Does Katie Hill think we all have amnesia?
As you may recall (or may not if you’re in the amnesia crowd), former Congresswoman Hill of California was accused last October of having sexual relationships with several of her subordinates. Hill denied any inappropriate relationships with her congressional staff. However, after the release of photographs and text messages, Hill admitted to having an “inappropriate” relationship with a 22-year-old female campaign staffer. Under pressure from her Democratic colleagues, she resigned from the House last November.
In her final address on the floor of the House, Hill did the classic Washington deke — she mouthed the words “I … take … responsibility … ” and then proceeded to blame everything and everyone for her problems. Hill said that what was truly responsible for pushing her out was — wait for it — misogyny.
The real responsibility, as Hill and her supporters claim, lies with a sexist politics and a voyeuristic media and public. The former forced her to resign. The latter spread the leaked photos of her across the airwaves and throughout the web. But does Hill really expect us to believe that, in the #MeToo era, a sex scandal of this sort would be ignored if the perpetrator were male? And that if she were a man, her photos wouldn’t have been widely distributed? I think Al Franken and Anthony Weiner might have something to say about that.
Nevertheless, Hill maintains her resignation was the product of a two-tiered system of political justice.
“I am leaving now because of a double standard,” Hill claimed.
Double standards notwithstanding, Congresswoman Hill, maybe you were forced to resign because you, like many of your peers, were unwilling or unable to follow even the most basic of covenants — do not have sex with your subordinates.
All of this isn’t to beat up on Katie Hill. In fact, I’m inclined to have some sympathy for her and people like her who, for a time, appeared to have it all but whose poor judgment brought them down. The problem is, Hill has somehow managed to turn herself into both the victim and the hero of her story.
Since resigning last November, she has published a memoir titled “She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality,” launched a podcast titled, “Naked Politics with Katie Hill” and last week announced she has signed on to executive produce a film based on her book with “Handmaid’s Tale” star Elisabeth Moss slated to play her.
In a press release, Moss said, “I am so honored to have the opportunity to portray Katie and to help tell her story. Her strength and work to amplify women’s voices is incredibly inspiring to me and her experiences could not be more important for us to magnify right now.”
If there’s any story worth telling here, it’s how Hill has managed to parlay her own sexual impropriety into money and a newfound status as a champion for women (even though the subordinate with whom she had the “inappropriate” relationship was a woman).
No one is arguing that Hill ought to be exiled. There are certainly gradations of sexual misconduct. And on the spectrum of Aziz Ansari to Harvey Weinstein, Hill is undoubtedly on the former end. But in the era of #MeToo, only the willfully ignorant don’t understand that having power over someone in the workplace makes them off-limits to your sexual conquests. Hill broke that rule, but instead of accepting responsibility and receding from public life, she’s been rewarded with a bigger platform than she’s ever had. Is this the same double standard that forced her to resign from the House?
Imagine for a moment, it wasn’t Katie Hill who was sleeping with her staffer, but Paul Ryan. Does anyone really believe that, less than a year later, he’d be executive producing a movie about his fall from grace? Would Tom Cruise be waxing about how honored he was to be in the film? For those of you still looking for a double standard — we’ve arrived at one.
None of this is Hill’s fault per se. She’s certainly entitled to use whatever means she can to make a living. And if she really wants the spotlight, odds are she’ll probably always be able to find someone to give her story some oxygen.
Just a few days ago, Hill made news again when her official congressional Twitter account (allegedly controlled by her former staff), which had been inactive since her resignation, tweeted in response to Hill’s reported movie deal:
“Katie took advantage of her subordinates. She caused immense harm to the people who worked for her, many of whom were young women just beginning their careers in politics. Workplace abuse and harassment can take many different forms, but one thing is certain: it is never okay, even if your boss is a woman and/or a survivor.”
In her response on Twitter, Hill did not deny the allegations, “the content of the hacked tweets is something I have talked about at length in my book, in podcasts and in countless interviews regarding my decision to resign, as well as the constant work and reflection I’ve done since then.”
Sounds good, until you realize that Hill’s tactic over the last year hasn’t been to earnestly discuss her own behavior, but rather to minimize it and shift the blame. In her book she says the relationship with her 22-year-old staffer operated in a “gray area” and that her husband, whom Hill alleges was abusive, constrained her social circle so that she was more or less forced to look to her campaign if she wanted some level of intimacy.
I’m all for second chances. But it used to be that you actually had to admit you were wrong, take your licks, and then, only after a certain interval of time, would your full status be restored. Unfortunately, Hill, by continuing to play the blame game, still won’t own up to everything she did. And who can blame her — what she’s done so far has been startlingly successful.
Maybe amnesia was a good bet after all.
Andrew Reed ’21 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does Katie Hill think we all have amnesia?