Dec 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and Rep. Debbie Dingell with quotes behind them
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.

  • The recent salvos against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) are just the latest example.
  • The district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) was burglarized and vandalized last week— an incident she condemned with the support of Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
  • Dingell told Axios the assailant took a paddle and "smashed" her late husband's memorabilia. "I'm not going to let this son-of-a-bitch that was in my office think ... they're gonna get me to back down on anything I'm doing."

Female politicians face more personal online attacks than their male counterparts, researchers have found, and it's worse if they're also from racial, ethnic, religious or other minority groups.

  • Capitol Police chief Thomas Manger told the Associated Press in September he expects his department will log 9,000 threats against all members by the end of the year, nearly double the 4,894 threats received in 2018.
  • One female member of the Senate told Axios, "I try not to think about it."

What they're saying:

  • Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) told Axios her office received "a tremendous number of very vile calls and voicemails" after her tough questioning of then-Attorney General William Barr in July 2020. "They were misogynistic over and over again. They were vile, vulgar."
  • She added that her staff — often younger women — had to play these messages repeatedly as they transcribed them to report them to the authorities.
  • "We have a problem with the language and the idle, embracing of violence and threats and saying awful things to one another," Dean said. "And that didn't happen or start with January 6th."

Some female lawmakers see race and gender as a clear determinant of the severity and volume of threats.

  • "For people like Ilhan Omar, being a black woman in America, she already has a target on her back that's different than a lot of the people here in Congress," Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) told Axios.
  • Omar, Bush noted, also is Muslim and wears a hijab, which, she said, adds "another target" to her back. "I know what I receive, and I'm not Muslim and I don't wear a hijab. So, I cannot imagine what she gets."
  • Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), who said she's gotten "graphic death threats," said she feels very strongly that action must be taken in response to the threats against Omar.
  • She, too, said she sees them as part of a broader pattern of threats against women of color.

The trend isn't confined to Democrats.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted a video on Friday in which she played several death threats she's received.
  • The post came after she lashed out at the notion that her own inflammatory rhetoric — including branding Omar as a member of the "Jihad Squad" — may be fueling death threats towards colleagues.
  • "It is not okay, it is completely wrong, for any member of Congress to receive death threats," Greene said in the video. She called herself "the most attacked freshman member of Congress probably in United States history."
  • Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), who had a series of testy exchanges with Greene last week, said earlier this year her home in Charleston had been vandalized with profanity and graffiti.

Last month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) reintroduced a resolution calling on the federal government to address violence against women in politics.

  • The move came after Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), posted a manipulated video depicting himself killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and attacking President Biden, for which he was censured and lost his committee seats.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec. 8.

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