“I am leaving now because of a double standard…I’m leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse” — Congresswoman Katie Hill
While Donald Trump occupies the oval office, while Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas sit on the supreme court, while Bill Clinton is still hailed as a party leader, a freshman congresswoman from California was forced to resign after her private photos and text messages were leaked. These were photos that were illegally spread by a vengeful ex-husband and her political opponents.
The victim of a criminal offense was punished, having to resign her seat, while the perpetrators got exactly what they wanted. These were bad people. The ex-husband who did it. The conservatives who leveraged his emotional abuse for political gain. These were the bad guys and we let them win. Every time we let the bad guys win, our collective morality is weakened, the collective good, diminished.
Here’s what we know, given what was released:
-Katie Hill has been naked.
-Katie Hill has been photographed while naked.
-Katie Hill has kissed a girl.
-Katie Hill has held a bong.
-Katie Hill consensually dated a staffer prior to her election.
Congresswoman Hill apologized for the dating of the staffer and called it “inappropriate” while noting that it took place during her separation from her abusive husband. Given the power dynamics at play, Hill is probably right that that relationship was “inappropriate.” The rest of the things on that list have no effect whatsoever on Katie Hill’s ability to represent California in Congress, are all things that could also be said about me, and further this entire conversation has been framed and created by an abusive ex- of Congresswoman Hill’s who broke the law.
AOC was right when she lamented the fact that no one’s really discussing the “major crime” that was committed here. Where are our male leaders on this? Every male in Congress should be demanding that a bill criminalizing the publication of revenge porn on the federal level be passed immediately. Where are the male senators and congressmen and governors and pundits? Where are any of our male presidential nominees? You’re entrusted with positions of public power, you owe us your leadership and instead you have left us with a deafening silence.
Speaker Pelosi reportedly said that “we should say to young candidates, and to kids in kindergarten really, be careful when transmitting photos.” With all due respect to Madam Speaker, we shouldn’t be telling girls not to send nudes we should be telling boys not to weaponize them. This philosophy is an extension of the victim-blaming that occurs and perpetuates rape culture.
Contrary to Nancy Pelosi’s advice, I’ve sent nudes and I’ve received nudes. We need to reach a cultural understanding where sexual photos that were consensually exchanged get deleted once the relationship ends or either side no longer consents. As a boy/man I’m saying society can ask a little more of us, and not always ask so much more of women. What we should be telling kindergartners is that the women in our lives and in this world deserve better than they’ve gotten in the past and we are all obligated to fix that.
Forty-six states and Washington, D.C. have some version of revenge porn laws. The laws tend not to be punishing (first offenses are mostly considered a misdemeanor) and there are only some protections in place for victims. The laws certainly need to be amended to go further but at the same time, we shouldn’t need the law to tell us what we know in our hearts. We shouldn’t need the law to distinguish right from wrong. Katie Hill and her ex-husband are an extreme example but if nothing else, I hope it causes us to examine our lives a little more closely.
Everybody I know knows someone whose nudes have been circulated. It’s become an accepted part of teenage (and evidently adult) male culture. This is utterly deplorable. It may seem harmless in the moment, sharing a nude of your ex with a single friend or something of that sort — but it only seems harmless because you’re not the one being harmed. In that sense, we’re all guilty. All of us who’ve looked at a photo that wasn’t meant for us. All of us who’ve held onto a photo we shouldn’t have. All of us who have normalized the mishandling, abuse and manipulation of private images. That normalization of toxicity and of a culture that allows young men to assert a sense of ownership over women’s bodies is precisely what allowed for Katie Hill to be punished for a crime committed against her.
The halls of the Capitol building lost a great congresswoman today. California’s 25th congressional district lost a great representative today. Katie Hill will still do great things. I don’t question that. I do see the road that led to this resignation though, and I do not like what it has wrought. I see the road that follows from this resignation and I do not like where it leads. Who else will now be silenced? What future congresswoman or governor will not run because she knows that a vengeful ex will have society on his side when he seeks to perpetrate a crime against her? What future Nobel laureate may not write? What future gymnast may not swing? What future President may never run?
At 12:30 this road led Katie Hill to the floor of the House for the last time. As she wrapped up her final remarks she said that we must not “let this experience scare off other women who dare to take risks, who dare to step into this light, who dare to be powerful…It might feel like they’ve won in the short term, but they can’t in the long term.” As she’s been so often in her brief stint in American politics, Katie Hill was right.
Maya Angelou once wrote that “If you are going down a road and don’t like what’s in front of you, and look behind you and don’t like what you see, get off the road. Create a new path.” There is another path out there. We must seek it.