Newly-elected Indian American congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat, was horrified when a fellow congressman Raul Labrador, a Republican, told her to “learn how to read” at a recent hearing of the House judiciary committee.
Jayapal, a first term member of the house of Representatives from Washington, told McClatchy news group she was stunned to hear that remark, which had come in response to her comments describing President Donald Trump’s travel ban as a “Muslim ban”.
The White House and Republicans have aggressively and angrily pushed back against the travel restrictions that have been commonly called a “Muslim ban” by its critics because they apply only to Muslim-majority nations, down from earlier seven to six now.
It’s fine to disagree, but not fine to be insulting about it.
Another congresswoman, Maxine Waters, also a Democrat, found her hairstyle picked on in a racially loaded put-down by Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly. He said her hair looked like “a James Brown (an African American singer) wig”.
Recently, White House press secretary Sean Spicer asked April Ryan, a radio journalist, to “stop shaking your head” when she looked dissatisfied by his response to her questions at his daily briefing.
“Whether it’s a statement about a black woman’s hair or a statement about whether a brown woman can read, it is deeply troubling,” Jayapal told McClatchy. “Not only is it insulting to the person, it’s also insulting to all the constituents who elected us to represent them.”
There have been other such instances of questionable behaviour with women, and from Democrats as well. A lawmaker from Louisiana, Cedric Richmond, was forced to apologize for saying that senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway “looked familiar” in a photograph of her sitting with her legs up on a sofa in the Oval Office.
Is this the Trump effect, as many believe it is, with the president leading with his loose rhetoric and put-downs, going back to the campaign days when he disparaged a news anchor about her menstruation, and rival’s wife for her looks?
Senator Patty Murray told McClatchy that it’s Trump’s message that “it’s ok to put down people”.
The publication cited a recent study by Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, which found men behaving more aggressively towards woman after the November elections — there was a 140% rise in the use of “aggressive negotiating tactics” by men who knew they were negotiating with women, compared to when they were not aware of the gender of the other negotiating partner.