Upending Patriarchy on the Way to the Ballot Box
More than 12 million Pennsylvanians are represented by 20 Representatives in Washington D.C. — and all 20 of those Representatives are men. While Pennsylvania women have, sadly, grown accustomed to this lack of representation in recent years, sexual harassment claims against the two biggest fundraisers in my own congressional district are a clear sign that it’s time to change the rules.
It is glaringly apparent that we need new voices of feminism at the table to craft the policies of our own lives. We must also remove men who abuse women from positions in which they make policy for those women. My name is Molly Sheehan, and I am running for U.S. Congress inspired in part to change this persistent narrative in Pennsylvania politics.
I have spent my career in science and engineering. Since 7th grade, I have dreamed of being a professor with my very own lab, improving medicine through research and discovery. I have successfully climbed the ladder in a field dominated by men. Throughout graduate school my female colleagues and I navigated a space where sexual predation often intersected with social ineptitude. We deflected advances and tolerated inappropriate touching from men on whom our careers were often dependent.
Of course, male-dominated politics isn’t that different than the male-dominated science department. When Donald Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, men like Republican Congressman Pat Meehan gave him only a gentle slap on the wrist. That’s when I decided it was time to take action so that my own daughter would not have to live through the same abuses that our generation and those before us have suffered.
As expected, on the campaign trail I face obstacles my male counterparts do not. These range from innocuous comments about my haircut, to lingering hands on my lower back, to so much petting of my 3-year-old daughter that I stopped bringing her to campaign events. Even at 3, she is already ignored when she asserts that she does not want to be touched by men at political events.
My congressional race has been shaken up twice now by sexual assault allegations by powerful men. First, state Senator Daylin Leach was accused of inappropriate touching and creating a hostile work environment. Now, on the day of the Women’s March, we learned details of a taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement by incumbent Rep. Pat Meehan. Beyond the inappropriateness of using taxpayer money to settle personal transgressions, which he should repay in full, neither Pat Meehan nor Daylin Leach have any business making policy that is meant to improve the lives of women and families.
There is a particular perversion to these cases of harassment in politics. These men have the power to legislate women’s lives, to create bureaucratic mazes that prevent holding abusers accountable. Pat Meehan served on the Ethics Committee tasked with investigating other sexual harassers. Meehan has also served as the District Attorney of Delaware County with prosecutorial discretion over which women were believed. It is no wonder that women find justice so elusive when the system is controlled by the very men who are evading their own consequences.
As is clear in my own district, the problem of sexual harassment in politics crosses both sides of the aisle. Even today, after both Leach and Meehan have been exposed, I see calls to keep them in office to serve their own political goals. Politics has become detached from the non-ideological reality of women’s lives. Political agendas take precedence over the lives of women working in these offices and the legislation they have the ability to pass in the interim before the next election.
The #MeToo movement has created a lot of energy, anger and hope for a better future, but leaving abusive men in power is not the answer. While Pat Meehan and Daylin Leach appear to be weakened opponents in my race for Pa-07, I still do not want them on the ballot. We have seen what this logic can lead to: Donald Trump in the oval office. Assuming somebody is unelectable because they have treated women badly is a risk we should not be willing to take.
In the political back rooms, party elites are trying to figure out how to capitalize on the #MeToo movement. They are comfortable in playing games with women’s and minorities’ lives for partisan political gain, with callous disregard to the real policies that make or break our security. They will recruit women to run who will not stand in solidarity with other women, and they will leave men in power to enact policy so they can win later.
The #MeToo movement and the women whose lives have been hurt by these actions are not a springboard from which the political establishment should be launching to greater power. The very foundation of the #MeToo movement is to challenge patriarchal establishment structures. This is why I am running for US Congress, not for my own personal ideological power, but to amplify the voices of my fellow women who have been oppressed by this system.