POLITICS
02/25/2015 06:01 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2015

Former Congresswoman Says Male Senator Asked Her To Fetch Him A Cup Of Tea

Former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that when she served in the House of Representatives in the late 1970s and early '80s, Congress was a far more hostile place for women than it is now.

A male senator, she said, once asked her to fetch him a cup of tea.

"I didn't know what he was thinking," Holtzman said in an interview on HuffPost Live. "He probably thought I was his secretary, because there were so few women in Congress when I was elected."

When Holtzman was elected in 1973 at the age of 32, there were only 16 women in the House and zero women senators. She was the youngest woman ever elected to Congress until 2014, when fellow New York Rep. Elise Stefanik (R) was elected at age 30.

Holtzman said one security guard did not believe her when she told him she was a congresswoman.

"Because I was so young and a woman, one of the Capitol police almost drew his gun on me when I said I was a member of Congress," she said.

Since Holtzman left Congress in 1981, the place has become a bit friendlier to women. There are 84 congresswomen and 20 women senators currently serving. But women still experience sexism in the halls of America's most powerful legislative body.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrote in her 2014 book, Off The Sidelines, that her male colleagues made sexist comments and poked fun at her weight after she had a baby. One colleague told her she's "even pretty when [she's] fat," and another older senator once grabbed her waist and quipped that he likes his girls "chubby."

She discussed the experience in a September HuffPost Live interview.

"I've just had a baby, I've just been appointed [to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate], I have a lot to learn, so much on my plate, and this man basically says to me, 'You're too fat to be elected statewide,'" Gillibrand said. "At that moment, if I could have just disappeared, I would have. If I could have just melted in tears, I would have. But I had to just sit there and talk to him.... I didn't hear a word he said, but I wasn't in a place where I could tell him to go fuck himself."

Holtzman said she sees progress in Congress, based on the number of women being elected -- but the old boys' club still has a long way to go. "It takes time," she said. "Much longer than anyone ever dreamed."

HuffPost

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