The culture of harassment in Washington, D.C.

by on November 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm in Current Affairs, Law, Political Science | Permalink

The sexual-harassment revolution is coming more slowly to Washington. Even the four female lawmakers who recently told the Associated Press of sexual harassment they faced from their male co-workers didn’t feel comfortable sharing the names of their harassers. “I’m not sure women in D.C. would be rewarded for their bravery [if they came forward], it’s just a different business,” Ellen says. “The thing about this town is that everyone is connected. The people who get ahead keep the peace and angle everything to their advantage.”

Add to that the tribal nature of politics: Most aides are terrified of doing anything that might bring bad press for their boss, or their side. “There’s an anti-snitch sorta thing — you don’t air your dirty laundry,” says Anne Gregory Teicher, a Democratic campaign manager. “It gives the other side power.”

And it doesn’t stop when the campaign is over. “Staffers are told from day one that they do not talk to press, full stop,” says Travis Moore, a former legislative director for the now-retired representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. As a Waxman aide, he says, “I spoke to a reporter once, on background, and I was incredibly nervous going into it … people are socialized not to ever talk about what’s wrong in the institution because it could reflect poorly on their member of Congress. There’s a culture that doesn’t accept criticism unless you’re talking about partisanship. It’s really bad for the institution.”

I heard similar rationales from the other women I reached out to. “We’re all a bit more scared. We don’t have platforms like big-name actresses do…”

Here is the full piece by Marin Cogan.

1 clockwork_prior November 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Coming more slowly? Clinton was impeached for his actions 20 years ago, after all.

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2 Vivian Darkbloom November 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Clinton was not impeached for sexual harassment. He was impeached for perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

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3 steve November 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

To be more succinct, lying about having sex.

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4 Paul Johnson November 12, 2017 at 2:43 pm

Lying under oath in a sexual harassment case that invoked law created, in part, by Hillary Clinton back in her younger days as a proud feminist lawyer.

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5 Floccina November 13, 2017 at 9:27 am

+1 That was the most of it as I remember the argument was that Democrats made sexual harassment an issue but refused to use it against Clinton.

6 Floccina November 13, 2017 at 9:35 am

Most males attitudes at the time were, some percent guys are bad like that, we don;t want to fire them all, rape and violence are already illegal, dirty talk you’ll just have to live with.

7 Steve Sailer November 13, 2017 at 5:25 am

I wrote an op-ed in December 1992 predicting that President-Elect Clinton would get in trouble over some sexual harassment charge from his time as governor of Arkansas.

But I couldn’t find anybody to publish it.

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8 DanC November 12, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Yet everybody seems to leak on everything else

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9 Kevin- November 12, 2017 at 3:09 pm

It’s not that the info doesn’t leak out, it’s that no one will publish or broadcast anonymous accusations. The article details why no one will speak on the record. So it’s all a big open secret.

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10 GoneWithTheWind November 12, 2017 at 5:44 pm

I think the reason so many women only claim it happened to them and refuse to say more is because then the actual facts might come out. A good example is the most recent accusation against president Bush. My first thought when I heard what the young lady said was “are you stupid?” But my second thought was “just another liberal trying to skewer Republicans with false claims”.

Most “sexual harassment” is pure poppycock. One pundit once said that sexual harassment is when a man shows interest in a woman but he isn’t Brad Pitt. Probably a better definition is that sexual harassment is what women use either for revenge or to get promoted. The fake sexual harassment has so polluted the situation that it is impossible to tell who is being truthful any more (or ever).

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11 Anil November 12, 2017 at 8:24 pm

You are truly deluded. There is no pride in claiming one was groped, prodded, forced upon, undressed or catcalled. These are not women claiming they were flirted with in bars or parties. This is in places where trust and respect are paramount like the workplace. If the George Bush story is the only one you are following, boy, go read more.

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12 GoneWithTheWind November 12, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Who you calling “boy”? Oh, wait! That’s over reacting just like so many of those false claims of sexual harassment. The George Bush story is the tip of the iceberg. For some reason, anger, mental illness, stupidity, women will make up these stories and often just to get attention. You need to read more.

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13 msgkings November 12, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Oh good, so Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton didn’t do anything wrong. Phew.

14 GoneWithTheWind November 13, 2017 at 10:31 am

“Oh good, so Harvey Weinstein and Bill Clinton didn’t do anything wrong. Phew.”

A classic conflation attempt. What Bill Clinton and Weinstein did was criminal and clearly not what any normal person today would conflate with “sexual harassment”. Most sexual harassment is at worst boorish actions that if committed by Brad Pitt would be welcomed. Most sexual harassment is NOT what Clinton and Weinstein did. That is why the the George Bush example is so significant. That simple act by a 93 year old disabled man who in a photo op was trying to create a picture but because he cannot raise his arm above his shoulder it become “sexual harassment” is illustrative of what “sexual harassment” really means today. It is nothing more than a technique to seek revenge against someone you dislike or is a political enemy, win a law suit or promotion or simply garner attention,

15 msgkings November 13, 2017 at 12:03 pm

I agree that there’s a big difference between Weinstein and GHWBush in these examples. But I was snarking to this:

“Most “sexual harassment” is pure poppycock. One pundit once said that sexual harassment is when a man shows interest in a woman but he isn’t Brad Pitt. Probably a better definition is that sexual harassment is what women use either for revenge or to get promoted. The fake sexual harassment has so polluted the situation that it is impossible to tell who is being truthful any more (or ever).”

Most? And it’s what women use for revenge? Can’t tell who’s truthful? You just need to simmer down a bit, there’s plenty of Weinstein-style harassment out there, and it’s not women lying or using it to advantage. The good news is this feels like a tipping point moment. There are probably plenty of other Weinstein’s and O’Reilly’s and CK’s out there. They will think twice now, and their targets will have a lot less reluctance to speak up. Norms evolve, and while in the old days lecherous studio heads and CEOs and celebrities ‘are just the way it is’ will become ‘that’s not OK anymore’.

16 BC November 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm

“Add to that the tribal nature of politics: Most aides are terrified of doing anything that might bring bad press for their boss, or their side….There’s a culture that doesn’t accept criticism unless you’re talking about partisanship.”

It’s somewhat of a paradox that, in a culture where party label is so strong, the parties are actually so weak as institutions. Corporations can easily fire CEOs for misbehavior because they can replace the CEO without (really) harming the firm. The firm has enterprise value that transcends any individual. Similarly, even in star-oriented Hollywood, star actors and producers can be replaced and the industry will still continue to produce hit films and shows. When it comes to politics though, even though party label drives so many voters, the parties do not feel like they can simply replace candidates no matter how obviously scandal ridden. Recent examples include Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Roy Moore. Yes, some ballot rules prevent replacement if too close to the election. But, the elevation of individual politician over party extends even when ballot rules are not the binding constraint, e.g., early in the primary season and post-election impeachment or forced resignation.

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17 chuck martel November 12, 2017 at 2:00 pm

In Hollywood getting one’s name in the media is a positive, regardless of the circumstances. For the underlings in DC it makes one an untouchable who has to go into another line of work in another place.

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18 Alt Left, Right, and Center November 12, 2017 at 2:05 pm

> “The sexual-harassment revolution is coming more slowly to Washington”

But when it arrives, it will surely be no less dramatic than the sexual-harrassment revolution in the UK: I’m willing to bet that more than one male American politician touched a female knee within the last 15 years or so. The horror, the horror. Luckily, an accusation now suffices to make such monsters fall on their swords.

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19 dearieme November 12, 2017 at 5:03 pm

“an accusation now suffices to make such monsters fall on their swords.” In Wales one of the accused politicians has actually committed suicide. The boss who sacked him from the Welsh government had allegedly refused to tell him what he was accused of.

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20 charlie November 12, 2017 at 2:22 pm

paging wonkette…paging wonkette…

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21 ohwilleke November 12, 2017 at 2:24 pm

In Colorado, where a scandal caused vacancy allows a vacancy committee of the same party to replace a candidate, the incentives are the opposite of those in DC. Here, you want to out the scandals of your own party so that you don’t have to have a damaged candidate face the voters, and you don’t try too hard to throw stones at the other side for fear that their damaged goods will be replaced by someone else who isn’t damaged and is in an honeymoon period with voters.

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22 Art Deco November 12, 2017 at 2:56 pm

A narrative encompassing a string of episodes in which mashers get rejected is transmogrified in this woman’s ‘mind’ into a story about ‘male power’.

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23 A Truth Seeker November 12, 2017 at 3:00 pm

So people can criticize partisanship, but must act in a partisanship way. Such are the paradoxes of life under America’s regime.

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24 TMC November 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm

How many women want to hide that they got favors for sex? There may be many reasons for both sides to not report what happens.

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25 Art Deco November 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Women have options. Men have obligations.

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26 msgkings November 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Too glib. Before having kids both men and women have options. After kids both have obligations. Being childless, you wouldn’t know.

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27 albatross November 13, 2017 at 9:45 am

I expect a lot of Weinstein’s actions that haven’t come out in the media are like this.

Some woman slept with Weinstein and got a minor part somewhere, and either it turned into a moderately successful acting career (she’s still working as an actor) or it didn’t (she’s an HR manager somewhere now). In either case, there’s really not a lot of incentive for her to announce in public “Yeah, I slept with Weinstein to get an acting job.” It just embarrasses her in public and undermines some part of her life she’s proud of. (Even the current HR manager is likely to have shown all her family and friends that one relatively successful movie where she has a couple speaking lines and is on screen for a couple minutes.)

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28 msgkings November 13, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Sure, and trading sex for advancement won’t go away now, and frankly if consensual and non-coerced I don’t see the problem. But the stories about O’Reilly and Ailes and Weinstein and Cosby and CK that we are hearing were NOT consensual. I just don’t see a downside to the current moment. There will definitely be a reduction in total obvious jerky behavior, because no one wants to be the next Weinstein. But sleeping your way to something, that’s still going to be a thing.

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29 DK November 13, 2017 at 1:04 pm

When it involves a person in a position of power, it’s very difficult for it not to be coerced. I know it’s not always this binary, but a victim could also consider the repercussions if she doesn’t perform a requested sex act from a person in power. So, it’s as much “I’ll perform this sex act and get an acting role/promotion” as it is “if I don’t perform this sex act, my career is finished and I have no chance. I have no choice but to do it and hope things work out.”

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30 msgkings November 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Well sure, there’s always the gray areas, but the line has shifted in a positive direction, the gray area has moved. Before, Weinstein could brazenly say ‘hey give me a massage and watch me jerk off, I’ll get you a nice part. If you say no you’ll never work in this town again’. If she complies, yeah she was coerced. Today if someone is dumb enough to try that, she just says ‘holy smokes did you just Weinstein me? Here let me send a tweet’.

My point was that there are some women (and men) who willingly offer themselves for a quid pro quo. Not because they superior asked, but because they just want to make that deal. They see the boss looking at them and think ‘ok I can make a move here’. That will always be out there. But the goalposts have moved for obvious, piggy Weinstein behavior.

31 Bill November 12, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Do you remember when

Bill O’Reilly

Just called this

Politically Correctness.

PC or DC Police?

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32 Bill November 12, 2017 at 3:22 pm

I don’t know what Tyler is reading,

But another article in the same magazine is entitled:

“Why Men Force Women to Watch Them Masturbate.”

https://www.thecut.com/2017/10/men-force-women-masturbate-louis-ck-harvey-weinstein-sexual-assault.html

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33 Thor November 12, 2017 at 7:01 pm

A fairly level head psychologist / sex expert there. I tended to dismiss the behaviour of a minority of men as “deranged” and “childish” — which they can be, of course — until I had kids. Having daughters made a difference. I know the vast majority of men are not doing this. But what about that 2%? 4%? 6%? who get off on sexual bullying? As mentioned, she explained these jerks pretty well.

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34 Curt F. November 13, 2017 at 12:04 am

I don’t understand the explanation. Exhibitionism is because of rage and inadequacy? Perhaps. I don’t understand exhibitionism either. But what makes you think this explanation was useful?

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35 Anon November 13, 2017 at 6:33 am

I’ve been thinking about this because I can’t relate at all. The typical male fantasy is being desired by women. This is what is typified is almost all male targeting pornography and is what makes sense from an elovlutionary perspective. My guess is that the behavior is some kind of extreme psychological defense mechanism against rejection. Like somehow Weinstein feels if he does a sexual act in front of a woman he hasn’t been rejected.

36 albatross November 13, 2017 at 9:59 am

Maybe exhibitionism is just a kink some people have. Some subset of people with it find ways to scratch that particular itch that involve subjecting strangers to unwanted sight of them naked or masturbating or whatever. I doubt very much that this is about power, so much as about satisfying their particular kink. Powerful people use their power to make other people do what they want, which includes helping them satisfy their kinks.

I knew a woman in college who was pretty obviously an exhibitionist. This led to some socially unacceptable behavior in public/semipublic places, but she largely got away with it because she was a pretty girl and she didn’t cross any lines into actual criminal behavior. She used to seriously make out with her boyfriend in public, and would sometimes end up more-or-less undressed at parties, and was pretty clearly enjoying the attention. I knew a lot of people (mostly women) who found this creepy or disgusting–my girlfriend at the time wouldn’t be anywhere close to this woman because she found the whole thing embarrassing. I don’t think anyone found it particularly threatening, though.

My wife (back then, just a friend) once saw a guy masturbating on the same campus when she was walking home from class one evening. No contact, no threat, just walked by and saw this dude in a public place going at it. She was a little freaked out by it, but also had to confirm with the person she was walking with that they’d both seen it–it was so weird that at first, she thought she might have mis-seen or imagined the whole thing.

Neither of these seem very much like an exercise of power, just a kink.

37 Brian Donohue November 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm

South Park with a good take on how everyone is astonished at this unseemly aspect of human (male) nature:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Healing_(South_Park)

There will always be an ample supply of ambitious women willing to sacrifice their dignity to this trade.

Not pretty all the way around, but there it is.

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38 Thor November 12, 2017 at 7:06 pm

Sure, and many of them are strippers, etc. In other words, have work that reflects their choice of having entered a sexualized marketplace.

But it’s obvious that there are many decent ambitious and hardworking women who are aggressively propositioned if not harassed, and it’s not as they are interested in this as an exchange or transaction.

My fear is the current moral panic will make lefties claim (as many do) that all male sexuality is suspect, and conversely on the right, there’ll be the usual “boys will be boys” sweeping under the rug.

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39 ladderff November 12, 2017 at 5:29 pm

Perhaps Washington should be consider unsafe for young female staffers. Or anyone else for that matter.

Anyone else really enjoy Fallout 3?

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40 Evans_KY November 12, 2017 at 8:10 pm

I remember when Mike Pence mentioned he did not eat with other women without his wife present. In my mind a red flag went up. Then I read about how male members of Congress avoid female staffers (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/05/why-some-male-members-of-congress-wont-be-alone-with-female-staffers/449367/). Another red flag. I particularly appreciate Susan Collins response. “To me, that’s just extraordinary because of what it implies, the lack of professionalism that it would imply,” Collins said. “It implies that a man and a woman can’t have a completely professional, proper relationship. That’s just stunning.”

Both sexual harassment and exclusion hurt women professionally. It diminishes our voice and reduces our participation. Men need to discard their excuses for bad behavior. When a woman is a subordinate or a colleague she is out of bounds romantically. Otherwise how can you be sure her response is sincere or if she is simply avoiding conflict?

The deference to institutions is equally infuriating. Criticism or dissent is not welcome. Complacency reigns in Washington DC. Women should drain that swamp.

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41 Art Deco November 12, 2017 at 9:13 pm

I remember when Mike Pence mentioned he did not eat with other women without his wife present. In my mind a red flag went up.

Pence isn’t the problem. You are.

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42 Paul November 12, 2017 at 11:13 pm

Let’s get the original story straight. As quoted in the Washington Post:

“it came up during the 2016 campaign in stories like this one from the Indianapolis Star:
During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.”

1. Dining (not eating).
2. Alone.

As many of the commenters on the WP story pointed out, a man and a women (or man and a man) can have all the professional relationships they want in the regular workplace environment. Including mentoring etc.. Seriously, how many men advance professionally by having dinner alone with the boss?

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43 albatross November 13, 2017 at 10:08 am

Pence’s rule could be for any of several reasons:

a. He doesn’t trust himself not to get too attached/be inappropriate with women if he’s alone in an intimate setting with them.

This may reflect badly on his self control, but if so, it at least suggests good judgment in recognizing his limits. Bill Clinton would likely have benefitted from following the same rule.

b. His wife doesn’t trust him not to get too attached to women he’s working closely with over many years in intimate settings.

This may reflect badly on his wife or his marriage. But it doesn’t seem crazy that he’d adopt this policy to keep his wife happy, even if he personally knew he was never going to stray.

c. He’s worried about false accusations or rumors.

This seems pretty sensible to me–if a man and woman spend a lot of time alone meeting over quiet dinners or sitting up late working in an office together after everyone else has gone home, it would be really easy for rumors to start up about them. That’s completely reasonable for a politician to worry about. Similarly, it doesn’t seem at all unreasonable for a politician to worry about accusations from some female staffer who claims something inappropriate happened when it didn’t.

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44 Patrick November 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

I always took Pence’s comments and actions to mean “I’m not 100% sure I can resist EVERY woman”. Sure, a man and a woman can have a completely professional, proper relationship. But sometimes they don’t. “This relationship was entirely consensual. I have many many completely professional relationships with my female staffers. I have provided mentorship and support to the following dozen successful female politicians without any improper conduct.” would never be taken as a valid explanation (pretty sure this was part of David Letterman’s defence. It didn’t work very well). It would be considered an abuse of power by Pence. It would probably end his marriage and his career.
So when the professional, personal and spiritual costs of a mistake are so high, it makes perfect sense to adjust your behavior to insure against those mistakes.
And even if he never slipped up, imagine for a moment that a congress critter of the party opposite of yours spends a lot of time in private with an attractive younger staff member. They are seen dining out together, just the two of them. Would you really assume everything has to be nice and platonic? Can you imagine how noxious rumors like that might affect both people in that professional relationship?

We live in a universe where sometimes people cheat on their significant others. No amount of ‘swamp draining’ is going to change this dynamic. You don’t even have to assume fraud on anyone’s part.

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45 CO2e November 13, 2017 at 6:00 pm

App idea: match democrat accusers with republican accusers with accusations in similar degree to report together. A market for power offsets!

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46 Mark November 14, 2017 at 5:55 pm

I was on a trip to a Latin American nation last week and one of our group was a high level financial sector lobbyist in DC. She brought up the Roy Moore story at dinner and said that “everyone knows” whom to avoid among DC legislators. She named two Democratic Senators in particular but they are no longer in office, for unrelated reasons.

My own opinion is that the DC press does not want to expose a Democratic name, lest that enhance Republican political prospects. See Clinton era.

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