Rep. Katie Hill Stepped Down But Her Story has More Than One Side

Ellie Long, Editor in Chief

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In last year’s midterm elections, a record 36 new women were elected to the House of Representatives, leading many analysts to declare it the “Year of the Woman.” One of these 36 was Katie Hill, who won a seat in California’s long Republican-held 25th Congressional District, including the cities of Simi Valley and Santa Clarita.

Unfortunately, the “Year of the Woman” would turn out to last less than 10 months for Hill. On Oct. 27, Hill resigned after admitting a relationship with a member of her campaign team and amid allegations of a separate relationship with a congressional staffer.

Hill’s story has ignited commentary across the political spectrum, calling her anything from a victim to a #metoo perpetrator. Neither label fits perfectly. What’s clear to me however, is that Hill’s story reveals how much work must still be done until women in politics are treated equally.

The intimate photos of Hill and a woman identified as a campaign staffer were released by “an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me,” according to Hill’s resignation statement. This is a textbook example of revenge porn, illegal in 46 states including California and the District of Columbia.

Yet no one seems to be discussing the husband’s role. Like sex scandals from time untold, it is the woman who garners the media’s attention, and who is reduced to a caricature of stereotypes.

“When sex-related stories or scandals arise, the portrayal of women is often bimodal – she is the virgin or the prostitute, good wife or seductive mistress,” said Haco Hoang, a professor of political science at California Lutheran University who teaches POLS-418 Women and Politics, in an email interview. “This is one of the most infuriating aspects of society to me. These extreme and overly simplistic categorizations of women negates them/us as complex beings, with multiple and intersecting forms of identity.”

For another example of this, look no further than the Monica Lewinsky scandal. After her affair with President Bill Clinton became public, Lewinsky was nothing more than a target in the media for graphic sexual jokes, comments about her appearance and questions regarding her intelligence. Even a New York Times columnist called her “a ditsy, predatory White House intern who might have lied under oath for a job at Revlon.”

There was no sympathy for the fact that she was a 22-year-old intern at the time of the relationship — 27 years the president’s junior — who did not deserve the ridicule of an entire nation.

The Lewinsky case also exemplifies the double standard for consequences in these situations. While Lewinsky’s professional reputation was ruined, Clinton remained in office, and for much more clear-cut violations than exist in Hill’s case.

“I absolutely think Hill is being treated differently, not only because she is a women/female but also as an openly bi-sexual person…While I believe that Hill has acted inappropriately and one could argue, unethically, she did NOT violate any laws,” Hoang said.

Hoang contrasted this to the ongoing scandal involving Congressman Duncan Hunter of California’s 50th Congressional District. Hunter has been federally charged with using more than $200,000 of campaign funds on vacations, bar tabs and paying off romantic flings with congressional aides, according to NBC. He has not resigned, and is running for reelection.

The other elephant in the room here is the fact that Hill served under a president who has been accused by 25 women of sexual misconduct, according to Business Insider.

These cases don’t even include consensual but salacious claims such as the Stormy Daniels scandal; rather, they include allegations against President Donald Trump for groping, assault and rape, according to Business Insider.

Yet Trump seems immune to scandal, and unsurprisingly he turned the situation on his accusers. According to Business Insider, he said these women were looking for “free publicity,” and even suggested he didn’t engage in the alleged behavior because the women were not attractive enough.

These are famous examples of an issue that pervades all levels of politics. Associated Press published a list of 90 state lawmakers in Feb. 2019 who had been accused of sexual misconduct since 2017. Of these 90, just 33 resigned or were removed from office.

I believe that Hill was right to resign, as it is important to uphold our elected officials to high standards. However, we should recognize her as a complex, flawed individual who is simultaneously a victim of revenge porn, one of the cruelest forms of retaliation.

Hill’s case exemplifies that while a record number of women may have entered Congress in 2018, our country has not moved past its fascination, stereotypes and double standards for women involved in sex scandals.

The revelation that the writer of the article exposing the relationship was a former campaign adviser to Steve Knight, whose seat Hill won, additionally shows that there are still those out there who would do anything — including sexual exploitation — to take down a woman in power.

The true “Year of the Woman” won’t arrive until we can treat men and women in politics equally at all times, including in situations of wrongdoing. Hill may have acted inappropriately, but until we give men in similar situations the same attention and expect the same consequences, our country should not rest easy with her story’s resolution.