” Corbin said. “Some of them don’t even see what’s happening with their own colleagues.”

The women leaders write that “millions of Americans were shocked” to learn of Weinstein’s behavior.

“We were not. This same kind of inappropriate, sexually harassing behavior cuts across every industry and facet of our society. No matter a woman’s age, weight, religion, sexual orientation, race, social status, or position of power, she is not insulated from this behavior. It is pervasive,” they wrote.

The letter goes on to detail the ways in which all of the letters’ signatories have endured or witnessed “some form of dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces.”

Their list is long and explicit: Groping. Touching. Inappropriate comments about bodies and abilities. Insults and sexual innuendo, frequently disguised as jokes. Promises and threats.

“They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like,” the group wrote, noting that they didn’t speak up before out of fear, out of shame.

“Often these men hold our professional fates in their hands. They are bosses, gatekeepers, and contacts. Our relationships with them are crucial to our personal success,” they wrote. “We don’t want to jeopardize our future, make waves, or be labeled ‘crazy,’ ‘troublemaker,’ or ‘asking for it.’ Worse, we’re afraid when we speak up that no one will believe us, or we will be blacklisted.”

The signatories include Democrats and Republicans; dozens of lawmakers and other elected officials; lobbyists, political consultants; party leaders. In short, pretty much every sector of California’s political world.

They are asking other women to come forward, and have launched a website to collect stories and support one another. And they are demanding that men support them.

“We’re done with this,” the letter states. “Each of us who signed this op-ed will no longer tolerate the perpetrators or enablers who do. What now? It’s time for women to speak up and share their stories. We also need the good men, and there are many, to believe us, have our backs, and speak up. Until more women hold positions of power, our future is literally dependent on men. It’s time.”

Corbin noted that while some legislators are notorious for their behavior toward women, organizers decided against naming names.

“Even if we had a list of the five worst offenders,  it wouldn’t do anything,” she said. “There’s more than five. It’s systemic.”

‘Enough’: California’s Women in Politics Call Out Sexual Harassment 30 November,2017Marisa Lagos

  • Robyn Ryan

    Equal rights for women. We are second class citizens.

  • Susan Takalo

    I was taken aback with John’s question about why didn’t women respond immediately when the harassment happened. Harassment is seeped in our culture of sexism, racism, homophobia, and all the other ways that groups of people are treated as less than. The people harassing have power over those in the workplace they harass. Besides the answer given that the women were surprised it was happening, their job or relationship at work was at stake. I think John may have been more sensitive if he has been in that situation.

    Additionally, I then heard the promo for the spot that said something like money, sex, and politics. Harassment is NOT about sex, it is about power.

  • j monte

    You made sure to call out the “sitting President”, but golly gee, you seem to have forgotten the previous occupant who actually had sexual relations with an intern (de facto harassment) IN the oval office. Also, please inform Ms. Corbin that the past tense of “drag” is “dragged”, not “drug”.

Author

Marisa Lagos

Marisa Lagos reports on state politics for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk, which uses radio, television and online mediums to explore the latest news in California’s Capitol and dig deeper into political influence in the Golden State. Marisa also appears on a weekly podcast analyzing the week’s political news.

Before joining KQED, Marisa worked  at the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times, and, most recently, for nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered San Francisco City Hall and state politics, focusing on the California legislature, governor, budget and criminal justice. In 2011, she won a special award for extensive and excellent work in covering California justice issues from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and also helped lead the Chronicle’s award-winning breaking news coverage of the 2010 San Bruno Pacific Gas & Electric explosion. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Marisa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She and lives in San Francisco with her two sons and husband. Email: mlagos@kqed.org Twitter @mlagos Facebook facebook.com/marisalagosnews

Author

Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED’s Politics and Government Desk. When he’s not asking questions you’ll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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