Women new to DC confront rude, racist remarks

WASHINGTON — You can’t read. Your hair looks awful. And you shake your head too much.

That’s what men are telling women in Washington these days, providing a rude awakening for some newcomers.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state said she was stunned when Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador told her to “learn how to read” at a recent hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. Labrador made the remark when he objected to Jayapal’s description of President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban as a “Muslim ban,” saying it had nothing to do with religion.

Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman elected to the House of Representatives, said she could sympathize with California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who this week was accused by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly of having hair that looked like “a James Brown wig.”

“Whether it’s a statement about a black woman’s hair or a statement about whether a brown woman can read, it is deeply troubling,” said Jayapal, who is a former Wall Street investment banker. “Not only is it insulting to the person, it’s also insulting to all the constituents who elected us to represent them.”

Washington state Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called Jayapal “one of the smartest women I know,” and she accused Trump of sending a message that “it’s OK to put down other people.”

“It is disgusting,” Murray said. “And I think women in this country and really everyone — men, women, young kids, people of color, anybody who is put down — needs to know that there are many of us who are standing up and saying, ‘No, this is not how we treat people in the United States of America.’ ”

At the White House, press secretary Sean Spicer caused a stir this week when he took aim at American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan, telling her to “stop shaking your head” during his daily briefing, an exchange many found condescending.

Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts kicked off an uproar last week when a female reporter from Talking Points Memo, a liberal news and commentary site, asked him whether he supported scrapping some of the benefits from a GOP health care bill.

“I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” Roberts replied.

She tweeted the exchange, and he was immediately flamed.

Like O’Reilly, Roberts apologized.

“I deeply regret my comments on such an important topic,” he said. “I know several individuals whose lives have been saved by mammograms, and I recognize how essential they are to women’s health.”

Democrats have taken heat, too.

At the Washington Press Club Foundation’s annual awards dinner in March, Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond made a joke about Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway “looking familiar” in a photograph that showed her kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office while taking cellphone photos of a group of guests meeting the president. Richmond was criticized and later said that his comment was not meant to be sexual.

A recent study examining men’s and women’s negotiation styles at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School found that male participants became more aggressive toward women after the November election.

In the weeks after Nov. 8, researchers noticed a 140 percent increase in the use of aggressive negotiating tactics by men who knew they were negotiating with women. Gender-blind negotiations in which participants didn’t know the genders of their negotiating partners did not show the same sharp uptick in aggression.

“With this study, there’s statistical evidence I can show you of people’s behavior toward women being different after the election than before,” said Corrine Low, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of business economics and public policy at Wharton.

Nathan Bowling, a psychology professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who’s the author of a new book on workplace aggression, said more Americans were affected as they were exposed to increased inappropriate behavior from political leaders and on television and social media.

“For a lot of people, it’s just the new norm,” he said. “People can see all these examples and they say, ‘Well, this is how it is. This is how people behave and this behavior is not inappropriate.’ ”

Robert Gass, who teaches argumentation and persuasion as a professor of communication studies at California State University, Fullerton, noted that Trump has a long history of insulting women, including former GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, television anchor Megyn Kelly, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, actress Meryl Streep and the former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, who accused Trump of calling her “Miss Piggy.”

“It’s typical of the Trump administration: They live in the post-fact, alternative-fact era, so they don’t answer questions, they would rather just say, ‘I don’t like you,’ or ‘I don’t like your appearance,’ ” Gass said. “He’s the president. He’s a role model for behavior, so I think a lot of other people take their cue from him. If he says rude things about people — it’s OK to grab their p****, for example — then I think people are emboldened who otherwise wouldn’t be.”

In a speech Tuesday to the Professional BusinessWomen of California Conference in San Francisco, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, defended Waters and Ryan, saying they had been attacked for “simply doing their jobs.”

“Too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride,” Clinton said. “But why should we have to? And any woman who thinks this couldn’t be directed at her is living in a dream world.”

The verbal attacks keep coming even as women claim more power on Capitol Hill. This year, more than 19 percent of the seats in Congress are held by women, including 21 in the Senate and 83 in the House.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, said women in politics still were routinely subjected to inappropriate or sexist comments, or held to different standards from male politicians.

“We can talk about the progress and the numbers (of women in Congress) … but it’s also the women’s experiences that are part of the story,” Walsh said.

Jayapal, who was born in India and came to the United States to go to college at the age of 16, blamed Trump as well, saying, “The level of rhetoric around women and immigrants has gotten so out of control from the president.”

She and other Democrats immediately objected at the Judiciary Committee hearing last month when Labrador told her to “learn how to read.” He later withdrew the statement.

“I was really stunned, you know, on so many levels,” said Jayapal, 51. “We were in a public hearing and the lack of civility, basic civility, and the rudeness of it, frankly. And then, of course, I immediately thought, wait a minute, I’m an English major. What exactly is he saying? … I’m a woman, people think I look much younger than I am and I’m a woman of color, so there’s this opportunity to speak down to us. We’ve all been in these situations.”

Jayapal said Labrador had not apologized: “This makes it much harder because he’s never acknowledged it. He’s never come back and said anything.

Todd Winer, Labrador’s spokesman, said the congressman had no plans to.

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