We all know that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is straight to the point when it comes to politics, but many of us were caught off guard when he used this same bluntness to describe a woman’s backside in front of a journalist.
As recounted in a recent New York magazine profile of New York City Council Speaker and mayoral front runner Christine Quinn:
My friend and I followed the host over, shook Bloomberg’s hand, and my friend thanked him for his position on gun control. Without even acknowledging the comment, Bloomberg gestured toward a woman in a very tight floor-length gown standing nearby and said, “Look at the ass on her.”
As the New York Times reports, Bloomberg denies saying this, though New York magazine says they stand by their reporting. But if you check out the history of Bloomberg’s sexist behavior put together by Gawker, you would be likely to take New York magazine’s word for it.
According to Gawker, Bloomberg once told a female colleague to “kill it” when she announced her pregnancy, only after teasing her about being too ugly to be engaged. Another Bloomberg employee complained of the institutional harassment at Bloomberg LP in the late 1990s, and believed that the misogynistic workplace culture was linked to her being raped by her superior in a hotel room. Also, “in 2007 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Bloomberg LP on behalf of 78 women who claimed that Bloomberg — who at that point was not involved in the day-to-day company operations, despite being a majority shareholder — and Bloomberg LP ‘fostered, condoned and perpetuated’ a hostile work environment for female employees.”
This is pretty bad, right? Nevertheless, nobody seemed to really care when they elected him to mayor the first, second or third time. And nobody seems to really care now either.
Imagine if there was a similar history of his saying or condoning disparaging remarks against blacks or Jews. Our inboxes and Facebook feeds would be filled with celebrity-endorsed pleas to sign online petitions pressuring him to resign from office. He would feel obligated to at least mutter some public apology, even if it clearly wasn’t heartfelt. But talk down to women like this, and the outrage is barely existent. (Think I am over exaggerating? Remember what happened with serial misogynist Charlie Sheen? The actor’s career was derailed by a single anti-semitic comment, after years of reports of domestic abuse and porn addiction.)
Sure, sexism can be more difficult to define than racism or anti-semitism (because humans + sex drives = messy), but when there is a pattern of misogynistic behavior like Bloomberg’s, albeit alleged, I wonder why we are so darn tolerant.
We might want to take a play from German women, thousands of whom recently shared their experiences with sexism as a response to politician’s remark to a journalist that she could “fill out a dirndl.” (A dirndl is a traditional, and cleavage-revealing, dress worn in Germany inspired by the traditional clothing of Alpine peasants.)
According to the New York Times, even though Germany has an awesome female leader in Chancellor Angela Merkel, women there still struggle with sexist attitudes in the workplace. Women there earn on average 22% less than men in the same job, which ranks them fourth from the bottom for pay equality among European countries. Also, women who dare to both have kids and have a career are called “raven mothers.”
For many women this sharing of stories via Twitter was a chance for them to realize they shouldn’t have to live with sexism and sexual harassment anymore. Why things might be slightly better here, they certainly aren’t better enough for us to not mount some similar response to Bloomberg’s antics.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
We're Angry, Mayor Bloomberg!