Visible Women

Someone tried to slut-shame this politician – and she wasn’t having any of it

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Moya Crockett
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When photos of Rachel Hundley in her underwear were posted online, she faced pressure to drop out of a local election race. But the 35-year-old politician is refusing to back down. 

In June, a survey revealed that 90% of British women would never consider running for office. It was a startling statistic, but not a particularly surprising one. Women in politics often have to endure levels of scrutiny, vitriol and abuse that far exceeds that faced by their male counterparts – and that abuse is often heavily gendered and sexualised, in a way that abuse levelled at men is not. If we’re honest, it’s not hard to understand why so few women are prepared to put themselves forward as political candidates.

In an ideal world, female politicians wouldn’t have to experience abuse or harassment at all. But until that day comes, it’s inspiring to see women in politics fight back against gendered harassment, and refuse to be cowed by attempts to silence them.

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For the latest example of this phenomenon, we have only to look to Sonoma in California, where 35-year-old Rachel Hundley is currently running for re-election to the city council. A former lawyer and food truck owner, Hundley has had a successful political career: she was first elected to the city council in 2014 at the age of 31, and was appointed mayor of Sonoma two years later. In 2017, The Washington Post identified her as a young political leader to watch.

But during her current re-election campaign, Hundley has faced a sexualised smear campaign that aims to stop her running for office. Earlier this month, photos of her wearing underwear at Burning Man music festival were posted on a website that also attacks her political positions and character.

Soon after, Hundley received a threatening email from an anonymous sender. Unless she wanted more compromising photos and damaging accusations to be posted online, the email said, she would drop out of the race.

It’s not hard to imagine a world in which the photos of Hundley in her underwear were blown up into a political scandal – because we have lived in that world for many years. It’s painfully easy to picture this bright, passionate woman being forced to apologise for having fun at a music festival, or being driven out of politics forever, simply because photos of her in her underwear were leaked online.

But, brilliantly, it seems as though we might be moving away from that world. In an unprecedented move, Hundley has hit back at the attempts to “slut-shame” her, posting a video on YouTube in which she refuses to apologise for the photos or drop out of the race.

“Instead of challenging me on my votes, this website relies solely on unfounded accusations and slut-shaming,” Hundley said in the clip.

Addressing the people of Sonoma, she described the website’s purpose as “to make me afraid, to silence another strong female voice by scaring me out of this election and denying you the right to make a choice.”

An overhead shot of Burning Man festival in Nevada 

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Hundley said that she had attended Burning Man for several years, voluntarily managing a wine bar at the festival that is “associated with a consent-focused, sex-positive themed camp”.

“What was especially disturbing in this era of #MeToo was the attempt to slut-shame me for celebrating my body and for my attendance at Burning Man, an internationally renowned arts and culture festival and an event I’ve proudly and openly attended,” she said.

She continued: “For too long it has been seen as OK to control women by dictating what is OK for us to say, wear and do. Strong women have been fighting these double standards and hypocrisy for years, fighting a culture that says our bodies, our lives, are meant only for the consumption of men.

“This attempt at blackmail assumes I buy into these lies. But I am here today to tell my faceless bullies that I cannot be shamed into quitting – because I am not ashamed.”

It might be happening on the other side of the world, but this feels like a genuinely important moment for women in politics. Hundley has not denied that the photos are real; nor has she faked an apology. Instead, she has presented herself to voters as the woman that she is: someone who is interested in sexual politics, who likes her body, and who believes that neither of these things should disqualify her from running for office.

In an even happier twist, Hundley’s response to her anonymous harassers appears to have paid off. The Washington Post reports that she has received support from people in Sonoma and around the US, and a new wave of volunteers has signed up to support her campaign.

“Much to the disappointment of my anonymous bullies, I will not be giving in to threats,” Hundley said in her video. “This year, I will be running not only for the future of our city but for every woman and man who has been shamed for being themselves.” Amen to that. 

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign aims to raise the profiles of women in politics – and inspire future generations to follow their lead. See more Visible Women stories here

Images: YouTube/Re-Elect Rachel Hundley; Getty Images

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Moya Crockett

Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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