Should Kirsten Gillibrand name names?


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is briefed July 16 by staff in her office on Capitol Hill. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

With her story about a gym encounter with a fellow senator who commented about her weight and body, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) set off a number of conversations about the Beltway boys club  and about the generational differences in how men relate to women.

Gillibrand had a quick response to one of the slights, but to another colleague who told her, “You’re even pretty when you’re fat,” she essentially brushed it off:

“I believed his intentions were sweet, even if he was being an idiot,” Gillibrand writes in her new book, “Off the Sidelines.”

Just who the colleagues were remains a mystery, and some people want Gillibrand, who has been out front on working to curb rampant military sexual assault, to reveal more details.

“If you’re going to throw out accusations, my guess is you probably ought to name names,” said Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson, on “The Steve Malzberg Show” on NewsmaxTV. “If you’re going throw out those kinds of accusations, you ought to give people a chance to defend themselves.”

Even though women, no matter their party, are often on the other side of body comments from men (and very often from other women), the debate over Gillibrand has in some ways devolved into a partisan one.

Is Gillibrand refusing to identify who made the comments because they were fellow Democrats? Or, as Malzberg suggested, gearing up for a Hillary Clinton-style run for the White House in which she portrays the political establishment as boys club in need of changing?

Over at CNN.com, Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington, says Gillibrand made the right call:

Gillibrand has clearly shown it’s not easy to be in a boys club in Congress. But she doesn’t owe anyone to reveal names. This is not about a bunch of crude senators, it’s about men needing to know how to behave professionally and respectfully toward women in any workplace environment.

There are two good reasons Gillibrand did not reveal names. One is to keep the conversation about the problem of harassment in general rather than focus on specific colleagues. Two, she has to work alongside her colleagues. If she named names, she would be seen as a snitch, even to those men who agreed that egregious treatment had occurred. She would lose support, trust and efficacy.

Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.

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