Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Get Your (Stuff) Together, Annapolis!

Josh Kurtz with Center Maryland wrote a very important piece about the "Mad Men" culture that persists in some corners of the General Assembly.  Although none of the women were willing to have their names published, Josh has some damning quotes from women lawmakers, lobbyists, and staffers recounting how they were talked to or touched inappropriately by Senators and Delegates in the course of their work at our state capital.

This is just disgusting.  After I posted this on my Facebook page, a few of my friends contacted me privately to note their personal experiences with lawmakers who thought their seat on the dais came with a free pass to act like a buffoon.  And while so many of us may know a Senator or Delegate who fits this profile, the real tragedy of Josh's column is that we all know countless more representatives with solid morals and good-intentions who feel like their hands are tied to do anything.  While many new Delegates go down to Annapolis with the intention to take on the world and make it a better, safer, more just place, a good start may be keeping your colleagues' hands where they belong.

And let's not downplay this concern in favor of acceptance.  "Boys will be boys" should have been retired from our parlance decades ago (except for those instances in which we hurt ourselves doing something stupid - that happens).  This behavior interferes with equal access to government and the right to petition the same.  You won't often hear me express sympathy for lobbyists, but it baffles me that our state leaders would allow a status quo whereby women must either "cope with" being objectified and disrespected or find other employment.  How devastating that must be to the psyche of a hard-working professional or an up-and-coming leader.  How absolutely devastating, humiliating, and destructive that must be. Shame on anyone who has known about this and failed to lift a hand.

While anyone who knows Delegate Maggie McIntosh was likely uncomfortable to read it, Josh includes a great quote about the first step towards curbing this behavior:

“When you’re a woman under 40, most people assume you’re a staffer and not a legislator, and they’re more likely to grab your ass,” one state lawmaker says. Then, referring to the woman with the greatest power in the legislature, 67-year-old House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D), this legislator observes: “Nobody is going to grab Maggie McIntosh’s ass, because they’re not stupid. They want to get ahead.”

More women leaders means more women who will make bad behavior a professional death sentence.  And while I would love to think that strong male leaders will do this on their own, something important happens to men when their co-equals and colleagues are women - their empathy brain connects.  Rather than paternalistic concern, men who work with other women understand that a hostile work environment not only is harmful on ethical grounds, but also on practical team-level grounds.  "If you make my partner uncomfortable, we can't get the job done.  I don't care what you do outside of this Chamber, but so long as you're doing it here you are interfering with my work."

Callous, cynical, and depressing as that may be, it is why diversity works.

There are countless other ways bad behavior can be punished without putting the burden wholly on the shoulders of the harassed and I hope our state lawmakers open all the doors on this.  When your government leaders don't respect women, your state suffers.  Our state is suffering due to the bad behavior of a few disgusting creeps who found themselves on the right side of democracy.  Let's hope the good guys (and gals) have the final say.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!