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The bush is back

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

On any given night, staffers choose from re­cep­tions, fundrais­ers or happy hours scat­tered across ball­rooms, re­cep­tion halls or old com­mit­tee rooms. In­ter­est­ingly, there’s much more bi­par­ti­san­ship among this gen­er­a­tion than among their bosses. ‘One of the big­gest mis­con­cep­tions is that Democrats and Repub­li­cans are al­ways at war with each other, that none of us get along. That’s to­tally not true,’ says 28-year-old Amanda, a Repub­li­can staffer. ‘There are ob­vi­ously peo­ple who don’t like each other, but the staff – we’re mostly friends.’ a re­cent for­mer staffer, who es­ti­mates that as much as 80% of the with some­one else on the Hill.

And even now, sex­ism re­mains a deeply en­trenched re­al­ity. In May, a Na­tional Jour­nal sur­vey of 80 fe­male staffers found that 89% of them had per­son­ally ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ism on the Hill. Guys visit the cafe­te­ria to ‘check out the tal­ent’, says Paul Thacker, a for­mer Se­nate staffer who in­ter­viewed 100 cur­rent staffers for an Ed­mond J Safra Cen­ter for Ethics fel­low­ship project on con­gres­sional ex­pe­ri­ences. ‘You walk into the Se­nate Hart build­ing; that place has the most amaz­ing col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful women on the Eastern Se­aboard of the Amer­i­cas. That is the place work­ing on the Hill at age 31, a se­na­tor ogled her while she stood with her boss in an el­e­va­tor. ‘It was re­ally ob­nox­ious. I thought, I’m be­ing checked out by a se­na­tor while stand­ing next to a se­na­tor. He looked up and down my body, cat­a­logu­ing me,’ she says. ‘After­ward, my boss was like, “I’m re­ally sorry.” He was a fresh­man, so he didn’t say, “Why are you do­ing that to my staffer?”’

Per­haps this per­sis­tent bias is pre­dictable in a work­place where the Se­nate pool was males-only un­til 2008 be­cause some sen­a­tors pre­ferred to swim naked. These at­ti­tudes make groups like the for women, who are out­num­bered in se­nior po­si­tions. Ac­cord­ing to LegiS­torm, a con­gres­sional re­search data­base, there are 2 032 male se­nior staffers and 1 356 fe­males. ‘Be­ing a woman on the Hill brings its own set of com­pli­ca­tions,’ says WCSA pres­i­dent Sara Lonardo, 32. ‘ Our mem­bers come to WCSA through friends, co­work­ers and our own out­reach ef­fort, par­tic­u­larly at the be­gin­ning of each new Congress. The rapid growth speaks to the de­sire among women to make con­nec­tions with each other, both for the pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and purely for friend­ship.’

Back in the Se­nate cafe­te­ria, Lau­ren and Alana de­scribe how in­spired they con­tinue to feel when­ever they walk through the Capi­tol. Alana says, ‘If you walk through the dome and you’re not still in awe…’

‘It’s time to leave,’ Lau­ren in­ter­jects. ‘ Peo­ple don’t re­ally come here to make money,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘I have friends from col­lege who do a lot of sim­i­lar things off the Hill. But what I love here is that I’m work­ing for the per­son who’s go­ing to make the de­ci­sion, who’s go­ing to vote yes or no.’ Alana nods. ‘It’s like if you’re on the Hill, you’re play­ing the game. If you’re off the Hill, you’re just on the side­lines go­ing, “Coach, put me in!” And they’re like, “Nope.”’ Lau­ren grins. ‘I re­ally love this job.’

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