Jean Stothert is not the only woman in local politics who has been the target recently of crude, sexist chat.
So was Danielle Conrad, a Nebraska state senator and Democrat from Lincoln.
One politico on Facebook called her a word that starts with “c,” is slang for female genitalia and can't be printed in a family newspaper.
This man apparently felt it wasn't even entirely suitable for Facebook.
“It's one thing for elected officials to disagree with each other,” posted Jeremy Jensen, a political consultant. “It's quite another to be a flat-out disrespectful c$.”
The lack of self-awareness is almost the bigger offense here. Can you ask for a respectful discussion while pulling out the C-bomb?
I called this “flat-out disrespectful” 35-year-old mother and second-term legislator to see whether she'd seen the Facebook post from last month.
Conrad had. So had her husband. So had other supporters who flagged it.
“What does that really say,” Conrad asked, “about his thoughts and feelings when it comes to women?”
That's what a lot of people are asking about whoever is behind the Stothert-as-stripper T-shirt, “sponsored” by a group with the words “suck” and “private sector” in its name and vulgar, female-specific tweets about Stothert's City Council performance.
As a reminder, Stothert is a candidate in a five-way race for Omaha mayor. The Republican from southwest Omaha is the only woman in the race and the only female on Omaha's seven-member City Council.
Her mayoral opponents were quick to condemn the language, and she received an apology from her council colleague Chris Jerram, who was photographed smiling as he held the offensive T-shirt.
Jensen was not so chagrined when I asked him about his Facebook post about Conrad.
The 30-year-old questioned why his post was an issue. He said it was a “private” post, written while he was between jobs. He angrily said my asking about it was a political hit and an invasion of his privacy.
“I have a private Facebook page that was open to my friends only,” he said, adding he had 423 friends.
“It's not for a larger audience — there's a reason I have the security settings in place,” he said.
Clearly Jensen doesn't get the social part of social media. It's so easy to copy anything online and send it off in all directions.
Facebook, Twitter and the rest of these mass communication tools offer a veil of anonymity, making what seems private all too public.
State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a Republican who is running for Nebraska governor, hired Jensen two weeks ago to do campaign work.
Asked for comment about Jensen's post, Janssen called the verbiage “absolutely inappropriate,” “nothing I would ever condone” and “not in my vocabulary.”
“It certainly will not be a message coming from the Janssen Campaign for Governor,” he said.
Janssen said he would keep Jensen aboard but would be asking him to apologize to Conrad.
Conrad said she'd rather see him take a women's studies class than apologize.
That class isn't a bad idea. Maybe there Jensen would learn why so few women enter politics.
Look around. You need only two hands to count the number of women in the Nebraska Legislature: 10 of 49. You need only one hand to count the five women who have served on the Omaha City Council since 1980.
Part of the explanation, say political researchers, is that women see a typically male landscape, fundraising barriers and the mean-spirited, personal-life-is-fair-game quality that can creep into campaigns and say it's not worth it.
Several prominent women told me they blame social media for a coarsening of the public dialogue. They said it's a runaway train for runaway mouths. Some, who were reticent to respond publicly because they feared hurting their careers, chose to be silent.
But Anne Boyle, a longtime Democratic stalwart and member of the Public Service Commission, was willing to call a caveman a caveman.
“They're intellectually immature,” she said.
And about the verbiage?
“What's the male word for that C-word? None,” she said. “I go berserk when I hear that word. I don't think there's ever any time when anyone should use that word.”
Conrad said she invites disagreement, that it's part of the political process and that it's OK to think differently and debate. But that it's not OK to lob such sexist, vulgar bombs. And not OK to sit silently on the sidelines when others throw the bombs.
Jensen said he should have the right of self-expression, the right to react to something Conrad said in what he thought was “behind closed doors.”
He wasn't, he said, “using a megaphone in the parking lot.”
So it's OK to use such a female-specific slur, one that hasn't lost its power to shock and offend, in the name of political “discussion”? And it's OK because you said it in “private” only to 423 of your nearest and dearest?
“I think you're getting really hung up on my word choice here,” he told me. “There's a number of words I could have used.”
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