Reviewed by Ellyn Ruthstrom
In November 2018, 31-year-old Katie Hill was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, along with a wave of diverse new political leaders who ushered in a Democratic majority, with Nancy Pelosi at the helm. Hill became the first out bisexual congressperson and first LGBTQ woman to represent a California House district when she won the long-held Republican seat. Hill gained a post in the Democratic leadership and appeared to be heading for a very promising and long career in politics. However, less than a year later, she quickly resigned after her ex-husband released sexual photos and videos of her (many taken without her consent) and revealed that they had been in a throuple together with a female staffer from her office.
Many of you probably have heard of Katie Hill already and know this brief synopsis of what happened to her. Now’s your chance to find out the full story of what Hill went through by reading her 2020 memoir, She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality. Hill details not only the end of her time in office, but also what had inspired her to become a community organizer and to work on issues of homelessness within California before running for office. She fills in the horrible details of what happened within her marriage as her husband exerted power over her and how, when she finally broke away from him, he sought his revenge by ruining her political career.
One of the things that Hill is very clear about is that she doesn’t want women to get scared off of running for office after witnessing what happened to her. She writes, “Instead, I hope to use what happened to me to drive women, young women especially, to question the roadblocks we face, and to tear them all down and rebuild a future in which we no longer have to imagine what it would look like to have full equality and representation.”
The subtitle of the book—Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality—uses an important metaphor, the warrior, which is deeply personal for Hill. She describes her connection to the fictional characters of Sir Alanna of Trebond and Xena: Warrior Princess, and how her grandfather helped to instill a fire in her belly to battle for the things that were important to her. He helped her believe she could do anything.
Beyond her personal story of political success and then personal scandal, Hill sets out a guide in her book for young feminist warriors ready for battle. The five key battles she lays out are to be focused on money, the workplace, our bodies, our safety, and the home. If you would like a refresher on these significant feminist issues of the day and a bit of history about each of them, you will enjoy the mid-section of the book. If you are already aware of these issues, you might not find much new here.
Hill weaves detailed stories of women in her own family—her mother and grandmother—into several of the chapters to illustrate the larger social experiences of women, including sexual harassment, women’s economic dependence, lack of reproductive rights, and bodily integrity. It’s an effective way to give depth to the issues and to get insights into Hill’s own personal story. For example, the grandfather who boosted her self-confidence was also abusive to her grandmother, who divorced him the first chance she got. Real life is complicated, and Hill shares a lot of family history to make that clear.
Within the chapter focused on the home, Hill goes into a lot of detail about coercive control which expands the understanding of partner abuse beyond just physical violence. Coercive control includes isolation of the partner, constant monitoring, financial control, sexual violence, intimidation, and emotional abuse. This is the one spot where she highlights how her ex-husband used her bisexuality to control her. Once she had come out to him, he only allowed her to see other women if he was involved with them as well. And then he used the polyamory they both agreed to as part of the threat of revealing their sex life to the public. I appreciated her sharing this part of her story because I think a lot of bi women will relate to that form of power struggle and abuse.
Which leads to my biggest criticism of the book. For all the interesting feminist history and personal stories Hill shares, she does not include a queer lens within the bulk of her analysis. This was a huge missed opportunity as a visible bisexual political leader to highlight the data available about bi women’s experience. Where is the mention of the high incidence of sexual harassment of bisexuals in the workplace? What about the high rate of poverty for bisexual women? And the worst gap for me was not mentioning the glaringly high rate of sexual violence that bi women experience. I was very disappointed that Hill did not use her platform to educate more about bi women’s lives, nor about lesbian or queer lives generally.
The last two chapters of the book are her “Battle Cry,” to call women to run for office and “The Mission,” which details why she founded her political action committee, HER Time, to support young women candidates. She includes a list of ten feminist political demands she believes we should be focusing on right now. And she asserts very strongly that we need to vote for women because they are women. No more dilly-dallying, we need more women leaders now.
I finished the book with a deeper understanding of Hill’s background and her commitment to the feminist movement. It’s incredibly sad that this young leader was taken down by revenge porn after suffering through an abusive relationship. I can only hope that the work she continues to do will help other women to step forward to run for office, and that, perhaps in the future, she may again be able to contribute her warrior spirit in a more visible way.
Ellyn Ruthstrom is the Executive Director of SpeakOUT Boston, an LGBTQ+ speakers bureau based in Boston. She most admires women warriors who don’t wear corseted breastplates while fighting the good fight. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.