You may have seen my name recently on social media or in the news because of something that occurred on the House floor last week. This wasn’t because of anything I did. Rather, it was because of comments made on the floor – and the reaction to those comments by some conservative commenters – that brought the issue of workplace sexism into the spotlight. At this point, I feel that it’s necessary for me to fully explain my stance on the situation and explain what I hope we can all learn from it going forward.
On February 24, my 31st birthday was highlighted on the floor of the Alaska House Representatives by one of my colleagues, Rep. Zack Fields. His speech started out well. I was happy that Fields brought up my husband and children because they mean the world to me. Next, Fields highlighted my strategic value on the floor in debate and navigating rules. Then the speech took an unexpected turn, when my colleague read, into the record, a Facebook comment that my short skirt caused a traffic hazard in my district. Fields concluded by saying he and unspecified colleagues had decided to gift me a pair of sweatpants.
Was this a little awkward? Absolutely. Was it the first time that women have been made to feel uncomfortable in a work environment? No. Will it be the last time? Unfortunately, no.
Fields’ remarks were condemned by hundreds of Alaskans, and he promptly apologized. I believe that this was a teachable moment for many in our community, and I accepted the apology.
However, not everyone decided to find positivity in this unfortunate situation. On Sunday, Must Read Alaska published a piece by Louisiana-based talk radio host Dan Fagan titled “Did Rasmussen fake outrage over sexism to make her new ‘woke’ friends happy?” Fagan calls me a “leggy legislator” and repeatedly quotes Anchorage conservative Bernadette Wilson, who says “Get over yourself when someone makes a comment about how pretty you are, or you look nice in that outfit. Quit thinking there is some sexist motive behind it.”
According to Fagan, I was “all giddy and smiling ear to ear when Democrat Rep. Zack Fields complimented her”—my—”body on the House floor.” Apparently, Fagan does not understand that laughing or smiling is a normal human response to feeling uncomfortable, and does not mean that the situation is OK. Any woman could have explained this to Fagan, had he asked.
The message from Fagan and Wilson is clear: women should be flattered by sexualized comments about their appearance at work, shut up, and take it. The import of their arguments was not lost on their readers, one of whom commented “Hay ladies act like a whore you will be treated like one. Get over it.”
So why did Fagan and Wilson come out with such a regressive and inappropriate response against me? Maybe they really do believe what they’re saying. Or maybe—just maybe—they are angry at me for my choice to not to participate in a caucus, but rather be the advocate for Sand Lake that I was elected to be, and are therefore attempting to weaponize a situation of inappropriate workplace conduct. Either way, Fagan and Wilson said what they said, and their words must be taken at face value, as they were intended to be to their readers.
As conservatives, we need to do better. Fagan and Wilson should realize and acknowledge that women are never obligated to tolerate sexualized comments made about them in the workplace. Most women just want to go to work and do their jobs. I have been a Republican since I registered to vote 13 years ago. To me, the Republican party is about respecting people as individuals and promoting equality. The casual sexism promoted by Fagan—who, in 2021, believes it is appropriate to describe me, a female legislator, as “leggy”—and Wilson, who apparently thinks women should be flattered by workplace sexual harassment, has no place in the Republican party. These backwards views are incompatible with party values and will doom the party to electoral failure if those views continue to go unchallenged.
Republicans have an opportunity to promote a healthy, balanced view of workplace interactions. Some people go overboard by claiming that any comments related to appearance at work are inappropriate, even if they are as innocuous as “your hair looks nice today” or “I like that tie.” And too many liberals have argued for unjust treatment of sexual allegations, adopting the defacto belief that women are always right and men are always wrong when reporting incidents. These beliefs are reactionary and harmful too. False accusations make it harder for real victims to come forward and real problems to be addressed.
As an Alaskan woman and Republican, I believe we need to work hard to encourage respect. Before making a comment at work, ask yourself if your comment will make the person feel comfortable and valued for who they are and the work they do. Telling a woman she stop traffic in an imaginary short skirt is not appropriate because it’s simply a sexualized fantasy of the speaker. Similarly, telling a woman she should shut up and be grateful for sexual harassment reduces women to sexual objects who are acted upon rather than act, and who don’t have the right to speak up or set boundaries.
I do not see myself as victim, either because of Fields’ initial comments or the ugly response by Wilson and Fagan. I will continue to use my position in the Legislature to combat domestic violence, sexism, and other forms of injustice. Two years ago, I worked to remove marriage as a defense for rape in the Alaska statutes. While I am proud of that progress, there is still much to be done. I hope we can all agree that women and girls deserve a healthy environment in their homes, schools, and workplaces, and that we can learn to treat one another with grace and civility, and respect.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen has represented District 22 in Anchorage district since 2019.