For years, women have worked hard to cast off outdated stereotypes about our role in politics. Those of us who have been around long enough to remember what life in the Capitol was like when it was still truly an old boys' network can appreciate how far we've come.
But it just takes one Mike Duvall story to set us all back.
Whether or not he was just "storytelling," or giving us all too much information, Duval, in one two-minute burst of hot air, conjured up every latent stereotype about women in politics. To people like Duvall, this is still a boys' club, and women are just thrown around like Christmas ornaments to make everything look pretty. Luckily, that sort of attitude is increasingly rare among members.
To hear this sort of talk from a old pirate like Duvall was one thing, but the coverage of the Duvall incident made it even worse. Shame on Kathay Feng and California Common Cause for telling the LA Times that the "use of sexual favors" is common in the State Capitol. What a crock.
This is not the 1960s, Ms. Feng. As a lobbyist for over 33 years I can't think of a more sexist statement. The women in and around the State Capitol put in long hours and sacrifice time away from their families to do good work. Ms. Feng may not like the role of lobbyists (although Common Cause also lobbies), but we are part of the checks and balance of state government. We follow the law to properly represent our clients and causes, and 99 percent of us actually do so standing up.
We represent business, labor, governments, and non-profits. Our jobs are honorable and the bad judgment of a few is not representative of the majority. How do Ms Feng and Common Cause expect anyone to take them seriously when they exaggerate with so little factual basis?
The day after Feng's offensive statements, the Los Angeles Times added insult to injury in their Sept. 11 story, "Duvall incident spotlights politicians' perks in capital."
This story made it sound, again, as if women are simply some sort of offering made to male legislators (or lesbians, as the story pointed out), like shrimp on a fundraiser buffet.
The Times story noted "big lobbying firms hire attractive women. The legislators are thrilled by the women's attention at fundraisers and other events, the lobbyist said.
They go on to quote some unnamed lobbying who says, "If there's a beautiful woman sitting there that's with you from your firm, you're going to have at least half of the guys that are legislators come over and initiate conversations with her. She doesn't have to sleep with them, but it's just the fact she's there and she's nice to them."
All of this, again, diminishes the political work that women do, implying that all we're good for rests between our chins and our belly-buttons.
The Duvall incident, and the commentary that followed, shows that, despite signs of progress, a lot of men in politics — including the ones who write about politics – have some pretty old-fashioned ideas about the work we do.
Maybe we haven't come that far, after all.