U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) took some fellow lawmakers, Capitol Hill staffers, and journalists to task for dressing in a way that she said was “inviting,” in comments to a closed-door meeting with the Democratic caucus Wednesday, Miss Kaptur confirmed to The Blade.
The comments, first reported on Wednesday by Politico, drew condemnation from critics who said Miss Kaptur’s words amounted to blaming victims for acts of sexual harassment and assault.
“Rep. Marcy Kaptur, hear us loud and clear: No one deserves sexual harassment, no one asks for it, and the only people to blame for it are the harassers themselves,” Nita Chaudhary, Co-founder of women’s rights organization UltraViolet, said in a written statement.
Miss Kaptur’s comments were made in a Democratic Caucus meeting about recent sexual harassment cases, according to the Politico. She said she was appalled at how other women dress on Capitol Hill, and said the House should amend its dress code.
“I saw a member yesterday with her cleavage so deep it was down to the floor,” Miss Kaptur said, according to Politico. “And what I’ve seen ... it's really an invitation.”
Politico sources said Miss Kaptur’s comments left them stunned, especially in the context of sexual assault and harassment allegations against politicians from both parties. Accusations of wrongdoing have led to the resignation of lawmakers and influenced the special election Tuesday for an Alabama senate seat.
Miss Kaptur told The Blade at least two female members told her they agreed with her. They could not immediately be reached for comment. However, she emphasized she did not specifically say a woman’s revealing clothing invites sexual harassment.
She said women in Congress who are sexually harassed have not had the benefit of having their claim fairly heard, and the men they accuse are entitled to counsel to represent them, but the women have to face the person they are accusing alone. She also said men accused of sexual harassment have not had due process afforded to them in being forced from office.
Miss Kaptur said the House dress code requires men to wear jacket and tie and prohibits anyone from wearing a winter coat on the floor.
“Basically I said we have to pay attention to the dress code, and it was quoted accurately, there was a member in floor debate who appeared in what I thought was inappropriate dress. The men have to wear suit and tie or they’re taken off the floor,” Miss Kaptur said. “There are certain rules, but there also are situations where, for whatever reasons, very revealing outfits are worn on the floor by women, and that’s both on the part of staff and members and I think that’s inappropriate.”
She said popular culture as portrayed on TV and in movies encourages revealing clothing.
“If you look at the cultural standards, the shows on TV and the way women dress, I find so much of that offensive. The media set a very low standard, in my opinion, and we live in this environment. I think it diminishes worth of a human being. They feel compelled to look that way to succeed,” Miss Kaptur said.
In a statement to Politico, Miss Kaptur said she never meant to suggest that women are to blame for harassment they experience.
“When I was first elected to Congress, my office and I became a refuge for female staffers who had been mistreated by their bosses. Some of them in tears many days. It is something I carry with me to this day and something I brought up during our Caucus meeting,” she said. “Under no circumstances is it the victim's fault if they are harassed in any way. I shared the stories from my time here in the context of the ‘Me Too’ legislation and how we can elevate the decorum and the dress code to protect women from what is a pervasive problem here and in society at large.”
One local female politician, Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, said members of a younger generation may have different standards than her generation or Miss Kaptur’s generation. She also said both men and women should be “conscientious and respectful in any business setting.”
“Marcy has a longer life experience and more wisdom than myself and I respect her opinion, but I do not want to create the burden on what a woman wears as an invitation to violate her in any respect whatsoever,” Ms. Lopez said.
Staff writer Nolan Rosenkrans contributed to this report.
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