“You should call the police, Katy. They tried to post our address.” My mom spoke with hushed urgency into the phone, as if at any moment a mob of angry UC Berkeley students might storm my bedroom.
“It’s okay. I don’t need to call the cops, Mom. It’s just a bunch of kids screwing around online.” I spoke confidently in an attempt to reassure her of my safety. But I am my mother’s daughter, and deep down I wondered how worried I ought to be.
This kind of fear is familiar to female-identifying political candidates. Women are subject to online harassment at rates much higher than men. Females, particularly young women, are twice as likely than men to experience sexual abuse, including sexual harassment, online. This abuse is highlighted in political campaigns.
For candidates, particularly women of color, election season brings a flurry of cyber assault. One study found that comments containing sexually abusive language are three times more likely to be directed at female lawmakers than males. Female political candidates have described this abuse as psychological warfare that has become normalized, so potent and widespread that groups supporting potential female lawmakers have integrated safety training into their workshops.
Attacks on female-identifying political candidates are not alien to UC Berkeley’s campus. In spring 2022, I ran for ASUC president. YikYak became a battleground littered with landmines of sexual inuendos and accusations of infidelity. Similar to Twitter, YikYak is an anonymous social media platform where posts are visible to anyone within a three-mile radius.
Here are some things that were posted to YikYak about me during my campaign:
“Cb has a fat ass y’all can’t lie”
“So what I’m hearing is y’all so down bad all it took was a piece of ass and CB in a wet shirt?”
“I’m tryna get the CB head yktv”
“CB had to do a super soaked to vote event bc she can’t say her bf ever does that to her”
“Met cathy at an exchange and she had some odor down there”
“Catherine bauer wouldn’t swallow my load but she did swallow my fucking boba Snackpass”
“Catherine bauer Gay boyfriend Cheater AXO and white?? Pick one”
“I just saw Catherine bauer run onto campus with a Glock and camo outfit” (This was posted on 4/21/22, when Berkeley was experiencing an active shooter threat.)
My identity granted me certain privileges from which I benefited throughout the campaign season. My whiteness, parents’ support, private school education, background in speech and debate — the list goes on. I had unearned advantages that many considered unfair pawns in our game of war. In the end, none of these identities prevented the harassment I faced.
And, I knew they wouldn’t. I never thought that running for office would be a quiet endeavor. I knew that I would face harsh criticism and possible harassment. However, I never imagined that my physical safety would be threatened when running for a student government position.
Posts attempting claiming to dox me, although with addresses not my own, called my family’s safety into question. Others, like, “saw Catherine Bauer just leave haste/ellsworth st w a purse. The warnme about u girl,” “is bauer gonna pull up to DKE,” and “if catherine bauer pulls up to pi kapp tmr it’s on sight,” reminded me that my location was being stalked and that for some joking about the abuse of women is an easy trade for social media clout.
Experiences like mine are extreme deterrents to those seeking political office. Many have deemed the ASUC and politics at large inaccessible spaces. We have to fight those barricades. And, we must do so with radical hope and optimism.
Too many female-identifying candidates have been bullied out of running for their desired position. Too many qualified, smart and imaginative contenders have been stalked and harassed into silence. This abuse permeates the entirety of the American political ecosystem. Women affected by online abuse include Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher, U.S. House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. congressional candidate Erin Schrode, New York state assembly candidate Morgan Zegers and the list continues.
We must do better both nationwide and here at UC Berkeley. And, I believe we can. We have the education, the numbers and the history of activism to create a more equitable political sphere. I like to think of this future as believing in the good — the good of the university and the good in one another.
If you’re a young woman thinking about running for office, ASUC or otherwise, do it. Even if it feels like no one will support you, I am backing you. My time on Capitol Hill this summer proved to me that with the right kind of spunk, anything can happen.
To my friends on the other side of the aisle, I wish you all the luck in the world. I know President Tellem leads with a kind heart and the best intentions. His team is filled with some of the hardest-working people I will ever meet. It was a joyful race, and I know they will do everything in their power to support their fellow Bears.
Fiat lux, my friends. See you all in Berkeley and, hopefully, on the ballot.