Anna Valencia has a ton of, “Me, Too” stories from her days as an aide to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Mayor Rahm Emanuel — and even in her current job as city clerk.
She makes a public appearance and emails pour into her office complaining that her voice was too “shrieky,” her skirt was too short, her hair and make-up wasn’t quite right. Even worse is the soft bigotry of low expectations and meetings never held.
“It’s just peoples’ comments and perceptions in the Council and in politics — that you’re young, you’re a woman, [questioning] whether you’re up for the job, whether they take your meeting or go over your head and go directly to the mayor and try to undercut you,” Valencia said.
“But, I luckily had bosses who said, `No. You have to work with Anna.”
On Wednesday, Valencia stood shoulder-to-shoulder with several other female elected officials, all dressed in black, in solidarity with the “Me, Too” movement triggered by sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Their message was that all of them have “Me, Too” stories and, by standing together, they hope women who’ve been forced to endure sexual harassment will have the courage to come forward and tell their stories, instead of suffering in silence.
Valencia pointed to the comments made on the City Council floor on the day aldermen approved her appointment as city clerk — when several complimented her on her looks.
But she acknowledged the years spent on Cullerton’s staff in Springfield were worse.
“I was 25. My first day on the job, a female co-worker told me, ‘Don’t go out after session with the senators. Go straight home’ because you don’t want to be labeled a slut,” Valencia said.
“That puts you at a disadvantage when the men in your office are also going out with the senators getting to know them. You have to hustle twice as hard to prove yourself.”
As for the comments that are still being made about her appearance, Valencia said: “First, I used to just say, ‘Thank you,’ and move on. But when you look at Kim Foxx, you look at Oprah, you look at these women who are finally speaking their truths and being brave, that makes me brave to say, ‘I’m more than just my looks. I’m more than what I wear. And I don’t want to have to worry about how long my skirt is, how tight my clothes are, what my makeup looks like because that’s what I get comments about.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) called on all women to “support one another” and her male colleagues to “listen with an open mind to the women around you.”
“Stand with us. Have our backs. And look inward to examine what you or those around you may have done to perpetuate this culture,” Hairston said.
Foxx argued that it’s a “historic moment,” thanks to the #MeToo avalanche of allegations against men in the entertainment, media and restaurant industries, and politics, too.
“As someone who has been the victim of sex harassment, who has spoken out about sexual harassment and has done so in silence and in fear, it is really reaffirming to stand with other women talking about this issue as it relates to Hollywood, statehouses and, quite frankly also in courthouses,” Foxx said.
“We have to make sure that this isn’t just a moment for … hashtags — that we are intentional about making sure that every woman in the workplace is free and safe from harm from sexual harassment.”
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said it’s high time that Chicago voters elect more women to the City Council. She noted that 13 women out of 50 is nowhere near enough to make women “full partners in government” and to “really make all of the changes necessary.”
“This is not an individual thing that happens to you. It is a way that power is asserted. It is a way that people who have an advantage try to keep you from competing in life — by putting you down and by making you feel bad,” Smith said.
In the meantime, Hairston urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint a sexual harassment officer. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley had one. Emanuel lets his Department of Human Resources handle those complaints.
The mayor said he’s proud that more than 50 percent of his department heads are women.
“They’re qualified. They’ve earned it. And it sends a message both inside and outside the department,” Emanuel said.
But the mayor acknowledged that ending sexual harassment is “not a one-time thing. It’s a work in progress. You’ve got to work at it constantly.”