America needs to speak out against violence directed towards female politicians

December 10, 2022 — by William Norwood and Sarah Thomas
Photo by Annie Liu
Female politicians face sexism as a part of their day-to-day lives.
Violent language and actions against politicians do not have a place in any country.

On Oct. 28, a deranged right wing extremist attacked House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, in their San Francisco home, striking him with a hammer and reportedly asking, “Where’s Nancy?” Mr. Pelosi was left with a skull fracture, and treated at Stanford Health Trauma Center  .

Although attacks on government officials have become more frequent as polarization grips the country, an assassination on an elected official has not occurred since 2015 when former South Carolina state Representative and Senator Clementa C. Pinckney was assassinated — although Pinckney wasn’t explicitly targeted, contrasting the attack on Pelosi’s husband. There was scarce coverage, even though the suspected motive was white supremacy

After the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, female politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi have felt threatened not only by violence from outsiders but by their colleagues as well. Ocasio-Cortez listed some examples of unacceptable behavior toward her from other politicians like Reps. Paul Gosar, Ted Yoho and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who shared videos of violence against Ocasio-Cortez, called her expletives and mocked her for fearing for her life.

Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, and the attack on Paul Pelosi, the level of media coverage surrounding politically motivated violence was lower than the attention received by similar events in other countries. For example, when Sir David Amess — a British conservative party member — was murdered, it was covered extensively on various British news sources and discussed at length in the national discourse. 

The insurrection on Jan. 6 was a horrific event and a threat to American democracy. Every now and again a news story about the House investigation pops up, but only because it will affect the political future of Donald Trump. 

America has a unique problem with desensitization to violence in general because of the incredible amount of gun violence that occurs. The number of mass shootings in America far exceeds what occurs in other developed countries. Although some mass shootings receive coverage nationally, almost 600 shootings have occurred so far in the year, compared to the 40 shootings that have happened over the past three decades in Canada.

The American public is uniquely numb to these events, with shootings often receiving minimal media attention. This phenomenon is indicative of the environment that results in violent attempts on a politician’s life and the resulting indifferent reaction. 

The attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband did not get the media attention it deserved. While at the time midterms were prioritized in the media, the attack still deserved more coverage than it received — it is an attempted attack on the most influential democratic politician in Congress, and the third in line of succession for the presidency. 

Events like the attack on Pelosi’s husband and insurrection are not one-off, shocking events: The unique political climate of America and violent extremist language that thrives on websites like Twitter and Reddit result in these events and create unproductive and unsafe environments for female politicians.

Americans should not be so complacent when it comes to violence against female politicians, whether it is physical or verbal. If America truly wants to be a champion of democracy and political equality, and the best way to deal with this is to combat violence within the U.S. The U.S. must talk about the unbearable amount of violence and bring attention to our desensitization. 

We need to go further than just holding the perpetrators of physical violence accountable. It’s time to make a change to the American political landscape and truly take a stand against violence in any form through stronger protesting, activism and voting into office those who respect democracy and civility as core values. We must hold our government accountable, and go out and apply pressure to have our voices to be heard for real change.

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