Ahead of the highly-anticipated midterm elections, Glamour spoke with some of the women candidates who have experienced insulting (and sometimes scary and threatening) comments from men. The ugly truth, however, is that it didn’t take running for office for these women to be subjected to this type of vitriol. In fact, many candidates have remarked that it was the harassment they experienced before they ever registered to run that pushed them into the political arena.
That fight adopted a name last year when The New York Times published its bombshell report accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. (The Hollywood executive continues to deny the allegations and has plead not guilty to multiple charges.) The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. Instead, it sparked the viral hashtag #MeToo, prompting women and men to come forward, not only with their own accusations against Weinstein, but against dozens of powerful men in Hollywood, politics and positions of power. What the hashtag also highlighted were the women who had long done the work to protect women in the shadows: They took to social media to share their stories, they lobbied the courts to see justice done to their attackers, and now, they are running for elected office so they can hopefully fix the broken system from the inside out.
That makes the upcoming midterm elections something to watch. Not only are a record number of women running for elected office around the nation, but there are also a number of them who are running with the #MeToo movement playing a central role in how they approach sexual misconduct and women’s rights. Take for example Rachel Crooks, the woman (not yet a candidate) who accused President Donald Trump of grabbing and kissing her in front of Trump Tower in 2005. Weeks before Trump won the presidential election in 2016, Crooks detailed her experience with The New York Times and joined a number of women who accused the then-presidential candidate of sexual misconduct.
In May, Crooks won the Democratic primary for a seat in the Ohio State Legislature. Trump still maintains that the sexual misconduct allegations lobbed against him are false.
Joining her in the #MeToo fight is Anna Eskamani, who is running for the House of Representatives in Florida. On her listed platforms, you’ll find efforts to curb climate change and educational equality. But, you’ll also find a rigorous plan to help fund access to reproductive health for all women and a plan to “advocate for the ERA, earned sick time, equal work for equal pay, and stronger systems to report sexual assault and harassment.”
Another candidate, Jennifer O’Mara, is running for state representative in Pennsylvania. Like both Crooks and Eskamani, O’Mara is running on a platform of supporting women’s rights. “Between the #MeToo movement and efforts to restrict a woman’s constitutionally-protected right to choose, women’s equality needs to be a top priority for our legislators in Harrisburg. I want to be an advocate for women’s rights and women’s equality,” she wrote as part of her platform plan.
“We have so many amazing candidates and we have a lot of women,” Lizet Ocampo, political director of People For the American Way, shared with Glamour about the first-time candidates running with the goal of eradicating sexual abuse on their list. “We have a lot of women of color and we have a lot of diverse folks from different backgrounds.” PFAW, a non-profit organization founded to fight right-wing extremism, helps young progressive candidates for state and local office with campaigning and funding. Crooks, Eskamani and O’Mara are all three supported by the PAC. But they have something else in common too: They aren’t shying away from their #MeToo stories.
Glamour spoke with the three first-time candidates about how movement is affecting their run, what it’s like to be a woman running in a closely-watched midterm election cycle and just how they plan to keep #MeToo going if they win their races come November.
Outside of your own experience with sexual misconduct, how did the #MeToo movement and the fight to protect women before that inspire your run?
Rachel Crooks, candidate for State House, District 8, OH: After the #MeToo movement began and all these other powerful men were being held accountable, that’s when I decided to go public about the hypocrisy as to my experience with Trump and him not being held accountable. (Crooks’ initial allegations came to light in 2016). After I began speaking out publicly, a lot of women in my area really started to turn to me and suggest running for office. Like, a lot of women. I kind of blew that off at first. And then the more I heard that and the more people who brought it up, the more it felt like I had a duty to be a voice for them and I, of course, decided to take that on.
Anna Eskamani, candidate for State House, District 47, FL: I made the decision to run for office on July 3, 2017. So we were on the campaign trail before the #MeToo movement really reached a national level. My background is in advocacy and I worked at Planned Parenthood for six years. So the issues around equality, whether it is abortion access, equal work for equal pay, domestic violence prevention, sexual assault prevention, have always been in the first for me. Watching the #MeToo movement and the incredible reckonings in this country around sexual assault and harassment, for me, has been such an incredible opportunity for us to inspire leadership around it and pull it out and create a society that is free of abuse and control.
Jennifer O’Mara, candidate for State House, District 165, PA: I started running in March of 2017. When I decided to run, there were a lot of factors that went into it, but one of the biggest factors was when I looked up the history of my district. I saw that we had not been represented by a woman for longer than I’ve been alive and we had never been represented by a Democratic woman. A lack of representation really motivated me to take the plunge. For the last seven years I’ve been on a team of all women—really high performing—and we never even think about the fact that we’re women. It’s just we all worked together. When I started to run for office, it was the first time that being a woman was constantly talked about and was almost like it was a hindrance in a lot of people’s eyes. And so once the #MeToo movement started, it was so exciting to be running in that movement because I already wanted to fight to represent more women. I already wanted to make sure our voice was brought to the table.
What challenges have you faced in being a candidate who openly discusses sexual misconduct?
Crooks: For me, a lot of the issues that I face are just from being a first-time candidate, not necessarily being a #MeToo candidate. People definitely like to give unsolicited advice and I think I can say that as a female candidate, I’m sure I’m dealing with things that male candidates aren’t. There are people who very much like to tell me what to wear or comment on what I’m wearing or how I’m speaking or just everything we do.
Eskamani: Absolutely. Especially because it’s so polarizing right now… people will attack me for my beliefs. They’ll accuse me of a practicing hypocrisy because they’ll say, ‘I don’t see you calling out these Democrats. I have and will continue to call out Democrats who are accused of sexual misconduct. Our campaign donated $1,000 dollars last year to the Victim Service Center of Central Florida because that was, to my knowledge, the total of gifts given to us from men who were accused of sexual assault and harassment. I wanted [to be] very clear and transparent to our supporters and our voters that we have a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and harassment.
O’Mara: I wouldn’t say I faced any challenges. What I would say is that there are some voters who will immediately not want to engage with you if that’s the issue you’re talking about. And so that’s a challenge, right? And the fact that we need to talk to everyone and we need to break down these barriers. I would say one of the bigger challenges isn’t even talking about it, it’s just dealing with the fact that as a female, we get opinions and we get suggestions or criticisms that a man never even thinks about. I’ve been emailed by strangers who saw a photo of me that [say] my hair is too long or my hair is too short, or I shouldn’t wear stripes or I should wear pants that are bell bottoms. You would not believe the amount of things that people tell you or talk about with you because of the fact that we’re women.
How will you help keep the #MeToo moment going in office?
Crooks: One thing soon after being elected, I think that especially in Ohio, is creating a better process for the state legislature to report sexual harassment. We’ve seen over the past year or so a few incidents of sexual harassment at the State House and the way they’ve been handled has been awful.
Eskamani: Our website has sexual assault harassment prevention under our platform. We do prioritize it just as an issue to address. I’ve already mentioned that in the legislature there’s work to be done. No policy was passed in the last session. Parkland became the priority after the shooting. And so, at this point, no bill has been passed to prevent sexual harassment in the legislature. That’s step one… let’s make sure that in the capitol building we are modeling behavior for the rest of the state and that we pass a meaningful policy that has an objective reporting system that isn’t owned by leadership.
I would also love to see more emphasis on what can we do to support small businesses in the realm of sexual assault and prevention. There is no policy requirement for small businesses to have a process for this. It’s understandable because they don’t typically have the budget for an HR director or manager. In many cases, the owner is the HR person. So, looking toward nonprofit organizations that can serve as a conduit for smaller businesses to have an outlet and a process to report assault and harassment—and to even look at what can we include in HR manuals around this issue—ensuring that people have access to hotlines they can call.
O’Mara: The first place that I want to start is really changing the composition of our legislature. So whether or not I get elected, there are so many other women running this cycle. In Pennsylvania, like I said, just 19 percent of our elected officials are women. So just being a woman in Harrisburg is going to change things. But, there’s also legislation that I want to work on with the women’s caucus in Harrisburg. There’s currently #MeToo legislation on the table that hasn’t moved. So getting there and supporting that legislation right away to try to get off committees is priority, but some of the stuff is extending the statute of limitations for civil suits around rape and sexual assault cases. Passing legislation to make sure rape kits were tested in a timely manner. Right now, Pennsylvania has over a thousand untested rape kits, which is not really acceptable. Passing legislation to ensure that NDAs can’t be used to prevent people from coming forward, which we saw happen in some of the big profile #MeToo stories. Also, I want to look at protecting people in the workplace and making it safer for them to come forward and not be afraid over retaliation.
How can women and men who are not running for office continue the conversation?
Crooks: In my area, shortly after the Women’s March, a progressive group did start and that has continued. So I think groups like that are still going strong across the country. For people to be active in those organizations is really important because we can continue the conversation in those groups and we can be active in politics even if we’re not running or elected to office.
Eskamani: We’re seeing it, right? I think that the power of social media is really important. Sharing your personal stories has helped those who never experienced assault to try to put themselves in your shoes. And so for those who bravely share their stories, I think that alone is such a transformational experience for others who are watching and reading.
O’Mara: I think that we need to really have conversations with members of the opposite sex. I think it’s also really important that women talk to their sons, brothers, uncles, husbands, friends, men who may be more inclined to listen to you because there’s a relationship there.
If we can put faces on real stories, real humans on these stories, I think it will help both sides come together.
Interviews have been condensed for clarity and length.
In a pivotal election year, Glamour is keeping track of the historic number of women running (and voting) in the midterm elections. For more on our latest midterm coverage, visit www.glamour.com/midterms.
Stacey Leasca is a journalist from Rhode Island. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sleasca.