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Running Up That Hill


She Will Rise:
Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality

Katie Hill
Grand Central, pp.320, $28.00

In 2018 Katie Hill flipped the last Republican congressional seat in Los Angeles County to the big D. It’s impossible to find a concurrent piece of journalism that doesn’t refer to her as “a rising star,” which in Democrat means she was very good at raising money, bisexual (but married to a man), and centrist in her political views. As a freshwoman she was named vice chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, a sparkling beginning.

In less than a year Katie would resign. On October 10, 2019, the conservative blog Red State alleged that she left her husband because of an ongoing relationship with her legislative director, Graham Kelly, who had also served as her campaign fundraiser. Adultery isn’t enough to snuff out a political career these days, except with a subordinate, when it’s against House Ethics. The response was crickets, and I think Red State took that a little personally. So on October 18, they published a post alleging that Katie and her ex-husband Kenny had also been involved in a long-standing polyamorous relationship with a young female campaign staffer. To support the claim, Red State included text messages and three pictures: the women standing together, the women kissing, and one explicit image you had to click to see. I am not a regular viewer of “explicit” images, but I suspect that even those familiar with the genre would find this one odd. Katie sits on a suede chair fully nude (black bar censoring her breasts) and her female lover sits in front of her on the floor fully clothed. Katie is brushing her lover’s hair; her lover is looking at her phone. It’s not titillating, and it doesn’t look as if the women even know that it’s being taken. Red State blurred the other woman’s face, but she was easily identified thanks to a documentary filmed during Katie’s congressional race as Morgan Desjardins.

Within a few days the House Oversight Committee announced an investigation into the allegations that Katie had a relationship with a staffer. The day after that, the Daily Mail ran a piece that included more nude pictures: Katie with a bong and an iron cross tattoo on her hip, the same picture posted by Red State, and a photo posted to a Reddit forum called  “WouldYouF**kMyWife” that is ostensibly Katie’s nude backside lounging on a lawn chair. Katie is sure that the photos were purposely leaked by her ex-husband. Kenny has always maintained that he was hacked. (The rumor in Washington was that there were many more pictures and texts floating around on U.S.B. drives.) Katie resigned on October 27. Her last sentence on the House floor was, “I yield the balance of my time for now, but not forever.

Katie Hill’s reward for political failure was a book deal. And she made out pretty well. I can find no other politician given the opportunity to tell it all after a sex scandel. Anthony Weiner was supposed to write about how horse therapy had helped in sex rehab, but after going to jail for sexting with a minor, Foundry Literary + Media dropped him. She Will Rise was released to coincide with the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. One hundred years of women voting: we got Prohibition, baby murder, our own credit cards, and Katie proving how women can flame out just as brilliantly as any man.

The theme of She Will Rise is Katie’s innocence of any wrongdoing. To get us there with her, Katie does a lot political hula-hooping for her readers: she did bad things, which weren’t really bad—in fact, wait, actually she was just another victim of misogyny, anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bigotry, cyber-exploitation, an abusive husband, and the patriarchy, etc. If you’re that special type of sadist who enjoys watching politicians apologize for things they aren’t sorry for, you might be very interested in this book. I will go even further in my praise: unlike most political memoirs, She Will Rise is, I would guess, mostly the work of Katie herself. She writes about how Xena: Warrior Princess helped her “come to grips with my own bisexuality.” She asks readers to “take a moment to compose ourselves after heavily fangirling over Aunt Susan.” And she quotes Nancy Pelosi as saying, “‘Oh no, Katie, you don’t have to do this. We need you. You’re so talented.’” It’s a rich dish, but not for everyone.

The rest of the book is Katie’s Wikipedia version of women’s suffrage and history along with her “battle plan” to continue the fight for equality: give female politicians more money, support women in high-powered careers, enact a slew of Democratic legislation. These are the things that will move us forward and “topple long-standing power structures that prevent . . . true equality.” Katie uses military verbiage throughout the book (“fight,” “struggle,” “warrior,” “battle,” “battle scars”), a nod to the strong female fantasy characters who have influenced her. (I want to mock her here, but the truth is that I know plenty of men who frame everything in terms of analogies involving Dune or the Ring Cycle, so maybe this is just a thing people do that I don’t understand.)

Actually, all the Xena lingo is a pretty good fit. You see, women’s “equality” is a fantasy. I hadn’t really considered it before I read Katie’s book. I thought it improbable, impractical, maybe even undesirable, but now I am sure it is impossible. We could enact every single policy suggestion Katie puts forth in this book, we could give female politicians gobs of money, we could have more than fifty percent female representation in all levels of government, like in Rwanda or Iceland. We could start stringing up rapists and child molesters in the National Mall like Christmas lights (definitely more my suggestion than hers), and we would still find disparities in the measurable outcomes achieved by men and women, because men and women are different. (How could we even have arguments about whether men can become women and women men if we’re really just the same once you remove “the institutionalized, socialized, internalized sexism that . . . hides in the shadows”?) Katie, the real Katie, doesn’t care that there will always be more male electricians and more female Ed.D. degrees. Katie knows this and just wants to maintain the structures that allow her and other women of her social class to exercise power, and in that narrow sense, yeah: women are just like men.

Like most popular pseudo-feminist memoir things (this and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Bend Over and no doubt countless others that I would review if I had more free time and/or self loathing belong to the same unnamed genre), She Will Rise is really about bullying women to be more like men. “Male students tend to overestimate their skills and female students tend to underestimate theirs in relation to their actual level of competency. . . . Women hold back unless they are the perfect fit.” Yes, we like this about women, and I’m not sure the opposite is something I would propose emulating. Elsewhere we read that “64 percent of women, compared to 46 percent of men, said they ‘have never thought about’ a future candidacy.” I try not to be a female chauvinist, but men do make it awfully hard. “With all of the personal responsibilities women carry, we often have different considerations than men.” Yep. Your personal life is your real life. (Men learn this too, but it sometimes takes them a little longer.) “And a study published in January 2020 showed that when asked, more high school seniors today still say they prefer a family arrangement with the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the homemaker over any other kind of setup.” Please, Katie, save us from ourselves. 

Katie has smashed one glass ceiling. She is the first female federal elected official to be the perpetrator in a sex scandal. The only other woman to get close was the Republican congressman (as she insisted upon being called) Helen Chenoweth-Hage, who admitted to having an affair while a private citizen with a married rancher. What does it all mean? Katie thinks that she has been treated unfairly, but that’s not true. Since Bill Clinton (never mentioned by Katie) no national politician has gotten away with one of these things provided there was ample proof. (It’s interesting that no one pointed this out after Donald Trump lost.) The lone unicorn here is Ken Calvert, a Republican who still serves in the House, but in 1993 had sex with a prostitute in his car.

I have no doubt that Katie will crawl her way back into office. She’ll have plenty of time to rail against the disparities and injustices she enumerates for the purpose of elevating herself. She will introduce bills to “combat” the wage gap and begin public schooling at the age of two (or earlier). She will have photo ops with other women on the Capitol steps, color coordinating everything in sight and adding little gold pins on her lapel next to the American flag. And she will howl and tweet and give solemn interviews about surveys and statistics that “prove” that women’s experience isn’t good enough. But what I want to know is whether after her long exhausting political career, when the women of our generation are old and covered in beautiful wrinkles, Katie and others like her will look out over the very real broken landscape of their “war” and find themselves relieved rather than furious to see that some things never changed.

Lydia Sherwood’s work has appeared in the American Spectator, the Washington Free Beacon, and other publications.

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Lydia Sherwood has written for the Washington Free Beacon, the American Spectator, and other publications.