Female pop stars have had to deal with sexism in the music industry for a while, but when even female senators in the halls of Congress are subjected to highly offensive remarks from their male colleagues, it’s really sobering. Lady Gaga famously launched a body revolution movement when her weight brought on the Internet hate. But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says she discovered firsthand that elected politicians can also be terrible offenders.
In an interview with People magazine to promote her new book “Off the Sidelines,” the 47-year-old Democrat from New York opens up about being called everything from “porky” to “chubby” by fellow Senate members.
“Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky!” Gillibrand claims a member told her while at the congressional gym. Her response? “Thanks, asshole.” On another occasion, she writes, another senator approached her after a 50-lb. weight loss, squeezed her stomach, and warned her, “Don’t lose too much weight now. I like my girls chubby!”
Passages like that from the book seem to emphasize that Gillibrand’s male co-workers could be surprisingly casual with their sexist comments about her appearance — a fault she rather forgivingly attributes to a generation gap.
“It was all statements that were being made by men who were well into their 60s, 70s or 80s,” she told People. “They had no clue that those are inappropriate things to say to a pregnant woman or a woman who just had a baby or to women in general.”
The senator also spoke out about another incident in an interview with the New York Post, revealing that an unidentified Southern congressman once held her arm while walking her down the chamber’s center aisle, and said, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”
“I believed his intentions were sweet, even if he was being an idiot,” Gillibrand reflected.
It’s hard to ignore the correlation between sexism and the number of women in any given workplace — and the United States Senate is still very much a boys’ club. Of the 100 US senators currently serving, only 20 are female. It was 2011 before women in the House of Representatives even got their own restoroom! Women senators got a restroom reserved for their use in 1993.
More than four years after Hillary Clinton campaigned for the highest office, and as she reportedly eyes another run for the presidency, it’s obvious women have made major strides. But sexism in Washington, D.C. (and beyond) is still too common. Sen. Gillibrand speaking up about it helps to expose the issue but we’ll know we’ve made real progress when the only “pork” you hear about in Congress refers to excessive government spending, not womens’ bodies.