On Monday, the Seattle City Council split 5-4 in a vote against selling a city street to entrepreneur Chris Hansen, who wants to build a new NBA arena in Sodo. Coincidentally, the five "no" votes were the council's five women. And so the internet did what it does and unleashed a tidal wave of misogynist garbage.
And then, when people tried to call out that misogyny:
There's plenty more where that came from. As I mentioned in Morning News today, one particularly egregious episode involves a local lawyer.
An email signed "Jason M. Feldman, Esq." and sent to the five women on the council repeatedly urged the council members to "end" themselves. It read, in part: "As women, I understand that you spend a lot of your time trying to please others (mostly on your knees) but I can only hope that you each find ways to quickly and painfully end yourselves." In response, local cannabis activist (and former Stranger contributor) Ben Livingston filed a complaint with the Washington State Bar Association against local lawyer Jason M. Feldman.
I reached Feldman by phone this morning. He refused to confirm that he sent the email and refused to comment except to remind me that the First Amendment exists. "I want you to make sure that you understand the level of scrutiny that is afforded political speech under the First Amendment," he said, refusing to comment further.
That's easy enough to Google. What's not—or wasn't until it was reported by the Puget Sound Business Journal today—is that this isn't the first time Feldman has allegedly mistreated women. In September, the state bar recommended that Feldman be suspended from practicing law for two and a half years after a client alleged Feldman sexually assaulted her. The Snohomish County Prosecutor's Office did not pursue criminal charges against Feldman in that case, and he is now appealing the bar's suspension recommendation.
In his decision, a hearing officer for the state bar wrote that Feldman was "in a position of influence and power as her attorney, took advantage of [her] trust and breached that trust causing actual injury." After the incident, the hearing officer wrote, the victim "became physically sick and emotionally upset." A spokesperson at the bar association said a decision on the appeal won't be released until July.
Marc J. Randazza, a lawyer who once taught Feldman, doubled down in defending Feldman's unhinged behavior to the Business Journal. “Jason has a colorful manner of communication,” Randazza told Business Journal. “I myself received emails like this from him while I was his professor, I did what an adult would do—shrugged it off. That's part of being a politician in America."
Livingston, who filed the complaint, said he was offended by the misogyny and references to suicide in Feldman's email. "That level of misogyny and hatred has no place in our public discourse," Livingston said. "I was surprised he was a state-licensed attorney. He has a legal obligation to uphold certain ethical standards and he should know better."
Livingston added that it's important to "stand up" for council members who may not have the time to respond to hateful emails. In that same spirit, the National Women's Political Caucus is circulating a petition of solidarity with the council members. You can sign that here.
City council member Kshama Sawant's office declined to comment on all this, and Lorena González told me she's not commenting until she and her colleagues consider a "formal response." Council Members Sally Bagshaw and Debora Juarez did not reply to requests for comment.
In an interview, Council Member Lisa Herbold sounded deliberately cheerful. Herbold, a longtime city hall staffer who's new to the council, said she's never dealt with this kind of backlash "from a gender perspective" before. Of about 300 emails she received since Monday, Herbold says eight of them were "out of line," ranging from calling council members "ladies" to Feldman's. But she said she's also avoiding Twitter and most of Facebook.
"I'm not excusing the behavior," Herbold said. "I'm not saying it should be expected. But... I don't think the response we've heard is reflective of men, of sports fans, of NBA fans. In any group of people you're going to find a couple of people who cross the line."
Chris Hansen, the entrepreneur who wants to build the arena, called the misogynistic response "unacceptable." Council Member Rob Johnson and Mayor Ed Murray, who both supported the street vacation, have expressed "disappointment" at the public reaction. At an unrelated press conference this morning, Murray—awkwardly, speaking on behalf of the women of the council as one of them, Herbold, stood right behind him—said "this must stop" and "Seattle is better than this."
But online, nowhere is really "better" than anywhere else. As Seattlish has pointed out, local reporters who presented Monday's results as men vs. women helped stoke this reaction. And, even without that unhelpful framing, the internet is notoriously hostile to women, no matter your zip code. Data from Pew Research shows that while internet users of all genders experience harassment, women are more likely to be stalked or sexually harassed. That can often be most severe for women who work in public, like politicians or journalists.
As Amanda Hess wrote in 2014: "As the Internet becomes increasingly central to the human experience, the ability of women to live and work freely online will be shaped, and too often limited, by the technology companies that host these threats, the constellation of local and federal law enforcement officers who investigate them, and the popular commentators who dismiss them — all arenas that remain dominated by men, many of whom have little personal understanding of what women face online every day."
That's as true in Seattle as anywhere.