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resizedA local newspaper reporter asked on Twitter if I would be “nice” while campaigning.

A man posted on Facebook that I’m a “pretty puppet.”

A woman asked what I had done in my journalism career besides “just talk.”

Someone told me I should go back to reading the TelePrompter.

A mailer to voters called me a “flashy TV personality.”

An anonymous website popped up called “Rachel Barnhart for Prom Queen.”

An email chastised me for trying further my “ambition” and feed my “ego.”

An alt-weekly editorial said I’m a person who likes “drawing and demanding attention.”

A social media post called me “entitled” and an “opportunist.”

During a televised debate, a panelist asked if I knew how to craft legislation that wouldn’t fit into a tweet.

The day I lost, a man posted on my website, “The public recognized a dilettante when it saw one.”

No one wanted to talk about issues during the Democratic primary for the 138th District New York Assembly seat. They wanted to talk about me.

Losing was hard. Losing publicly is very hard. It was a horrible feeling to watch people cheer your failure.

Harder than losing was being subjected to misogyny and lies. Harder than losing was not being able to fight back and tell my own story — because we ran out of money.

I had spent nearly two decades on television. I had lived a public life. But I was unprepared for the torrent of attacks, many based on my gender. Few people outside of my circle came to my defense. Few people recognized the attacks as misogyny. Being a woman and running for office, particularly against the machine, is an isolating, terrifying, and even traumatizing experience.

I was taken back to that feeling little more than a month after losing the primary. I was watching the final presidential debate. When Republican Donald Trump called Democrat Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” it felt like a punch to the gut. Maybe this is going to come across to the casual observer as an extreme reaction, but I started to feel anxiety. For three months, I was a “nasty woman,” repeatedly called “negative” for discussing issues and my opponent’s record. For the first time since the primary, I didn’t feel alone. Women all over the country were proclaiming themselves “nasty.”

How did an Ivy League graduate who was valedictorian of her high school class get reduced to an egomaniacal flake? How did a woman who spent 17 years doing serious investigative and public interest reporting become a talking head? How did a woman who made a sacrifice by quitting her job to serve her community become entitled?

I’m stunned this happened — even more stunned the attacks came from fellow Democrats. The hypocrisy was astounding. Anything goes when it comes to maintaining the current power structure. I’m not sure everyone who engaged in this behavior knew what they were doing, as these gender tropes are so ingrained in our psyche.

There was overt sexism in the campaign. But there was also subtle sexism. Much of it focused on my motives for running for office.

“It’s normal for men to seek political power. It’s considered part of their nature. Being competitive is considered part of their nature. We don’t consider it normal for women to seek it. So she must be up to something,” said Hilary Shroyer, a campaign volunteer, attorney and feminist.

Many people told me I was running for office to seek attention. Feminist author Laurie Penney wrote in Cybersexim: Gender and Power on the Internet, “One of the most common insults flung at women who speak or write in public is ‘attention-seeking’ — a classic way of silencing us, particularly if we are political. The fact that ‘attention-seeking’ is still considered a slur says much about the role of women in public life, on every scale. From the moment we can speak, young women are ordered not to do so.”

My qualifications were attacked and ignored. Studies show voters treat male and female candidates the same, but when a candidate is called incompetent, women pay a higher penalty. Studies also show when gendered stereotypes are activated by the press or campaigns, they hurt female candidates.

I was constantly told there were not substantial differences between myself and my opponent. I was told I “had no reason to run.” But when I discussed my opponent’s record and my positions on issues, I was called “negative.” If I was quiet and “nice,” there would have been no contest. If I was assertive, I was a bitch.

Georgetown University Linguistics Professor Deborah Tannen says women often have trouble being seen as both likable and strong leaders. She wrote in the Washington Post in February, “Hence the double bind: If a candidate — or manager — talks or acts in ways expected of women, she risks being seen as underconfident or even incompetent. But if she talks or acts in ways expected of leaders, she is likely to be seen as too aggressive and will be subject to innumerable other negative judgments — and epithets — that apply only to women.”

I don’t believe I lost the primary because of sexism. I believe I lost because I didn’t have the money to fight these attacks. We were outspent about four to one.

Some people say, “That’s politics.” It’s not.

This is why women don’t run for office. This is why fewer women hold elected office. The next time a woman runs for office and is called ambitious, entitled, egotistical or unqualified, ask what’s really going on. Ask if a man would be characterized the same way.

On this issue, I’m happy to be “negative” and “attention-seeking.” Women who want to serve their community in elected office deserve better.

I wrote a book about this experience. Broad, Casted is on Kickstarter through November 4 and will be available on my website after the crowdfunding campaign.

18 Responses to Ivy League to Prom Queen

  1. October 27, 2016 at 9:08 am Benny Wilt responds:

    I don’t know why you ever wanted to get involved in the cesspool to begin with. I have read your blog for years and always considered you a voice for conservative values, then I see you decide to run as a Democrat totally confused me. Not that Republicans are any better…especially local, but you served us better being a voice for the little guy pointing out the injustice in our community. Now we have lost that “Lone Crusader” and are left without that cheerful reporter who always had hope for the future. My heart aches at the thought of what you had to endure in order to try to get in a position where you could actually do good for the people.

    I wish nothing but the best for you in whatever you do going forward and thank you for all you have done for your readers.


    • October 27, 2016 at 9:45 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Thank you. I’ve always been a progressive Democrat. But I had no problem going after other Democrats who had dumb policy ideas. That’s probably why you thought I was on the other team. I guess I did my job well.

  2. Rachel – while I am quite sure you can (and may well intend to) armor up and successfully ride forth into local political combat, I believe also that you have begun a different kind of service, one that has the potential to reach an unlimited audience, and to teach a far greater lesson. Women need your voice, your example, your primacy of expression, argument, and determined forbearance. You are poised to write large, to give testimony, to speak truth to power that to be female is exist in that ‘double bind’ . ( Let alone what it is to be female in non-first world countries. )
    You will serve us all if you seek to write, publish, speak, travel, educate, seek attention nationally, and shine your light for all the silenced. There are a lot of politicians – what we need is more indomitable Nasty Women who can call it out with the aplomb and precision that you have, and who stand a chance of going big with it. I am proud to be a bona fide Nasty Woman…and it has naught to do with politics, folks. Testify.

  3. October 27, 2016 at 9:40 am Paviour Ernest responds:

    I believe you lost because the voters are ignorant and dumbed down listening to the biased mainstream media.

    • October 27, 2016 at 9:43 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      In my book, I talk about voters and why I do not blame them. I learned a lot about elections, some good and some bad.

  4. October 27, 2016 at 10:23 am Andrew Zibuck responds:

    Aim high. Like for Louise Slaughter’s seat when she retires. Unfortunately, if you’re outside the political machine, that’ll never happen. Good luck.

  5. October 27, 2016 at 10:39 am Some Guy responds:

    While I believe you can do far more good in media than in government, most forms of corporate media are sprinting towards irrelevance by undeniable bias — THAT THEY CONSTANTLY DENY!

    Does the Democrat & Chronicle, which just quietly laid off two more reporters (one an excellent news and political reporter, the other a sports reporter), exist to sell newspapers to a mass audience, or does it exist to receive grant money from the “non-profit” RACF to promote RACF’s false, divisive and counter-productive “UNITE Rochester” pabulum?

    So long as so much “news” is little more than interest group pandering or “soft news” that your gingerly (pun intended!) self always eschewed, most people are going to be either mis-informed, mal-informed, or un-informed, and the status quo will be preserved.

    Sadly, it’s not all that different in the GOP, for the first time in generations, Republicans had a choice to put America first economically and stop the neo-con/neo-lib wars of foreign aggression. And they made it, and look what the media (even their beloved Fox News) did to them? Turned on them in a heartbeat. They see the disastrous legacy of NAFTA, and are called xenophobic as a result. They see 1/3 of all births last year to people with little to no social or moral connections to the taxpayers who will be subsidizing those children for decades at a level that was never required of native born populations. And they’re called racist.

    Honest questions concerning the financial or monetary propriety of completely unsustainable government policies that only serve special interests (government employee unions and corporations being at the top of the list of cancers on the Constitution) and simultaneously screw the American taxpayer, “triggers” the “social justice warriors” into psychotic reactions. And we wonder why their can be no “dialogue”? These statist control freaks want to create a “dialogue” to distract them while they steal what remains of their liberties…only in Orwellian newspeak could that ever be accurately described as “dialogue”.

    It’s a shame you lost, but they would have undermined you no matter what. In an alternate universe, they might have even found ways to co-opt you, or have you framed for “corruption”, because the Democratic Party establishment will NEVER see you as one of their own, because deep down they cannot identify with you in any way: you are exactly who you say you are. That says everything we’d need to know about them.

    (FTR, Maggie Brooks should be in a prison cell, and I’m not entirely unsure Bill Reilich and certain others in the MCGOP Good Old Boys Network shouldn’t be in their with her…which is why TONS of people like me want nothing to do with the party that on paper at least, we might otherwise identify with)

    P.S. To all you sychophants and starry-eyed morons who believed any of the tripe about Photonics, oe defended the propriety of the SUNY Poly prez or how he managed a taxpayer-subsidized empire that rendered him a millionaire several times over…EAT IT! Corruption in government exists everywhere that a public servant ceases to actually serve the public, which means practically everywhere in 2016. The only people with the nerve to defend this hopelessly corrupt and kleptocratic system predicated on theft at gunpoint are the other pigs at the trough.

  6. October 27, 2016 at 10:41 am Some Guy responds:

    Wow, lots of “their”s instead of “there”s. Lots of dead nuns are spinning in their graves!

  7. October 27, 2016 at 11:06 am Richard Glaser responds:

    Obviously, your skin is not thick enough for the political profession. My worldview incorporates many of your observations and opinions. But, to ascribe them so definitively to your personal situation seems inappropriate. Bit of a spoiled sport.
    Your opponent was a decent and competent man.
    You were not running against a vulgar, undemocratic individual like The Donald.

    • October 27, 2016 at 11:13 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      He wasn’t so decent to disavow the things I describe. My book goes into even more detail. This is why women don’t speak out about sexism; they are accused of whining.

  8. Rachel, You were attacked and I commend you for taking the high road. The attacks were unfair, dishonest and had nothing to do with the issues. I am a true believer in Karma. Rachel, you have good Karma. The real issue is that “the system is rigged”, Unfortunately the mouthpiece for this slogan has been Drumpf however there is some truth to the message. Why do so many incumbents get re-elected? I assure you it is not because of the great job the incumbents are doing in Albany. Look at what happened to Bernie Sanders, we daily learn more about how that primary was stacked against him and completely unfair similar (in some ways) to what you experienced. True term limits is the only way to break up the “Good Ole Boys” club in Albany. We need citizen Servants not career politicians. I have nothing but respect for you as a person, journalist and politician. I am curious, why after losing the primary did you not run as an independent? I believe as an independent and then really given Bronson a run for his money. I believe you would have pulled in a lot of independents and Republicans.

  9. October 27, 2016 at 3:32 pm Ellen Ciminelli responds:

    Rachel, I’m sorry you had to be subjected to all of that during your campaign. Please keep putting yourself out there and reminding everyone it’s not a “Man’s World.” You have a great talent and hard work ethic. Hang in there. Keep fighting the good fight! “Well behaved women rarely make history.” You have the potential to make history – you’re just getting started. I think the political world needs more women like you. I hope you stick with it.

  10. A long time ago I got some advice from a good friend. Usually good friends do that,… others usually let you slide. He said, after a particularly difficult time, that I should develop some “thicker skin”. I took that advice and while I still have my bouts of “that got to me”, for the most part I let things roll of my back. It’s better for me and for those that are close to me.

    I can also remember the kids that got picked on in school. They were the one’s that responded. The one’s that let it roll off their backs eventually were left alone, no fun.

    You still have lots of time to do whatever. Make the best of it and most important, have fun with it.

    • October 28, 2016 at 8:21 am Rachel Barnhart responds:

      Josh, thank you. I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell women complaining of gender bias they need to toughen up.

  11. October 28, 2016 at 12:27 pm Deborah Mourey responds:

    Rachel, Thank you so much for everything you do and have done. For being brave and clear. For taking this personal risk, to run for office….knowing that you would be attacked for your gender. It is depressing and disheartening to hear all the things that were said to and about you. There’s nothing I can say that will make up for that. I can only stand beside you and let you know that I have your back. A lot of us have your back. The people who said those things may feel like they ‘won’. They didn’t. They may win a battle, but they are losing the war… and they know it. Thank you again.

  12. October 29, 2016 at 2:57 pm orielly responds:

    You ran against the Dem party…. similar to Bernie Sanders. Emails showed the DEM party to not be independent or neutral in the election and actually were behind the scenes supporting a candidate, namely Mrs Clinton. Sanders ran a better campaign, had more grass roots support, far more enthusiasm, but the DEM party makes the selection vs the people.

    And Mrs. Clinton’s oppent Mr. Trump is obviously not the party choice, but he won the nomination by the vote of the people who were registered REPs.

    The DEM party claims to the party for women. It has more registered female voters and supposedly has pro womens issues at its core. Interesting to read they treat their women candidates so poorly and sexist locally at its core. REPs on the other hand have successfully nominated and elected two women to the highest local office.

    Like minorities it would appear you and women are being used by the DEM party. Perhaps you should have ran as REP for a fair chance. After all, do you really think Hillary would be where she is today in the DEM party if she didn’t marry Bill Clinton and ride his coat tails?

    Oh one last thing. Proud of your Ivy Leauge Education? In my view taking journalism as the major, I would rank Cornell behind Syracuse and Ithaca’s journalism/communications schools locally…maybe behind others. How important in the scope of things is what school you went to? The best President of the last 50 years Reagan went to Eureka college and Truman didn’t even go.

  13. I love how some of these commentators prove your Rachel’s point about sexism and accuse her of “not having a thick skin”. I tried explaining the sexism I have experienced in the corporate finance field and how I was marginalized by both men and women for having ideas and being a go-getter. The man who I tried explaining this to was of a military background working in the same field, while I respect most men in the military this one seemed to lack initiative in the work place. He discounted everything I said and said “we are all equal”. If that were true I would not have experienced the sexism in the corporate world as Rachel did during her Primary. Shameful establishment, both on the left and right.

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