This Women’s History Month, Try a Little Respect
By Floy Andrews
Margaret Hamilton as the Witch in the 1939 film version, threatening Dorothy (Judy Garland), 1939.
When the former Richmond City Attorney departed during the tumultuous conclusion to 2021, the mayor referred to her as the “wicked witch” and quoted lyrics from the Wizard of Oz song, “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead.” The mayor said equally disparaging things about our city manager as she, too, left office earlier last year. On top of that, Mayor Butt suggested that the entire city council had a “drama queen” reputation. I was offended, though not particularly surprised, to read those lines in Mayor Butt’s December e-forums. Such anti-woman attitudes permeate a culture that furthers the white male power structure.
As a lawyer, I can attest that dehumanizing name-calling of professional women in positions of authority, such as lawyers, police officers, judges, and elected officials, is nothing new in our society. In fact, all women in this country, not just professionals, have contended with such gender-based, demeaning name-calling at some point in their lives. It is not new or isolated. Actually, the news here is not so much that dehumanizing language is regularly directed at women—that’s old hat. The real issue is that it is still happening; the age-old problem just persists and persists. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez made this case on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as she addressed the derogatory words directed at her by former Rep. Yoho (R) from Florida (listen to AOC’s address).
As litigating attorneys, my women colleagues and I were often accosted by cruel and ugly words intended to use our gender to undermine our authority and cast a shadow over our professional agency. We got used to it and learned to roll with the punches in order to do our jobs. But it takes an unfair toll, both personally and professionally.
We need to speak up and expect better from our political leaders. In Richmond, neither of the mayor’s sons, Daniel Butt or Andrew Butt, appears to be stepping up for women by taking issue with their father’s language, yet they frequently enter the political fray as if they have access to the arena by virtue of their father’s position. It seems to be business as usual for them.
Belligerent comments and a disrespectful attitude toward women city staff and council members undermine women everywhere, disrupt the day-to-day functioning of our city, and open the door to lawsuits from justifiably angry women city employees.
Let’s pledge to hold our leaders, and each other, to a higher standard of respect and civility. Let’s leverage our hallowed right to vote for leaders who stand up to those who use dehumanizing language as a weapon against women or anyone else outside the legacy power structure. Let’s speak up at city council meetings in public forum and demand civil discourse, on and off the dais: from our elected officials, our civil servants, and even ourselves.