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The Issues Surrounding Katie Hill's Resignation


Representative Katie Hill of California announced her resignation last week. She was considered a rising star of the Democratic Party and stepped down amid allegations she had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a member of her congressional staff. The allegations came forth after her husband, whom she's divorcing, released nude pictures of her and one of her staffers. Here she is giving her resignation speech on Thursday.


KATIE HILL: I'm leaving because of a misogynistic culture that gleefully consumed my naked pictures, capitalized on my sexuality and enabled my abusive ex to continue that abuse, this time with the entire country watching.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ashley Fairbanks works in politics. She's currently part of presidential candidate Julian Castro's campaign and has been writing about and tweeting her thoughts about how Hill was treated.

Thank you so much for joining us.

ASHLEY FAIRBANKS: Hi. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm good. We should say first that there are two issues here. One is her affair with a campaign staffer. What you tweeted about was the issue of the nude photos that were released. Your premise was that it's going to become a bigger problem for young women running for office in the future. Explain why.

FAIRBANKS: Yeah. So I work and train with a lot of candidates - female candidates, mostly - across the country. And it's just something I hear about very frequently when people talk about, what is a fear? Why would you not run? Once they're really pushed to answer that question, it comes up to these privacy concerns about things that they've done in the past, things they did when they were young on the Internet or Snapchat, things like that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what response do you get to - you wrote an article in Medium, and you also tweeted about it. What have people been telling you?

FAIRBANKS: I mostly was pretty shocked with how big the response was to my tweet. I think even the people I knew who are worried about it had no idea that it was such a prevalent thing - and not just in politics, but really, across sectors - that women are afraid to lead because they fear, like, being brought down by the kinds of scandals like we're seeing now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Explain to me for some people who might not understand why this is common. Why would women have nude pictures out there, for example?

FAIRBANKS: Yeah. I think a lot of people who aren't young people who grew up in a digital age don't really understand how completely normal that is. People like me - I'm 32 - we've been on the Internet since we were about 12. So you know, we weren't really making our best decisions, especially when we were young, about the permanency of those images, right? We've actually had time to percolate in that water of a culture that expects women to put their bodies out there if they want to be desired by men.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you wrote about one of the things that held you back from running for office, which is the existence of your own nude photos. Can you tell me a little bit about your experience?

FAIRBANKS: Yeah. Like, basically, this, you know, thing happened to me when I was 19 without my consent, and someone took a photo of it. And every time I've thought about running for office, I have, like, a panic attack thinking about how this would be something that would come up. Like, in politics, we call that, like, oppo (ph) research. And I could just imagine someone's oppo research folder having this photo in it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the way these images are sensationalized is different for men and for women?

FAIRBANKS: Definitely. I think that we know that, like, women's bodies are just seen differently than men's bodies and that, as much as, like, a man's career can be ended by an explicit photo, he's never commodified in the same way that a woman who has a photo leaked is. A woman who has a photo leaked becomes an object. When a man has the same thing happen, you still hear a lot of the, like, rumblings of, like, oh, like, look at him - like, the player versus the slut.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you encourage women, actually, to release their own nude photos. Explain why you think that's a good idea.

FAIRBANKS: I'm not so much encouraging people to actually, like, leak their own actual photos. I'm encouraging people to talk about having them. The second that you are able to claim that in your own story and to put it into context and to say this is a normal thing, the power of it starts to drift away.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what do you think about the way that the media sensationalizes these images?

FAIRBANKS: It's evidence of how the media is still mostly run by older white men who see women in this way - right? - that the prevailing narrative is still, look how scandalous this woman is, instead of, look at what someone did to her.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Now that you've come out publicly and acknowledged that this picture is in your past, would you reconsider running for office?

FAIRBANKS: I think the thing now is that I actually feel like I have the freedom to make that choice. Like, this one thing was kind of the brick wall in front of that path, and now I feel like it's been knocked over.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ashley Fairbanks. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

FAIRBANKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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