Despite changes to the Georgia General Assembly’s sexual harassment guidelines in recent years, women in the Capitol — mostly Democrats — say the behavior and comments made by their male colleagues during the current legislative session has made them uncomfortable.
ATLANTA (CN) — Female lawmakers in the Georgia House of Representatives have filed a sexual harassment complaint to the ethics committee this week after a Republican male colleague made an inappropriate comment on Monday.
During a debate on legislation about outgoing surgery sedation, Representative Kasey Carpenter made what he later said was intended to be a joke about rapper Cardi B’s buttocks.
“Is it not true this bill will provide safety measures to ensure that Cardi B’s backside implants will be safe and ensure a lifetime of effectiveness?” he said on the House floor.
For at least a dozen of the House women, Carpenter’s comment was not only inappropriate and offensive but a reflection of a culture of toxic masculinity in the Georgia Capitol that they are fed up with.
Democratic Representative Jasmine Clark spearheaded the effort and went forward with drafting the letter — which is not being made public — after Carpenter apologized on Tuesday.
Clark explained in a tweet why the apology did not change the experiences she and the other House women have been subjected to in the male-dominated Capitol.
“While I accept my colleague’s apology, I also feel it is important to formalize our complaint,” she said. “If I throw a plate against the wall, an apology may be appreciated, but it doesn’t fix the plate. We need to do the work to actually fix what is broken.”
Representative Shelly Hutchinson, another Democrat, also explained in a post why Carpenter’s comment — and his apology — struck a nerve with her and other women who were in the chamber.
“How many apologies do we have to accept before we are given a basic level of respect?” Hutchinson tweeted Tuesday. “I never thought after I was elected by my constituents that I would be here asking for safety in the workplace.”
It was just two years ago that a female lobbyist filed a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint against former state senator and current chairman of the state Republican Party David Shafer, which led to the revision of sexual harassment guidelines. All lawmakers are now required to sign a document proving they watched a short video about sexual harassment.
Despite these new measures, female lawmakers have still felt uncomfortable by their male colleagues’ behavior during the current session, as evidenced last month when Senator Jen Jordan presented a bill that Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan wanted to change the wording on.
“I just don’t know where I would — and I’m careful in how I word this to you — I don’t know where I would stick it,” Dugan told Jordan.
Dugan also addressed the incident on Tuesday and apologized to Jordan, saying he regretted making the remark.
“I listened to it after the fact and I was upset with it,” he explained. “The part that bothered me the most on that was that I embarrassed a friend of mine in public.”
According to a study by Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics released in December, a record number of women are now serving in state legislatures across the county. There are currently 78 women – about one-third of 236 legislators — serving in the Georgia General Assembly.
Georgia Democratic Representative Beth Moore pointed out Wednesday that women sitting in the gallery must ask for a key to use the bathroom, which has only two stalls, while their male counterparts are not given the same requirement.
“Women and children are often an afterthought at the Capitol, if they’re thought of at all, other than when it comes to passing legislation controlling pregnant women’s bodies,” Moore said, adding that she hadn’t seen a bathroom with an infant changing station in the building and that it was only last year that the Legislature installed a lactation pod on the first floor of the Capitol.
“We’re here to do serious work for the people of Georgia, and we do have a lot of fun with it,” she said, “but we can also do it without making women feel like unwanted guests in their own home.”