The year is 1961 and the House of Representatives “Old Boys Club” is in full force. The pervasive paternalistic attitude causes women to not be treated as equal to their male counterparts, and they are often disrespected. Despite ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave women the right to vote, six states still deny this basic right. Fast forward to 2015. Republicans control the House, and, unfortunately, the paternalistic attitude of many members of Congress still persists. Despite women and minorities gaining more representation on the Hill, women still struggle to gain equal footing and respect. For evidence of this, one has to look no further than two of the recent, highly-publicized hearings that have taken place on the Hill: the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Planned Parenthood and the House Select Committee on Benghazi. In both of these hearings, the American public witnessed committees comprised of mostly male Congressmen yelling, interrupting, degrading, and belittling both Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, and Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, during their testimonies.
The attitudes and behavior demonstrated by the male members of the GOP demonstrate a lack of respect for these high-profile witnesses, and for all women. Not only is this embarrassing for the Republican Party given that it is 2015 and not the Mad Men era of the 1960s, but it is troublesome to think what would happen to women’s advancement if the GOP retains control of Congress or gains control of the White House.
Cecile Richards was brought before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to give testimony regarding her organization profiting from the sale of fetal tissue obtained during abortions. During her five-hour testimony, she was interrupted by Republican members 44 times. When attempting to answer questions posed by members of the Committee, Richards was constantly spoken over and was unable to provide the testimony that she was asked to give in the first place. Members of the press have called it a “witch hunt [rather] than an official hearing.”
The attacks on Richards at the hearing seemed to go farther than typical partisan bickering: at times they were downright sexist and something out of the 1960s. Take one exchange that occurred early on in the hearing (as reported by Talking Points Memo):
“’Do any of these funds go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo?’ Chaffetz asked.
‘Congressman, let me tell you —‘ Richards said before Chaffetz interrupted her.
‘No, no, no. We don’t have time for a big narrative,’ Chaffetz said.
‘I’m not going to give you a narrative —‘ Richards said.
‘Yes or no,’ Chaffetz replied …”
In addition, Richards was criticized for earning a sizable salary, and Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) used his allotted time to make light of Chaffetz’s aggressive approach by asking, “Surely you don’t expect us to be easier on you because you’re a woman?” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who also serves on the House Select Committee on Benghazi, managed to interrupt Richards nineteen times during his five minutes of questioning.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) summed the nature of the hearing perfectly when he used his allotted time during the hearing to state the following: “I hope every American woman is watching today’s hearing because just the visuals, as well as the audios, tell you a lot. My colleagues have said there’s no war on women – look at how [Cecile Richards has] been treated as a witness… The disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today tells us what is really going on here. This isn’t about some bogus video…” The blatant disrespect that occurred during the testimony prevented Richards from comprehensively testifying that Planned Parenthood is a critical organization: each year 2.7 million men and women use Planned Parenthood for health care services and information; 400,000 Pap tests and 500,000 breast exams are provided; and its educational programs reach 1.5 million people each year. The Committee’s refusal to let Richards deliver this important testimony further demonstrates the little regard which the men of the GOP give to Planned Parenthood and women’s health issues.
Further demonstrating the GOP’s bias against women in power, look no further than Hillary Clinton’s eleven-hour marathon testimony before the House Select Committee on Benghazi. This is the third time Clinton has testified before Congress regarding Benghazi, and politicians and pundits alike have criticized the Select Committee as a purely political tool to harm Clinton’s reputation. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) went so far as to claim: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.” Despite the obviously partisan nature of the hearing, Clinton patiently sat through hour after hour of questioning and efforts to make her seem unqualified.
Similar to the nature of Richards’ testimony, Clinton was often interrupted or made to seem as if she was not a capable witness by the Republican men on the Committee. One reporter described the first exchange between Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), which accurately depicts the entire atmosphere of the hearing, “[Rep.] Jordan would bark a question, Clinton would try to answer, and Jordan would interrupt her.” At one point, Clinton had to assure Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) that she could “do two things at the same time,” when Roskam paused his questioning when Clinton was passed a note by an aide. When Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was asked if Clinton’s testimony shed light on any new information regarding the embassy attacks, he struggled to find an answer, ultimately saying, “I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”
The paternalistic attitude with which Richards and Clinton were treated during their testimonies demonstrates the low regard that many in the GOP have for women and the issues important to them. It is troublesome to think what will happen if their party gains control of the White House or retains control of Congress in 2016. Perhaps a journey back to the era of Mad Men?
*The views expressed are my own and do not reflect those of Priorities USA Action.
Image credit: Getty Images.