Meg Carson, Director of Leadership and Learning at Facebook, has written two seminal works on race and gender in politics that provide hard data on racist and sexist attitudes. Writing for Slate, she theorizes that their analysis is incomplete because it doesn’t account for how racism and sexism influence one another. As women who understand the nature of this double bind, Kamala Harris, a member of Congress and California’s attorney general who has many female colleagues, knows all too well. “It has to do with the fact that men have held power in this country for so long,” she says. “So any woman, including me, can be very vulnerable as a woman, regardless of your job.”
This vulnerability, and the fact that women feel it even while not directly related to their job, means that women in power will always attract more attention. Two years after Harris was elected, she was harassed on the House floor by a Republican. The last time she’d seen a page in real life, she’d been at the Playboy Mansion. “The lady was so far off—at least 40 feet,” she recalled. “She was standing there in a beret and miniskirt with tans all over it, just bellowing the horrible things. All these bells went off. It was one of the more uncomfortable periods of my time in Congress.” Instead of confining herself to the office and the chambers, however, she decided to push back. “I decided I wasn’t going to let somebody sit there in an office until I sat there, too,” she said.