How ‘Feminism’ Became a Dirty Word in Washington

Though four of five report sexism on Capitol Hill, more than a third of female Congressional staffers run from the f-word.

The House Democratic women elected to the 114th Congress gathered for a picture after being sworn in on Jan. 7. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

May 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Women in Washington have come a long way, baby.

Ladies have risen through the ranks to gain power behind the scenes in the offices of America’s elected leaders. Yet, 59 percent of them report that “some” sexism persists on Capitol Hill, and another 23 percent say there’s “a lot” of gender bias. Yes, a whopping 82 percent of female Congressional staffers believe their workplace lacks equality. Not one of them said of gender bias that there was “none.”

The National Journal’s revealing survey this week of more than 500 women—the majority were chiefs of staff or communications directors, plum jobs in D.C.—also found that some women aren’t allowed to be alone with male bosses for fear of a scandal erupting.

“I was not allowed to staff my boss at certain events without another male staffer present—because I was a woman.... Even though my boss is like a second dad to me, our office was always worried about any negative assumptions that might be made. This has made and makes my job significantly harder to do,” one woman told the Journal.

It’s hard to say if that’s a legacy of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, but a majority of the survey respondents were younger than 40. Fifty-eight percent of the women polled work for Democrats, 41 percent for Republicans.

(Quotes: Courtesy 'National Journal')

Another problem that multiple women reported: Even when they’re the top brass in a meeting, people outside their office assume a male staffer is the one wearing the pants.

“Many times, if I attend a meeting—particularly on defense or national security issues—with one of our young male legislative aides, our guests will address their remarks to [him], even though he is a junior staffer and not a decision maker in the office,” another woman told the Journal.

For all the acknowledgement of inequality and bias, a surprising proportion of women surveyed don’t call themselves feminists. While 63 percent embrace the label, 36 percent said they don’t consider themselves feminists.

If that’s true, the comment one woman contributed can only make things worse:

“Woman-on-woman sexism is rampant.”