Michigan Candidate Says It's Time To Elect More Women To End Sexual Harassment

Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images.
As more and more women (and men) come forward with allegations of sexual harassment in the post-Weinstein world, the question that is constantly being asked is, How do we start changing the culture and systems that allow abusers to thrive?
Well, for Dana Nessel, a 2018 candidate for Michigan attorney general, the solution is actually quite simple: Vote for candidates "without a penis" a.k.a. start electing more women to office.
"If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that we need more women in positions of power, not less," Nessel says in a new ad. "So when you’re choosing Michigan’s next attorney general, ask yourself this: Who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so."
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Refinery29 spoke with Nessel on Thursday, who explained the purpose of the ad was to address the barrage of sexual harassment allegations being seen in all industries and how more women need to be leading in all fields — not only politics.
"I'm not saying that all men are sexual harassers. And I'm not saying that women are incapable of conducting themselves in a way that is less than professional when it comes to sexual misconduct," she explained. "What I'm saying is that when you have more equality, when you have better representation of women in positions of authority, I think we will see the tide change when it comes to sexual harassment."
The 2017 election saw some historic wins up and down the ballot — for LGBTQ+ candidates, women of color, and both first-time and seasoned candidates. And with more women showing an interest in running for office and becoming actual candidates, the U.S. may be at a historic turning point that could begin to close the gender gap in politics.
But of course, there's still a long way to go. As of now, women make up just over 24% of the Michigan State Legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). Only one woman holds a statewide office: Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican. And in Congress, two women are representatives (out of 14 districts) and one woman is a senator.
Besides Nessel and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who is up for re-election, Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Jocelyn Benson are running for governor and secretary of state, respectively. The candidates for secretary of state and attorney general are selected in Michigan by the parties' political conventions, not through a primary election, and Nessel has heard people say that Democrats shouldn't have an all-female ticket in 2018. The penis remark is aimed at those folks, she said.
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"We had an all-male ticket in 2014," she explained. "I didn't hear anybody complain about that."
However, the framing of voting for "the candidate who doesn’t have a penis" came off as transphobic to some folks. When asked about this issue in a follow-up email, a spokesperson for the Nessel campaign clarified the intent behind the ad.
"We regret if that’s the impression, because it’s certainly not the intent — but we were specifically addressing the epidemic of cis-straight men who are harassing all women: trans, straight, queer, etc," a spokesperson told Refinery29 via email. "Dana has been active as anyone in the state of Michigan protecting trans people, specifically through her work with the Fair Michigan Justice Project."
During the interview with Refinery29, Nessel also pushed back against the idea that her ad is "anti-men" — saying that her belief that we should be electing more female candidates doesn't mean that she is against men in general.
"I'm the mother of two teenage sons," she said. "I want to raise them in a manner, and I want them to grow up in a world, in which they can see women as potential leaders and they respect women in the same capacity we have respected men."
She continued, "The more women we have running, the more women we elect. The more women who fill these positions, I honestly think the better our country will be. We'll have less of the kind of issues we've been talking about over the past couple of weeks. It will be a more just and equal society."
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