Krystal Ball is someone that we can all learn from. At 29, she ran for Congress in Virgina’s first district. She would have been the youngest woman to serve in Congress ever, if elected. She didn’t win though. During her election, she faced a sexist smear campaign by her opponents on the right who leaked salacious college photos of Ball. (We covered this 2010 edition of sexist double standards here too.) Throughout the whole thing, she held her head high. When others might’ve crawled away from the spotlight, Krystal used that moment to shed light on the inequalities women face in the public sphere. In her response, she wrote:
I don’t believe these pictures were posted with a desire to just embarrass me; they wanted me to feel like a whore. They wanted me to collapse in a ball of embarrassment and to hang my head in shame.
Despite the people that wanted her to hang her head in shame, she did just the opposite. And she’s still speaking up and ruffling feathers. She’s currently one of four hosts on the MSNBC show The Cycle, where she not only brings a progressive spin to current events, but also, at times, creatively uses her 5-year-old daughter to highlight the need for marriage equality (much to many on the right’s chagrin). She is a great example of someone bravely pushing boundaries, taking risks, and doing things her own way. And most of all, instead of letting negative experiences break her spirit, she uses them to lift herself higher.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Krystal Ball.
Anna Sterling: Looking back on your experience running for Congress, would you do it again?
Krystal Ball: Absolutely! Was I scared? Yes. Was it hard? Harder than childbirth. Were there some low moments? Of course. But overall, it was actually a fantastic and rewarding experience that made me stronger and that is a source of tremendous pride. I also think it’s incredibly important that as women we share stories not just of our successes but also of our failures. I ran. I lost. And not only was it not the end of the world, but it actually created the opportunity for me to do what I’m doing now. I think a lot of women don’t run for office because they’re afraid of losing. I’m here to say winning is fantastic but even in a loss, nothing is truly lost and much is gained.
AS: What steps do we need to take to end this double standard placed on women? And what advice would you give young women looking to possibly run for office, who are afraid to take that leap because of what could leak in this social media age?
KB: To end the double standard, we have to be willing to call out our friends and our opponents. To me the recent conversation about the President’s calling California Attorney General Kamala Harris the “best looking” Attorney General was quite interesting. There were a lot of men and women who considers themselves to be feminists who defended the President. Now look, there are worse things in the world than being called good looking and I’m not mad at the President or even really offended. But the fact remains that any sort of focus on a woman candidate’s appearance or clothes does in fact undermine her credibility with voters. There’s a brand new “Name it. Change it.” research from the Women’s Campaign Fund, Lake Research Partners, and the Women’s Media Fund that proves this point. So even though this President has in many ways been great for women, it’s still up to us to educate people about the impact even well-intentioned comments can have.
As for young women looking at public office, my advice would be two-fold. First, and this goes for men and women, be thoughtful about what you put out on social media. But second, if there is some stupid party photo from your youthful days out there, don’t let that put fear in your heart or stop you from running. In my race, while it was painful and embarrassing when party photos of me were posted, there was also something beautiful about the number of people of all political persuasions who rushed to my defense. Many told me that the photos just made them feel like I was a real human being. In the final analysis, based on our polling, they didn’t end up hurting me electorally one bit and may have actually marginally improved my vote totals.
AS: Any tips on how to protect our identities in this social media era?
KB: I don’t know that you really can protect your identity. Be comfortable with being an open book. People are desperate for authentic voices and very forgiving of honest human mistakes. As a public figure, it’s more important I think to protect yourself from the nastiness and anonymous hate that can come your way. Twitter can be an informative, fun, energizing place and it can also be nasty. Just remember that Twitter is not a representative sample of anything.
AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?
KB: This particular morning I’m pretty annoyed with the Politico story about New York Times Editor Jill Abramson. To call it a story is in fact a bit of an overstatement. It was mostly a bit of gossip and griping about the “bitchy woman character.” To the extent that you could call it a story, it’s one that I’ve never seen written about a man. The silver lining is that there’s been great pushback against it which to me shows that we’re making progress in educating people about and highlighting double standards.
AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
KB: I actually think that one of our greatest challenges right now, and perhaps I say this because I’m about 8 months pregnant, is the guilt and the judgment we’ve developed around how to be a good mom. I have a hard time articulating it but it’s almost like we’ve gone back to this 50s ideal of motherhood where if you’re not making homecooked organic meals and teaching your child calculus at age 5, you’re failing as a mother in some regard. If you’re trying to live up to that standard while also maintaining a career in which you are expected to be a perfect employee and are judged more harshly than your male colleagues when you take time off for kids, well it’s no wonder that we suffer the “ambition gap” that Sheryl Sandberg highlights. The perfect mom and the perfect worker standards are impossible to meet on their own, let alone together.
AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
KB: Favorite fictional heroine is probably Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde’s novels but since I’m not sure many people have heard of her, I’ll go with Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In real life, my current heroine is Ping Fu, an amazing Chinese born entrepreneur who sits on the National Advisory Council for Innovation and Entreprenership. I just read her autobiography Bend Not Break and she demonstrates an incredible combination of vulnerability and strength. I’ve also been incredibly moved by the parents who lost children in the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The courage they’ve show undergoing a horrific tragedy and then turning around and honoring their children by fighting in our political system for positive change… It’s simply amazing.
AS: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
KB: Being 8 months pregnant, I’m tempted to pick either pickles or jalapenos. I’m also sort of obsessed with green apples so I guess that’s what I’ll go with. I hope I won’t be held to that post pregnancy! [For my drink] Fanta Orange Soda. [For the feminist] I’m probably supposed to pick a living feminist but I’m going to go with Eleanor Roosevelt. I don’t think I’d ever get bored hearing about her life, time as first lady and activism. Something tells me she’d be good to have around in a tough spot too.