LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, one of only two women to have been a legislative leader in Michigan, said the male-dominated Capitol has a “locker room” atmosphere in which it is not uncommon for female lawmakers and employees to confront sexual harassment.
Whitmer, who was a lawmaker for 14 years, recounted once having to combat “very lewd” and “totally inappropriate” comments directed at her by a male senator in the Senate chamber. She was Democratic leader at the time.
“I could only imagine if you didn’t have such a position that I did how extremely uncomfortable, humiliating and intimidating that would be,” Whitmer told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “The hard part is that it’s always on the woman to make the determination. Do you confront it? Do you educate? Do you ignore? What is the safest thing for you? What is the best thing for your career? Women have to make these determinations on the fly all the time.”
Whitmer spoke of her experiences at a time that sexual misconduct allegations have rocked the worlds of entertainment, media and politics. She said sexual misbehavior at the Capitol is “sadly worse than the average workplace” because elected officials get “full of themselves and feel like the rules don’t apply to them.”
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She declined to identify the senator who made the remarks to her. Whitmer said she told the man, “What the heck is wrong with you?’ Only I didn’t say ‘heck.’ He was so stunned he kind of backed off and didn’t bother me again.”
A major contributing factor toward the “locker room” dynamic in which bad behavior occurs, she said, is that there are not enough female legislators.
When Whitmer won a special election to the Senate in 2006, she was one of a record-high dozen women in the 38-member chamber. Nearly five years later, there were only four — the same number as today.
“The atmosphere changed dramatically,” she said, recounting how a male senator likened a public relations executive who had criticized him to a “hooker.” At the time, when Whitmer criticized the comment and spoke out against sexism at the Capitol, a GOP strategist called her a “government hooker.”
“There’s a tipping point where the numbers of women in any organization change the culture and behavior of it,” said Whitmer, who has said “me…