When Katherine Clark first came to Congress, someone manning the House chamber tried to stop her from setting foot inside. They didn’t recognize her.
The second time it happened, she wasn’t even all that new. “I was walking in with a male colleague. They just looked at us together, assumed we were a couple, and he was the congressman and that I was a spouse going onto the floor when it wasn’t permitted,” the Massachusetts Democrat recalls.
She’s one of several congresswomen Heard on the Hill spoke to in recent weeks, after a vulgar comment made by Rep. Ted Yoho on the Capitol steps in July touched off a new round of questions about exactly how far women have come.
Back when Clark arrived on the Hill in 2013, she heard warnings about certain male lawmakers, the kind of informal whispers that professional women have relied on for decades. “There were members that we were told, ‘Don’t get in the elevator with them,’” Clark says.
Rep. Joyce Beatty took office the same year. “I can remember feeling and listening to our male counterparts discounting us,” the Ohio Democrat says. As the newcomers settled in, everyone seemed to recognize the men. But those same people didn’t bother to learn her name.
Fast forward seven years, and there are more women in Congress than ever before, after a record-breaking 2018 midterm election catapulted dozens into power.
One of them was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose account of the unwelcome run-in with Yoho last month left some shaking their heads, whether in disbelief or recognition. Whatever the Florida Republican thought he was going to accomplish by berating AOC outside the Capitol, he probably didn’t expect the torrent of anecdotes that would follow, as women spoke out about navigating the culture of the Hill.