Katie Hill’s ‘sexual shaming’ exposes millennial naivety

Democrat’s resignation amid revenge porn scandal shows risks of desire to document everything

US congresswoman Katie Hill has hit out at misogyny and "double standards" during her resignation speech. Hill has stood down after she was accused of an affair with a staffer and intimate pictures of her were posted online. Video: C-Span

 

‘Okay Boomer.” I hear that dryly dismissive phrase levelled at me quite a bit lately from Shawn McCreesh, the 27-year-old in my office. It’s gotten so bad that I’ve stopped bothering to ask him to decode the mysteries of millennial behaviour and taste, much less to decipher what makes the younger TikTok generation tick. The Times Style section calls the phrase a declaration of intergenerational war.

“Okay Boomer” has become Generation Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids,” Taylor Lorenz wrote. It’s quickly been adopted by millennials as well.

Shawn Okay-Boomered me on Friday on the topic of Katie Hill, the 32-year-old freshman California congresswoman who is openly bisexual and ran what Vice dubbed “the most millennial campaign ever”.

Her promising career flamed out in a scandal that was both age-old and very millennial, in that it featured revenge porn, a throuple, sexual fluidity and dirty bong water. Hill was a blast of fresh air on the Hill. And it is amazing that, after two centuries of men treating the political landscape here as a droit du seigneur playground, that the one ensnared in an ethics investigation about the new rules enacted last year on sexual harassment – barring politicians from having sexual relationships with staffers – is a woman.

Whether the messages are being carried by pigeons or pixels, you have to protect yourself – and your data

Hill pointed the finger at her “abusive” loser husband, Kenny Heslep, who has been unemployed for the past five years, implying that he leaked the pictures and texts to Hill’s foes. Not since Linda Tripp has there been such a creepy betrayal in politics.

It turned out that one of the people responsible for publishing Hill’s photographs and texts is a Republican operative who worked for her opponents. As The Los Angeles Times reported, Heslep wrote in divorce papers that Hill came home from Washington and said she was leaving. “She took our only operable vehicle and left me stranded at our residence,” he wrote, adding that his parents had to lend him money to hire a divorce lawyer.

In her fiery exit speech, Hill gave her side: “The forces of revenge by a bitter jealous man, cyber exploitation and sexual shaming that target our gender and a large segment of society that fears and hates powerful women have combined to push a young woman out of power and say that she doesn’t belong here.”

She continued: “Yet a man who brags about his sexual predation, who has had dozens of women come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, who pushes policies that are uniquely harmful to women and who has filled the courts with judges who proudly rule to deprive women of the most fundamental right to control their own bodies, sits in the highest office in the land.”

Double standards

Hill’s parting vote on Thursday was to endorse the impeachment inquiry. Shawn and I both felt sad watching her implode. But, while I agree with Hill that there are double standards and that we still dwell in a misogynistic culture, I also think she should have realised that we’re operating under new rules now and that they apply to both sexes. I reiterated to Shawn my bewilderment that every millennial moment – even the most private – can be enjoyed only if it’s documented and uploaded God knows where.

While he agreed that it was reckless for Hill to be in those sort of pictures once she had entered the political arena, he said that I was missing the forest for the trees: Youngs who can’t even imagine that they will one day run for office may already have racy shots somewhere out there. He pointed to a viral text going around this past month as evidence that most young people have at least one picture on their phones that they don’t want to get out.

The first line of the text refers to Instagram and pops up on the recipient’s phone with the most horrifying words known to the millennial mind: “Why is there a nude on your story??” Once the text is opened, it turns out to be a prank. Nonetheless, Shawn said, it caused a lot of spilled coffees and near car crashes among his friends. He said that iPhones and social media have so reshaped culture that older people would have to accept the new and sometimes naked reality. He had to agree with Matt Gaetz, the 37-year-old Florida Republican and Trump lap dog, who told Fox News: “This is an issue where a lot of millennials, I think, sympathise with Katie Hill because a lot of young people who grew up with a smartphone in their hands took pictures, sent them, shared messages and materials that are now recoverable later in life.”

I get that young people are digital natives, even cyborgs. But I had to offer a riposte to Shawn that, while society can be reshaped, human nature is immutable. What I learned from studying Shakespeare is that the primary colours of emotions carry through the centuries. There will always be vengeful exes and envious allies and ruthless opponents and double-crossing friends. Whether the messages are being carried by pigeons or pixels, you have to protect yourself – and your data. Don’t let our shiny new tools blind you to the fact that some horrible truths about humanity never change. And don’t leave yourself vulnerable by giving people the ammunition – or the nudes – to strip you of your dreams. Okay, millennials? – New York Times

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