By Mia Garza McCord, President. April 26, 2021
My heart hurts this morning. After news broke on Saturday that one of our own, a young woman in our Capitol family has gone through an incomprehensible experience, I am angry. The culture in our community must change. This is unacceptable.
As I have scrolled obsessively through twitter all weekend trying to digest what this woman has and will continue to go through, reliving one of my own experiences with sexual assault, I want to scream “ENOUGH!” We are a family. And, as a family, we need to use our voices to finally change the culture that permeates throughout the halls of the Capitol. It is not the clean, polished designer suits and clacking high heels you hear through the halls daily, it is the whispered culture. It’s what happens when people think no one is watching, or when people know that no one would dare call them out on it that must change.
We should not have to tell young women beginning their careers in the building to “be careful” or “be safe”. This is 2021, not some 1950's Mad Men decade where women were treated like possessions or fixtures to stare at, mistreat, and disregard when done.
So, what can we do? I feel confident that men and women all over the Capitol today are feeling helpless. We want to support the young woman who so bravely reported this incident, and at the same time have no idea how we can actively help. Take it or leave it, but here are a few thoughts and actions that I will be personally taking starting now.
We need to protect the young woman who outcried.
First and foremost, as tempting as it may be to participate in the continuous game of telephone in the building, we must abstain. We do not need to know who! From someone who didn’t even tell her husband about her own sexual assault incident that happened 20 years ago, believe me when I tell you, the courage to even utter out loud that something like this has happened to you is numbingly terrifying. Don’t do it. Let’s wear pink tomorrow and stand in solidarity with this woman. But, we all need to refrain from the whispers that will undoubtedly make their rounds in the Capitol.
We need to use our voices.
What good are the strides we have made as women in a male dominated industry and glass ceilings we have broken, if we are going to continue to tell women to “be careful” instead of calling out what we see and what we experience? Nothing will change if we look away and sweep it under the rug. This is a problem older than most of our careers at the Capitol. It is not just unwanted advances; it is the beauty before brains mentality that permeates through those hallways. How many times do we have to hear “she is very pretty, and oh, she is actually smart, too,” as if one attribute is indicative of the other, before we say “Enough.”
We need to remember that there are more good people than bad in this business.
I met my husband in the Capitol when we were both staff. I have worked for incredible male legislators who respect women and would never tolerate any form of sexual harassment or disrespect. Some of my closest friends and mentors are men in the building who are current staff and lobbyists. I know that the majority of legislators, lobbyists, and staff stand with the victim. We must refrain from categorizing all men (and women for that matter) as bad actors, because we know that is not true. And, to the good men out there, we welcome your chivalry, your sincere compliments, your wanted hugs, pats on the back, and most of all, your friendship and mentorship.
We need to let this be the end of this type of behavior and the beginning of honest conversations about respect in this business.
Ladies, we have come a LONG way! But, we need to use our positions of power to create change. We should not sit silently in meetings where we are ignored for our male counterparts, where we are shushed, or told to just listen instead of speaking up. We must demand to be at the table. We must require that our opinions and input be taken seriously and not disregarded. And, we must stand up for each other. When we hear a fellow woman being disparaged, disregarded, or disrespected, we must say “Enough!”
Change starts now. No matter the outcome of the investigations, we all know what the culture is, and we must let everyone know that it will no longer be tolerated. I want our Capitol and this industry to be something that I would be proud to have my daughter participate in if she chooses it as a career.
To the victim, please know, we stand with you. We know the courage it took to report this is unfathomable to most of us. We look forward to wearing our pink tomorrow in solidarity with you.