In the wake of a naked photo scandal and her admission of a sexual relationship with a campaign subordinate, Rep. Katie Hill has announced her intention to resign. Hill was often referred to as America’s ‘millennial’ candidate throughout her campaign. Perhaps therefore it should come as no surprise that her resignation letter was filled not with remorse, regret or even a real apology, but instead with attempts to blame only others and never herself.
The Hill controversy has inspired bifurcated reactions, some — not all — of which have broken down along partisan lines. The progressive Twitterati has been eager to seize on the parts of the story emphasizing Hill’s identity as a victim. Her photos were immorally — and likely illegally — seized and disseminated, they argue, thus making Hill a victim guilty only of poor judgment. In the real world, where characters are not black and white, pure evil or pure saint, people are complex and multi-layered. They can play more than one role in the same story. It’s pointless to argue Hill is not a victim. She is. By all accounts, her husband appears to be a nasty sort of fellow, and he should be held to account for his misdeeds. But this story is not all about what was done to Katie Hill. It is also about what was done by Katie Hill.
Progressives, it seems, love to talk about agency and accountability and women charting their own destiny. Except, of course, in cases in which said agency leads them to make bad decisions. Jill Filipovic fired off a column arguing questions about her affairs with staffer(s) ‘pale in comparison to what has been done to Hill.’ Jessica Valenti, who brands herself a ‘feminist author’, wrote ‘Hill was the victim of a crime, but she’s the only person being punished’, and that Hill’s ‘resignation is just the latest in a recent spate of sexist wins, reminders that any progress feminism makes is sure to be met by a backlash that is just as strong.’ Elsewhere in her column, Valenti writes that while Hill’s relationship with a staffer was ‘consensual but unethical’, and ‘arguably worthy of resignation’, it ultimately was ‘a mistake that many of her male colleagues have made without having to leave public office.’ There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, it bears repeating: Hill resigned. No one punished her, and no one made her leave office. She made a choice, and I think it was the right one. It looks like the only good decision she made throughout this ordeal. Valenti’s argument about Hill’s male counterparts making the same or similarly poor choices without leaving office is interesting, only for what it tells us about modern, progressive feminism. When I was growing up, I was told feminism meant women and men having the same opportunities and being treated equally, and that women shouldn’t be mistreated or written off because they happened to be women. I was never taught we should sink to the lowest common denominator. That to be ‘equal’ means to do wrong if men sometimes do wrong, and to back away from responsibility if men sometimes succeed in doing so. It’s true men often get away with bad behavior, albeit less so in the past few months. Feminism should not reinvent itself to mean women can get away with the same bad behavior. That’s not the kind of optimistic, aspirational, morally infused gender equality we need.
There seems to be at least one person on the left who understands this, a person who has certainly embodied what it means to be a feminist. Nancy Pelosi this week once again proved her understanding of how normal Americans think about these sorts of contentious issues. In the wake of Hill’s resignation, while the progressive Twitterati has been quick to defend the soon-to-be-former congresswoman, and slow to acknowledge her missteps, Pelosi has been brief but clear. In a statement, she noted how Hill ‘has acknowledged errors in judgment that made her continued service as a Member untenable’ and how ‘we must ensure a climate of integrity and dignity in the Congress, and in all workplaces.’
As for the tired notion that it’s conservatives who get away with everything and Democrats who always rush to valiantly own their mistakes and, when necessary, step down, let us remember how half the senior politicians in Virginia stand credibly accused of either sexual assault or having dressed in blackface and calls for them to resign have dwindled and died. Men, women, Republicans, Democrats — we should expect more of everyone.
Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and senior contributor to the Federalist.