Who can forget where they were during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings? Or how they felt while listening to fourteen white men cynically grill an alleged victim of sexual harassment? The aftermath of the hearings was a new awareness of gender discrimination. But, decades later, has our country come to grips with the disparate treatment of men and women in the workplace? Even if that workplace is our federal government?
This past week, Sen Arlen Specter and Rep Michele Bachmann were guests on a radio show to discuss the economy. As would be typical in such on-air formats, Sen. Specter and Rep. Bachmann had differing views on the subject matter. These are the words of Sen. Specter during the exchange:
"I'll treat you like a lady, so act like one."
"Act like a lady."
(Both Rep Bachmann and the radio host interjected that she is one.)
"I think you are too that's why I'm treating you like one."
Which begs the question of Sen. Specter: how would he expect women in politics to act? And what does it say of Sen Specter two decades after his despicable treatment of the Anita Hill, that he still has a mindset which would allow him to utter such words? And do so unapologetically.
Sadly, the silencing and disparate treatment of our women politicians is still at times an acceptable norm. Last summer, Sen Patrick Leahy, who also served on the senate panel during the Anita Hill Hearings, had a similar, albeit less sordid encounter. During the senate nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Sen Leahy rudely interrupted Sen Kirsten Gillibrand during her statement. Politico surmised:
It was a striking moment in the clubby Senate, where members typically show enormous deference to each other -- particularly to senators of the same party, and even more so when on live national television.
We've come a long way, baby? Or have we?
Sen Specter's "lady" comments this week have re-opened old wounds for many women in our country. The New Agenda, the women's organization of which I am President, received scores of emails from women around the country. Here's a sampling:
I can't stop thinking about what he did to Anita Hill when I see Specter.
Whether you agree with Bachmann or not, she has a right to her POV.
A perfect example of the old double standard. If you are a man and you firmly assert your viewpoint you are a "strong, tough, scrapper." If you are a woman and you, in my opinion politely, try to make your point you are not a "lady."
I found it extremely offensive. He spoke down to Michele the same way he did to Anita.
Frankly our country deserves better from our public officials. Those who we entrust with our government. Those who we look to as role models. If Sen. Specter and Sen. Leahy feel comfortable speaking this way to female colleagues on an open mic, can we even fathom what happens behind closed doors?
That's why Sen. Specter should retire from public office at the end of his term. But before he does so, he should issue a public apology to Rep. Bachmann. And in his apology, he should articulate why his words could be so hurtful to so many women two decades later.
And some here at HuffPost might challenge this notion because the victim is Rep. Bachmann, a conservative who does not share your political ideology. Consider for a moment setting the victim's identity aside. Then imagine that Sen Specter was speaking to your daughter, your wife, your mother, or your sister.
We hope that other women's groups will join The New Agenda in our call for Sen Specter to retire. Political affiliation is not the point. Sexism against conservative women is still sexism: and the only way for the women of this country to truly move forward is to unite and speak out against all forms of sexism regardless of party or the source of the attack.
Surely the female senators and congresswomen that work so hard to get elected deserve to have their voice, our voice, be heard.