Harassment in Congress, and Sex Education for Early Adolescents

On this episode of Reality Cast, researchers explain why sex education needs to start early for youth and be integrated into larger health and safety education curricula. In another segment, I discuss how Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand highlights the problem of sexist harassment in Congress, and confused conservatives amplify attacks on feminism.

Related Links

Taco or Beer Challenge

Sexist harassment of Kirsten Gillibrand

The Daily Show responds

Confused conservatives against feminism

Phyllis Schlafly trying to get women hurt


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll have some researchers on to explain why sex education needs to start young and be integrated into larger health and safety education. Kirsten Gillibrand tries to highlight the problem of sexual harassment in Congress and confused conservatives amplify attacks on feminism without really know what it is.

Rewire’s own Andrea Grimes has started the taco or beer challenge to raise money for abortion access, and she has a video up at the website updating us on its progress.

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So if you haven’t joined in, as Andrea says, it’s super easy. Eat a taco or drink a beer. As a fellow Texan, I would say you should ideally do both together. Then give to an abortion fund. RHRealityCheck.org has plenty of information to help you decide where to donate!


I realize it’s the end of the summer and that means a somewhat slow news cycle, but even I was surprised to see how much sturm und drang accompanied Kirsten Gillibrand’s utterly non-surprising revelation that many of her colleagues, both congressmen and lobbyists, have said sexist things to her over the years.

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The revelation provoked a telling response out in the punditry. Not a few men working for major publications like the New York Times and Politico hinted that Gillibrand was lying or exaggerating what happened to her, even though any woman could probably tell them that she was, if anything, soft-pedaling the kind of crap men often feel free to dish out to their female colleagues. In fact, hinting that she’s lying morphed into a demand that she start naming names. The Daily Show grabbed a few prominent examples.

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There were two basic flavors of people demanding that Gillibrand name names: Men who were insinuating that she made the harassment up and people who believed the harassment happened but think that Gillibrand, who is a Democrat, must be protecting her fellow Democrats. But while everyone who claimed they wanted her to name names fashioned themselves as good-hearted people who simply wanted to bring an end to all this sexual harassment, the fact that they were mostly conservatives and Republicans suggested that they, in fact, have ulterior motivations. After all, if you name someone publicly, that man, no matter how guilty he may be, will almost surely deny it. And so the same people who are insinuating that she’s lying now will continue to say that, but now they will say it louder and more angrily, because they’ll imagine that they’re defending a man who swears innocence. The likely outcome is her career would be completely derailed while the harassers got off scot-free. Not to be too cynical, but I suspect the people demanding that she names names know that it would ruin her while likely doing no damage to any harassers, and that’s the outcome they’re trying to make happen. But since Gillibrand is not so stupid as to do that, they’re going to try to score points anyway by suggesting she’s a liar or somehow doing something unethical, even though she didn’t, you know, ask for some dudes to be constantly monitoring her body.

But while male conservative pundits of all sorts were congratulating each other on their ability to victim-blame and insinuate that Gillibrand is a liar, female pundits were telling a different story, one where it’s literally the least surprising thing in the world that this happens to someone like Gillibrand. Again, the Daily Show gathered up clips.

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Such is our sexist society, however, that basically women from every corner can say, yeah, that happened to me, too, and yet you still have a bunch of men treating it like it’s absolutely preposterous to suggest that it ever happens. But no really, guys, it happens! I had a colleague once who basically put himself on make-up watch over me, checking in with me multiple times a week to determine if I was wearing what he thought was enough make-up. Not that he could tell, because I could trick him by skipping foundation and mascara but simply putting on red lipstick, but neither his lack of basic knowledge of how make-up works nor my unsubtle suggestions that his attentions were unwelcome would present a barrier to his self-assigned role as the make-up police. If women don’t tell you about this stuff, it’s not because it’s not happening. It’s because you either act bored by it or you immediately start telling them that you know more about what happened to them even though you weren’t there. If you actually shut up and listened more often, hyper-skeptical dudes, you might learn a thing or two about what women have to put up with on a regular basis.




If you’re starting to feel like conservative media has been ramping up the attacks on feminism lately, well, you would definitely be right. It’s actually kind of baffling, because they all claim they hate the whole “war on women” meme, and yet the response to it has been to up the ante on the war on women, getting ever bolder about claiming that women should just suck it up and give up any hope of ever achieving basic equality with men. The show Fox & Friends recently had the hosts of the Internet show Politichicks on to promote their new book What Women Really Want, a strange title because I can assure you that I, as a woman, do not want any of what they’re selling, and somehow I continue to exist, you know, as a woman.

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You know, if it irritates conservatives so much to have feminists forever talking about women’s sexuality and reproductive health, I have a very simple solution: Stop using sex to oppress women. Stop trying to take away the right to abortion. Stop calling women “sluts” if they want birth control. Stop telling women they have to put up with it when men sexually harass them. Stop making excuses for sexual violence. Stop trying to take away sex education that is known to reduce STI [sexually transmitted infection] and teen pregnancy rates. If you stop attacking women’s sexuality, I guarantee you that you will stop hearing so much about it. All we want is to be left alone to be sexual beings, due to being human, without conservatives looking for any angle they can to use our sexuality to oppress us.

Of course, the problem here is that these conservative women are arguing that women are inherently, well, asexual, and feminists are somehow forcing women to be sexual.

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It’s deeply dishonest to conflate “objectification” with “sexualization.” Objectification is reducing someone to an object, for instance having a woman show off her body while insisting that she stay silent and submissive, so men can do what they want to her. “Sexualizing” is a garbage word that means nothing. With all this “God” talk and “femininity” talk, it’s clear what she’s trying to argue is that women inherently are asexual and have no authentic sexual desires of their own, but just, well, put up with sex because they have to in order to get husbands and children. But if it’s true that women are inherently asexual and feminists are making them sexual, then why would conservatives need to ban abortion and restrict access to contraception? Yes, feminists worked to make contraception co-pay free. But just because the contraception is available doesn’t mean you have to take it. If women are inherently asexual, then there would be no reason to oppose co-pay free contraception, since no one would use the service. But, in fact, we know that 99 percent of women use contraception, which suggests that women are, in fact, inherently sexual and the only people trying to make women act in ways that are contrary to their nature are conservatives.

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So let’s follow along here. The argument is that women are not sexual beings and that we’re simply being tricked into thinking we’re sexual by Beyoncé’s magic dance routines. Never mind that women were having sex, using contraception and yes, even masturbating long before Beyoncé was born, much less making records. Seriously, I want these women who are insisting women are born with no interest in sex to explain the sales of the Hitatchi Magic Wand to me. But now they’re arguing that rape itself is the result of women foolishly believing that we like sex. That makes no sense. Like none. I mean, by definition, rape is about forcing someone who does not want to have sex with you into having sex with you. At this point, they’re just so eager to demonize feminists they’ll say any random weird thing. I fully expected them to accuse feminists of worshipping Satan and drinking blood from living goats, anything so long as it sounds bad. Doesn’t have to make sense. But I do think the larger problem is that they are so wrapped up in the idea that sex is dirty, they start to think the reason rape is wrong is because of the sex part, instead of the force part. So, just for clarity’s sake, let me explain: Feminists think sex is great if everyone involved is an adult and wants to be there. Feminists also think that violence is wrong, and forcing sex on an unwilling person is violence. This is not that hard to grasp. For instance, while there are few pleasures in life more wonderful than sharing a good meal with friends, being tied to a chair and force fed is torture. If you can get that, you can understand how one can think sex is wonderful while thinking rape is very, very wrong.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, Phyllis Schlafly is trying to get women badly hurt edition. In a recent radio address, Schlafly gave what might be the worst advice I’ve ever heard, which is telling women that they can turn abusive men into kind, loving partners by marrying them.

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Well, while you’re lying, why not go all the way and claim marriage makes you poop gold nuggets and makes your sweat smell like flowers? This is deeply irresponsible advice because women in abusive relationships often want to believe, very badly, that they can do something to make the man they love stop hitting them and start being nice to them, and so they may actually listen to this terrible advice in the vain hope that it will work. Needless to say, the actual experts in domestic violence strongly disagree, and the prevailing evidence shows that the best way to keep a woman safe from an abusive partner is to separate them, permanently. In fact, there’s substantial evidence to show abusers actually increase their violence after a wedding or a pregnancy or childbirth. Basically anything that makes it harder to escape emboldens them to think they hit you more and hit you harder while being assured that you won’t leave them.