A new publicity campaign aims to address sexual harassment in California politics and open up a male-dominated power structure in the Capitol that female leaders say perpetuates “pervasive” abuses.
More than 140 female legislators, lobbyists, political consultants and other women in the Capitol community released an open letter Tuesday calling out “a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality” but where there is nevertheless widespread “dehumanizing behavior by men with power in our workplaces.”
“Men have groped and touched us without our consent, made inappropriate comments about our bodies and our abilities,” the letter reads. “Men have made promises, or threats, about our jobs in exchange for our compliance, or our silence. They have leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like.”
“Why didn’t we speak up? Sometimes out of fear. Sometimes out of shame. Often these men held our professional fates in their hands,” it continues. “We’re done with this.”
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Six of the women who signed the letter are incumbent state lawmakers and one is an elected member of the Board of Equalization. Two are former lawmakers.
The letter follows an unfolding scandal involving alleged widespread sexual abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which has prompted a national dialogue about the enduring sexist treatment that women face. The Capitol letter is accompanied by a website, We Said Enough, where women are encouraged to share their stories and “work on the solution together.”
Adama Iwu, senior director for state and local government relations at Visa, said the Weinstein coverage touched a nerve. She helped coordinate the letter this past weekend. It emerged from a conversation among friends about their own experiences with sexual harassment.
“It feels familiar to us,” Iwu said. She recently attended an event, she said, where a drunk coworker touched her inappropriately while other people around them seemed to ignore what was happening right in front of their faces.
“Talking among ourselves is not going to move the needle on this issue,” she said. “I don't want to talk about processes that are out there for women to report. I want to talk about how to stop these things from happening.”
The letter urges “good men” to “believe us, have our backs, and speak up.” It also advocates a bigger role for women in California politics – where the number of female lawmakers is at its lowest point in more than two decades – to reshape the culture.
“Until more women hold positions of power, our future is literally dependent on men,” the letter states. “It’s time to promote more women into elected office, in positions of leadership, and onto corporate boards.”
Christine Pelosi, chairwoman of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, said she signed the letter because she’s heard “story after story after story” about women who work in California politics being sexually harassed or abused in the workplace. She said it was important for women to speak out to prevent it from happening to others
“This hypocrisy is too much to bear,” she said. “We know the perpetrators of harassment are kept under lock and key at the Capitol.”
Pelosi, the daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, is calling for the Legislature to publicly disclose records detailing assault or harassment complaints and for the creation of an independent commission to investigate those allegations. She also wants male lawmakers and other men who work in the Capitol community to proactively ask if they have ever been the subject of a complaint or “called out” for their behavior.
“If we do these things, then we can start to change the culture of complicity,” she said. “It’s about being an upstander, not a bystander.”
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon responded to letter in an opinion piece he published at The Huffington Post. “Clearly we need to do more to create a culture where women can comfortably report cases of harassment and there is a strong support system in place for staffers who do report abuse,” he wrote.