Believe it or not, Donald Trump is actually planning on giving a State of the Union address, which is likely going to be hard to listen to (or even to merely follow along). We don’t know about you, but it’s always been hard to consider him worthy of his position, given that he’s been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least 19 women and has never even been investigated. Given the conversation surrounding the #MeToo movement, the fact that he, and so many other politicians, have been accused of similar behavior is increasingly hard to ignore (if you were able to ignore it at all). Women in Congress understand this, and taking a tip from Hollywood’s protest at the Golden Globes this month, Democratic women are wearing black to the State of the Union.
Some of them will also bring survivors of sexual assault as their guests, as a show of solidarity to the Time’s Up initiative, since politics is just as infected with toxic masculinity as any other industry.
But while the Time’s Up showing at the Golden Globes felt, at least in fleeting moments, like the conversation was actually evolving out of #MeToo and becoming more thoughtful, inclusive, and — most importantly — active, it’s going to take so much more for Capitol Hill to enact change when it comes to sexual assault.
Don’t get us wrong: That the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG) in the House is leading the charge to encourage women in both the House and Senate to wear black, bring survivors as guests, and symbolically broach the conversation is definitely a good thing. Any time women are brave enough to “speak their truth,” even when the guest of honor is an alleged sexual predator, we’re here for it all the way.
A congressional aide to California, Rep. Jackie Speier, a leader in the DWWG, told HelloGiggles via email, “Support is very strong and we expect a lot of participation [during the SOTU].” Speier’s staffer added, “This is a culture change that is sweeping the country and Congress is embracing it.” According to her office, Speier will also bring a sexual harassment or assault survivor as her guest but hasn’t sent out formal details yet. They added, “There are rumors of Dems bringing Trump victims, but she is not doing that and we don’t know of any office that is doing that.”
Michigan Rep. Brenda Lawrence, vice chair of the DWWG, told HG that in addition to wearing black, members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be wearing pins in tribute to Recy Taylor, whom Oprah spoke about in her Golden Globes speech. Lawrence will bring author and historian Danielle McGuire, who wrote the book, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. Lawrence added:
This is all good stuff. But who is going to know about it other than the people who happen to read about it online (which, reminder, is not most of America)?
There’s no red carpet for the SOTU, so it’s not like they’ll get to share their stories or blast news reporters about not focusing on the issues. Normally during the speech, a president will point to some guests who embody policy issues, like Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who protested campus rape, who attended in 2015. It is unlikely that Trump will dotingly point to Rep. Lawrence’s guest or anyone else. In fact, he’s more likely to point out Senator Elizabeth Warren and call her “Pocahontas” than anything else. This is what we, and all of the women in Congress, are dealing with, and the stakes are so much higher in this setting than how many movies get made with female leads.
Washington, D.C. shouldn’t have to take cues from Hollywood when it comes to enacting legislation that makes speaking out safer for women, discourages the use of non-disclosure agreements to settle complaints, regulates companies with patterns of abuse, or makes sure that victims get a fair shot at taking predators to court when they have to. These are, for what it’s worth, all things that Time’s Up is pledging to do. Actresses walked with activists on the red carpet at the Golden Globes and enlisted women like Anita Hill to oversee their legislation committee. It is mind-blowing, in a way, that women in Congress are inspired by them and not the other way around.
We get it, politics is nothing like any other job. And whatever gender and racial gaps exist in Hollywood, it’s much worse on Capitol Hill.
Right this very moment, according to the Center for Women in Politics, there are a total 106 women out of 535 members in Congress, which means that the House is only 19 percent female; the Senate is 22 percent. Imagine what it’s like trying to be heard. This means that female Congress members *need* men to help them pass any laws to protect them.
The men are falling very short. Democratic senators wavered about holding a hearing or forcing Sen. Al Franken to resign in the name of keeping the all-important votes in the Senate. Women like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were attacked for suggesting he resign. Republican women who might wear black or talk about women’s equality are supported and funded by the same organization that doubled down on former Sen. Roy Moore in Alabama, even after he was accused of molesting children. Arizona Rep. Don Shooter was accused of sexual harassment by nine women and one man and gave a speech that mocked the #MeToo movement wherein he mentioned “perceived sexual harassment.” He still has his seat in Congress.
We hold nonsensical, expensive hearings all the time in the name of party politics, why not go half as far to protect women? Why not force Congress to hold one about the 19 allegations against our president? All of their efforts to do all of those things, including investigate the president, have fallen flat so far. Until the majority of men in Congress want to change, what else can women do?
This stuff is rampant, and since it does mean that some predators might also be the key to pushing through votes on other kinds of legislation, and there are so few female voices to be heard, it’s hard to get optimistic about changing the culture on Capitol Hill. Wearing black and bringing activists and survivors is a symbolic and worthy protest on a night like the SOTU, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.