The dangers of being a female politician
Good morning, rulers! I’m usually the producer for Women Rule, but I’m stepping in today as your guest-host. Good to meet you all.
Wednesday night, New Jersey councilwoman Eunice K. Dwumfour was found in her car with multiple gunshot wounds, according to authorities. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Dwumfour, a Republican, was only 30 years old. She was still a newcomer, serving her first term on the Sayreville Borough Council after being elected in November 2021. Her former campaign manager Karen Bailey Bebert told the New York Times that Dwumfour was an “inspirational woman” who was excited to get into politics at a young age.
Though the motive of the New Jersey councilwoman’s killer is still unclear, the story joins an array of high-profile headlines in the past few years that detail incidents of violence, or attempted violence, towards women in politics. Last week, a video was released of Paul Pelosi being struck in the head with a hammer by an intruder who intended to kidnap Nancy Pelosi. In July, a man with a loaded gun was arrested outside the house of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Neighbors told The Washington Post that they heard him yell “go back to India” and threaten to kill Jayapal. And In 2020, several men were convicted for their participation in an elaborate plot to kidnap Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the name of their anti-government ideals.
These are just some of the attempts at violence that materialized in real life, but a large sect of harassment towards female officials happens online and goes unreported.
“Online violence is becoming more prominent because there just isn’t a consequence for it,” said Nina Jankowicz, author of How to Be a Woman Online and lead for the Centre for Information Resilience’s Hypatia Project, which combats online harms against women.
The frequency and variety of possible channels for online abuse makes accurate data difficult to come by. But in September 2022, Princeton University and the Anti-Defamation League created a database tracking threats and harassment to politicians on the local level. Based on their data, the researchers estimated that female officials are targeted 3.4 times more than their male counterparts.
The challenges can be even more pointed for women of color. An October 2022 Center for Democracy and Technology report found that women of color running for Congress in 2020 were at least five times more likely than other candidates to be targeted with tweets related to their identity that focused specifically on their gender and race.
Harassment, both offline and online, has proved challenging for many officials to deter.
About a year ago, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu put forward a controversial proposal which barred demonstrations at any private home between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. The proposal, which became law, came after months of early-morning protests targeting Wu’s family home. The move was met with accusations of obstructing First Amendment rights from critics. Protests against Wu mainly coalesced around COVID-19 restrictions, but also devolved into racist and misogynistic comments.
“There is of course an element of, I believe, people seeing someone who is a woman of color, relatively new to this job, and seeing someone who can be bullied,” Wu said on WBUR’s “Radio Boston.”
Even in the very top levels of government, continued harassment can grate on women in power. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern became the world’s youngest female leader when she was sworn into office in 2017. But she resigned last month, saying that she no longer had “enough in the tank” to continue as prime minister.
Ardern was subject to constant online harassment. Auckland University’s Extremism Insights Aotearoa research team analyzed posts referring to the prime minister, and found that she was the subject of an unprecedented amount of negative and hateful comments.
The team looked at online posts mentioning Ardern, as well as six other high-profile figures. In comparison, Ardern received online vitriol at a rate between 50 and 90 times higher than any other high-profile figure.
“I had no idea that it was going to be that much of a gulf,” Chris Wilson, who leads the research team, told Women Rule. He also noted that several of the comments about Ardern were especially vulgar, including mentions of sexual violence. The prime minister has said that threats and abuse were not a decisive factor in her resignation.
Unsurprisingly, harassment keeps many women out of the political sphere. Jankowicz describes it as a “chilling effect.” She has experienced online harassment herself, after an appointment as head of the Department of Homeland Security’s Disinformation Governance Board.
“You just really look at your life very differently. Especially if you have children. You wonder if there’s going to be somebody outside waiting for you,” Jankowicz told Women Rule. “You wonder, when you go walk the dog or bring your child to daycare, if somebody’s going to be there to threaten you.”
Jankowicz urges women to report abuse, both online and off, to officials, which she acknowledges can be a difficult process. “So much of the burden of dealing with these issues is on the survivor of the abuse, and that’s really problematic, but report as much as you can.”
POLITICO Special Report
“AOC in line to become her party’s No. 2 on Oversight panel,” by Nicholas Wu, Jordain Carney and Sarah Ferris for POLITICO: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is set to step into a larger role on the House Oversight Committee this Congress, perhaps even its No. 2 Democratic spot.
“An elevation to the vice ranking member position, while it’s not yet final, would give the well-known third-term progressive Democrat a high-profile perch to tangle with Republicans on a laundry list of controversial investigations they’re planning — on topics ranging from Hunter Biden’s business dealings to the southern border to GOP efforts to probe the ‘origins’ of the coronavirus.
“Ronna McDaniel wins RNC chair race that grew very messy by the end,” by Natalie Allison for POLITICO: “McDaniel on Friday defeated her main challenger, the RNC’s California national committeewoman Harmeet Dhillon, by a vote of 111 committee members to 51. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, whose campaign drew little support, received four votes.”
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“Meet the Women Trying to Avoid a Spending Train Wreck in Congress” by Emily Cochrane for the New York Times: “Inside a grand committee room in the Capitol on a recent afternoon, Senator Patty Murray paused at the end of the 31-foot conference table to re-enact how, as a rank-and-file lawmaker years ago, she would have to stand up and wave to catch the attention of the men running negotiations from the center of the room.
“Now it is Ms. Murray, Democrat of Washington, whose name is etched in gold cursive at the center of the table, set among frescoes of Roman goddesses and a multitiered crystal chandelier, signifying her position as the chairwoman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. These days, she is part of the first-ever all-female team of Republicans and Democrats to lead the congressional committees that control government spending.”
“Half Of Women From Marginalized Racial And Ethnic Groups Experience Racism At Work” by Josie Cox for Forbes.
“US imposes visa restrictions on Taliban members involved in repression of women and girls,” by Kylie Atwood for CNN: “The United States is imposing new visa restrictions on certain current and former Taliban members, non-state security group members and others who are believed to be involved in repressing the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday.
“The announcement comes more than a month after the Taliban announced bans on women attending universities and working with non-governmental organizations. Blinken cited those decisions as contributing to the new visa bans and said the US condemns the actions in ‘the strongest of terms.’”
“Oklahoma Jailed Women Who Couldn’t Stop Their Abusers. Will a New Law Help?” by Samantha Michaels for Mother Jones.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
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Hannah Hardin is now a legislative affairs manager at NRECA. Previously, she was a project coordinator at BPC Action. … Heather Philpot is now EVP at Moore, a constituent experience management company. She previously was VP at Tunnl. …
Katie Fitzgerald has been named president and CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities. Most recently, she was president and COO of Feeding America. … Kate Gould starts this month as lead foreign affairs officer covering the UAE for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Labor, and Human Rights. She previously was deputy chief of staff and human rights and national security adviser for Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). …
Kings Floyd is now policy and research associate on the Disability Economic Justice Collaborative at the Century Foundation. She most recently was special assistant in the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Transportation. (h/t Playbook)
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