“You Uppity F*cking Bitch”: The Response to the Viral Public Comment Video Was Predictable and Avoidable

A couple of weeks ago, a video of the city council’s public hearing period went viral, spurred on by local conservative media and amplified by national right-wing talk show and podcast hosts. The video showed a man, Richard Schwartz, asking council member Debora Juarez, who was chairing the meeting, to stop the two-minute timer so that he could address her directly about the fact that the council didn’t seem to be listening to him with the kind of rapt attention he felt he deserved. Schwartz, who has met one-on-one with council members and complains to them frequently about cyclists going “too fast” in the Westlake bike lane, was breaking the public-comment rule that requires commenters to speak to items on the agenda; I’ve watched the council for a long time and seen them cut off many people’s mics over many years for violating this rule, but they didn’t do so in this case. (If you want to know more about Schwartz’s pet issue, KUOW did a  piece about him two days after his viral public comment). Instead, Juarez told him the clock was running and said he had her attention. Once the two-minute video clip started to spread via Facebook and Reddit, of course, none of that context mattered. The only thing many people saw was a kindly old man begging for attention from a bunch of rude government officials, mostly women, who ignored his sincere pleas for “just two minutes” of their attention.

That part was predictable: Right-wing bloviators love to crow about government (particularly liberal governments) not listening to the little guy. But so was what happened next: A torrent of abusive phone calls and emails from around the country, directly primarily at Juarez but also at every woman of color on the council, including one who was not even at the meeting. This was predictable because it’s basically what happened the last time the women on the council did something controversial. Last time, the council’s five female members voted against vacating a public alley for would-be stadium developer Chris Hansen. This time, they failed to pay sufficiently rapt attention to an older white man who was demanding that they hang on his every off-topic word.

I went through more than 1,000 emails that poured into council offices over the five-day period when the video was at its viral peak. Strung together and put into 12-point type, they made a 216-page Word document more than 130,000 words long. Some of the abusive emails went to subsets of the council, or to every council member (including the two, Bruce Harrell and Teresa Mosqueda) who weren’t there. Many others were targeted specifically at the female council members. In fact, more emails were addressed explicitly to Mosqueda—who, again was not even at the meeting—than to Mike O’Brien, who was.

In reading the emails, a few themes emerge. The first is sexist name-calling, most of it targeted at Juarez, who is referred to as “that cunt”; “a vile piece of trash”; “an entitled bitch”; an “uppity bitch” whose “ugly ass really should pay more attention to the citizens immediately in front if [sic] you, instead of looking up recipes for tortillas”; “A grotty, lazy, rude good for nothing stereotype”; a “disrespectful bitch”; a “vile old clam”; an “ugly fucking cow”; a “fat disgusting cow”; “the literal scum of the earth” whose “dusty old bones will most likely fill up all 6 feet of space [in her coffin] just by itself”; a “bitch” who should “suck my fucking dick,” and a variety of other slurs. Writers also targeted council member Kshama Sawant with sexist and racist slurs, including “a truly revolting individual and a cancer that plagues the Jewel of the Pacific Northwest”; a “racist hypocrite against the usa [sic] worthless politician”; a “piece of shit” “fucking Muslim” who should “go back to your ducking [sic] country”; and, of course, a bitch. Callers to Gonzalez’s office left messages saying she “should honestly get the fuck out of this country because you don’t belong here”; that she should “go fuck yourself, you fucking piece of shit”; and calling her “a vile and disgusting load of shit, you fucking bitch.”

Other themes: The council is being racist and sexist against Schwartz because he’s a white man (“Are you a bunch of misandrist [sic] (look that word up dummies) or just a bunch of chauvinist [sic] that are sticking up for the women but, really attacking men?.”); “I am appalled at your callous and arrogant demeanor toward the white male CITIZEN”); “Kiss America’s Ass & My White Male Veteran Ass. Now sit your Fat Ass Down.” They’re “arrogant” (a word that shows up 38 times in the emails), “entitled” (22) “elitists” (20) because they’re “Democrats” (or “Demo-craps” or “DEMON-CRAT[s]!!!!!” or “DemocRATs”). And they deserve to be “hit,” “slapped,” have someone “beat the fuck out of them” because of the way they acted. These comments, while sometimes directed at the entire council, were most often directed at Juarez, and often tended to be gendered, suggesting that while the entire council may be “DEMON-CRATS,” only the women on the council needed to be told (as Juarez was) that they are “Smug, elitist, dismissive, bored, annoyed, ignorant and ugly both inside and out.”

 

People often wonder why more women don’t go into politics, and there are many reasons—sexist double standards that require women to “prove ourselves” capable of roles men are assumed to be able to do by default; sexist societal expectations that make women primary parents, caregivers, housecleaners, and errand runners even in “progressive” cities like Seattle; gendered ageism that says that women are too young to be effective right up until the moment that they’re too old to be relevant. But the fact that women in public office are far more likely face threats, harassment, and gender-based verbal abuse is another reason, one we shouldn’t just ignore. In the weeks since the initial burst of hate speech that a staffer described as “the hurricane,” the media has moved on and the cameras (many of them trained directly on Juarez, demanding “answers to the questions” people commenting on the video were raising) have gone away. But we shouldn’t just ignore these attacks, or say the female council members “knew what they were signing up for”—or, as some members of the Seattle media did, fan the flames in order to juice our own ratings or clicks. Putting up with sexist, racist harassment and gender-based threats shouldn’t be a job requirement at any workplace, particularly one where women have to work three times as hard to be taken half as seriously.

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Bar Complaint Filed Against Pro-Arena Misogynist; Council Members Consider Response

Ben Livingston, a longtime Seattle pot advocate, has filed a bar complaint against the attorney who wrote a threatening, misogynistic letter to the five female council members who voted against a street vacation that would have eased the way for a future NBA arena Monday. The letter, which a “Jason M. Feldman, Esq.” sent to all five female council members today, laments that the women have “robbed” him of the sports stadium to which he was entitled, and concludes,

As women, I understand that you spend a lot of your time trying to please others (mostly on your knees) but I can only hope that you each find ways to quickly and painfully end yourselves. Each of you should rot in hell for what you took from me yesterday. I hope you enjoy your thirty pieces of silver and know that I will be make donations to your competitors next election cycle. Please don’t misunderstand me. I TRULY pray for nothing but horrible things for each of you moving forward. You have made this world a worse place by whoring yourselves out to the highest bidder. Please Please Please do the honorable thing and end yourselves. Each of you are disgraceful pieces of trash that deserve nothing but horrible outcomes.

In his complaint, Livingston writes that Feldman, an attorney in Lynnwood, “is sending abusive email to female elected officials because he is angry over a land use decision. He makes sexual suggestions and repeatedly encourages these woman to commit suicide,” and asks the bar association to discipline Feldman for unethical conduct.

As Seattlish noted earlier, the female council members, who made up the five-vote bloc needed to prevent the street giveaway to wannabe stadium developer Chris Hansen, have been subjected to a barrage of misogynistic insults and threats by sports fans, almost all of them male, angry that women would take their stadium away from them.

The insults, which can be summarized as “You cunt,” “Die,” “Get back in the kitchen,” and “women are subhuman,” may be familiar territory for women who spend a lot of time having opinions on the Internet. But they’re unprecedented in recent memory for the Seattle City Council, and give the council’s five-woman majority an unwanted taste of what happens when female public figures fail to “know their place” — by, say, voting against an arena supported by a large, mobbish clique of male sports fans.  It says something that the sexist vitriol against these five women with the temerity to hold local elected office only bubbled over once men were no longer a majority of the council.

Since all these men (and, it looks like, one woman) were proud enough of their memberships in the He-Man Woman Haters Club to use their own names on Facebook, Twitter, and in emails to city council members, I’m posting them here unredacted.

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You all sound like grade-schoolers: the “icky boys against the girls”.

So going forward I in turn be misogynistic in my support–NO to all female Council hopefuls.

You all bring shame to our city, and are an embarrassment with your immaturity and emotional compulsion.

Tim Hirano-Lifelong (50+ year Seattle Resident) and completely resentful of my vote for Herbold-NEVER again.
I know you have heard a million of these today but I really don’t think you ladies did your homework. If you ever left Seattle to see other city’s with multiple sports teams have the all centrally located. We can never make progress around here and try something new. Maybe you should look at how much progress in the world President Obama has made by opening up many closed doors. Wether by hiring many minorities and women in key cabinet positions or starting new relations with Cuba. I guess we have some ladies that are too afraid to stick there neck out like many other great politicians have in our history. I hope if you get a second chance you will change your mind to really make a difference

From: Daniel Anderson
Date: May 2, 2016 at 7:08:03 PM PDT
To: kshama.sawant@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
Subject: Extremely disappointed with your no votes on street vacation

I sit here and try and think of the words to say but I am so angry I think it is best to just tell you council “women” that you have just ruined your political careers with one vote. I do not want any response just know that I will do everything in my powers to ensure you are all not re-elected. Good riddance

From: Marcus Kramer
Date: May 2, 2016 at 5:08:42 PM PDT
To: council@seattle.gov, sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, Lorena.Gonzalez@seattle.gov, Lisa.Herbold@seattle.gov, Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov, Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov
Subject: How much were u 5 paid off?!

U 5 women were paid off and I hope we all find out how much. U are what’s wrong with government. There is no way a person with common sense would vote for this and then against it without $ being exchanged for some of you. The rest of you have no idea how sports and the economics of it work. Leave it to 5 women to set your sex back and not be progressive and be afraid to take a chance and make something awesome in this city I love and you don’t. Embarrassed to share the same city with u.

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(I’ve removed one comment I posted here after the commenter–who said the five council members who voted against the street vacation should get used to criticism if they’re going to make decisions like that–pointed out he was responding to a different Twitter thread.)

The five council members have not responded publicly to the onslaught, but I talked to three of them tonight and they are considering a formal response, possibly in the form of an op/ed, in a week or so. In the meantime, as someone who’s taken my share of online abuse, I take up space in solidarity with the five women of the city council who are having to deal with this demoralizing garbage.

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