She may have admitted to an extramarital affair, but posting a naked photo of her in retaliation is a rightwing smear campaign

The conservative website RedState published revenge porn of a sitting congresswoman last week.

Katie Hill, of Californias 25th district, found the naked picture of herself published online while she is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce. In an email to supporters, Hill, who was elected as a freshman Democrat in the 2018 midterms, acknowledged a consensual relationship with an aide during her congressional campaign. But she denied another alleged relationship with a different aide, on Capitol Hill, that her ex-husband claims she had.

That latter allegation is not supported by any evidence, but it falls under the purview of the House ethics committee, which has now duly opened an investigation into Hill. Hill is the vice-chairwoman of the House oversight and reform committee, which is central to the impeachment inquiry.

What Hill admits to an extramarital affair with a campaign staffer during what she calls the final tumultuous years of an abusive marriage isnt great.

Its worth pointing out the distinct ethical position of a womans abuse of power in this way from a mans: when Hill engaged in an affair with a campaign aide, she did not do so in the context of millennia of mens sexual violence against women, and she did not do so with the reasonable ability to threaten force. But acknowledging this does not mean that we must understand such affairs as acceptable.

In her statement, Hill said the relationship with her campaign subordinate was inappropriate. I would go further, and call it unethical.

Still, Hills own conduct tacky, unprofessional, and ill-advised as it was pales in comparison to what is being done to her, which amounts to a misogynist rightwing smear campaign. The publication of the nude photograph belies any claim RedState and other Republicans may make to being concerned about the ethics of Hills conduct. Instead, what Hills attackers seem interested in is a wholesale discrediting of the congresswoman, complete with psychological abuse, public humiliation, and misogynist cruelty of the kind that is all too common an experience for women, from the most vulnerable to the most powerful among them. The fact that Hill is not a perfect victim should not distract us from the true issue at hand: that RedState and its rightwing compatriots have brought the tactics of domestic abuse into our politics.

Revenge porn, an increasingly common tactic of misogynist rancor, is not par for the acrimonious political course. It is a particularly hateful gesture, meant to humiliate and degrade its target. The very point of revenge porn is to discredit its victims, because in the misogynist logic that propels it, for a woman to have sex is to surrender her claims to privacy, authority, or the belief or sympathy of others.

What Hills attackers want us to think is that if she was worthy of being a congressperson, she wouldnt be having sex at all. It is up to us to say that a womans sexual life does not discount her other virtues, does not make her worthy of public ridicule, and certainly not of the ugliness of having her nude photo published without her consent on the website of a national media outlet. Revenge porn also happens to be illegal. Hill has asked police to investigate who gave the image to RedState.

The rightwing media is enjoying this all tremendously. Theyve engaged in a days-long feeding frenzy around the ex-husbands accusations against Hill, emphasizing Hills youth (she is 32) and sexuality (she identifies as bisexual) in an attempt to titillate their largely old, white and male audience. But what they are really delighting in is the seeming contraction between what they view as the indignity of sexuality and the dignity of power. They think that having sex or, perhaps, being a woman at all should disqualify women from the latter.

What is afoot is not an attempt to ensure the ethical exercise of a congressmembers power, but an unethical attempt to humiliate, intimidate and smear a congressmember using sexist tropes to imply that as a woman, she is not eligible for power at all. Women have always had to answer for this sexist assumption, the idea that there is somehow a contradiction between their sexuality and their dignity, or their intelligence. Hill, for her part, describes her ex-husband as abusive. We do not know where the nude picture of her came from, but if he was the one who sent it in for publication, then that description would seem accurate.

  • Moira Donegan is a Guardian US columnist

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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