D.C. is not a hard place to fall in love with – the allure of the city with grandeur monuments and influential government buildings. It is a city of ambition and youth, which made me feel right at home (that, and the endless happy hours).
However, as a woman, it is unclear if D.C. fell in love with me.
I spent the summer as a legislative intern in a congressional office, which meant I got the pleasure to wear suits and heels every day. As a blond, blue-eyed, busty woman, I had to be careful with my attire in order to be taken seriously. The last thing I would want is for people to think that I was a ‘skin-tern’, the nickname for young female interns who wore too tight blouses and too short skirts. I went to intern for the House of Representatives without the intention of being objectified, which was probably wishful thinking.
Congress is undoubtedly a male dominated space. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women only hold 19.4% of seats in the House of Representatives – and this extremely evident in the culture of life on Capitol Hill. It isn’t hard to believe; look to the 2017 presidential campaign where the democratic nominee was referred to as a ‘nasty woman’, among other things…
A critical aspect of my job was to answer the phones for my office. You’d be surprised how much a stranger decides to divulge to you about their political beliefs. Answering the phones was a true test of patience because our office policy was to not be rude to anyone who called – even if they called you the c word who had your legs spread wide open for illegal immigrants to rape you…. I wish I were kidding.
However, I think I was most distraught by a comment made by Judith, a woman who called our office every day. Every day. She’d often go off on rants for upwards of twenty minutes on the headline political issue of the day. During one of her rants, she told me that women shouldn’t have the right to vote because they fall victim to the liberal agenda. A woman told me this. Two months after my internship, I have yet to comprehend this statement or its implications – how another female could suggest that women shouldn’t have the responsibility to vote, a basic liberty.
As a self-proclaimed feminist, I am used to fighting against ‘the man’, but it’s incredibly concerning that another woman would suggest that I shouldn’t have the right to vote at all. It turned out that D.C. is a world where I must constantly assert that I am qualified and competent. It can be exhausting. And after that phone call, I felt even more deflated.
As much as I loved my experience on the hill and wish to find a job there after graduation, it was extremely disheartening to experience that the nation’s capital is plagued with sexism. As someone who wants a career in policy, my ambitions seem to surpass societal expectations (for someone who looks like I do). If this is what it means to be a woman in a suit, things need to change.
– Helen McCarthy
Photographer: Marissa Michaels
Models: Alina Ahmad, Rose Farah, Dima Fayyad, Natalia Mesa, Jordan Peasant
Sr. Stylists: Meredith Parenti (Editor), Stephanie Asdell, Rachel Eastwood, Lucy Wooldridge
Jr. Stylists: Rachel Barra, Rachel Borczuk, Gillian Card, Raz Inayat-Khan, Julia Paz, Sydney Wilkerson, Joyce Yoo