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She Will Rise
Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality
By Katie Hill
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and Content Warning
Where dialogue appears, the intention was to re-create the essence of conversations rather than verbatim quotes. Names and identifying characteristics of some individuals have been changed.
Some of the material contained herein, namely portions of Chapter 2, were originally published as an op-ed I wrote for the New York Times (December 7, 2019).
This book contains explicit descriptions of sensitive topics and situations that could be disturbing to some. I am including these content warnings to ensure readers are fully informed before continuing.
My purpose in discussing any of these subjects is to talk about my recovery, and I hope that is the focus.
I have listed some of the more sensitive topics and the respective chapters below:
- Suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, Chapter 2
- Harassment, sexual assault, and intimidation in the workplace, Chapter 6
- Abortion, including later-term abortion, Chapter 7
- Incidents of childhood and adult sexual assault and rape, Chapter 8
- Cyber exploitation and nonconsensual pornography, Chapter 8
- Intimate partner abuse, Chapter 9
Resources for women who have or are experiencing similar situations to those described are contained within each respective chapter.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or text HOME to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line. If you or someone you know is having an immediate, life-threatening emergency, please call 911.
This year, August 18 (just one week after this book is published!) marks a hundred years since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment—since women first got the right to vote in the United States. Alice Paul, one of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement, said shortly after it was ratified, "It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It is just beginning."1
I don't know where she thought we'd be in the fight one hundred years after that historic victory. But as far as I'm concerned—and I hope you feel the same—we haven't come nearly far enough. We can't afford to let another hundred years go by before we get there. And if we don't fight now, we might even go backward.
So here, we will talk about how to dismantle misogynistic institutions, redirecting resources and authority to young women and working to install them in positions of power. This work is my calling for the next stage of my life—a life very different from the one I envisioned for myself less than a year ago, not to mention when I was a little girl.
Then again, the big goal I had way back when I was a little girl was always going to be a challenging one. At the time, I dreamed of being Sir Alanna of Trebond.
If you're scratching your head, wondering, "Umm…who is Sir Alanna of Trebond?" you are simply not a millennial lady nerd. Alanna is the hero of Tamora Pierce's iconic Song of the Lioness series, beloved inspiration of nineties preteen girls everywhere. Set in the quasi-medieval fantasy kingdom of Tortall, the four-book series tells the story of a feisty young noblewoman who switches identities with her twin brother in order to take his place at knight school.
A natural fighter, Alanna is stubborn and temperamental, with flaming red hair and magical purple eyes. Beautiful and impulsive, she's also funny, honest, and loyal. She fights hard for her friends and her pets, and to the delight of middle school girls everywhere just figuring out and being suddenly overwhelmed by sexual urges, Alanna even goes into that forbidden territory. She seduces a shocking three men (gasp!) over the course of the series: Prince Jonathan, the clingy pretty-boy heir to the throne, whom she dumps in a bid to dodge commitment; George, the King of Thieves, who makes no demands on her life or personal space; and Liam Ironarm, a smoldering battle-scarred mercenary who dies fighting by her side. Eventually, Alanna settles down and marries George, her low-maintenance lover, keeping her full-time job in the ass-kicking field even after they have kids.
Tortall's strict gender norms? They're no match for Alanna. Cultural expectations of virginity and monogamy? Deceased atop the pile of bodies of demons she killed in battle. This warrior has every eleven-year-old girl's dream life: She owns a cat and a horse, is friends with her exes and their new girlfriends, is gorgeous with incredible purple eyes, and can wield sword and magic alike to defeat her foes. Is it any wonder I wanted to be her?
If I could go back and talk to my younger self about what happened with this particular dream—the Big Alanna Mood—I'd try not to cry. I'd tell her, We came so close. We came so much closer than most people do.
I'd show her all the good things we've done: the strength and focus I brought to my congressional campaign—how we flipped a historically red congressional district to become the first LGBTQ woman to represent California in Washington, DC, and the first woman and youngest person to ever hold this storied seat. Elected to Congress as one of the youngest women ever, I quickly became known as a rising star in the Democratic Party, serving as a freshman representative to leadership and as the vice chair of the House Oversight Committee under Chairman Elijah Cummings. I'd show Young Katie all the friends and colleagues who continue to stand by us in the fight to make the world a better place, in whatever way they can.
And the horse! She'd be so impressed, over the moon actually, to know that Adult Katie owns a horse. I started working at age twelve to save up for my own noble steed, just like Alanna's, and for the last fifteen years I've been the proud owner of Marty: a stubborn old Thoroughbred I pay an uncomfortably substantial monthly sum to board at a senior-citizen horse barn. His vibe is more Grumpy Old Men than Song of the Lioness, but Young Katie wouldn't care.
I wouldn't scare her with the dark stuff. Most Americans who follow the news know the part of my story I'm referring to here: how my abusive marriage ultimately led to my political downfall. The divorce and the blackmail. What a casual news consumer might not know, though, was the sheer amount of courage it took for me to leave the abuse, sick with the memory of my ex's threats and the certainty that he could make good on them if he wished. The hammer of his desire for revenge, gleefully wielded by political enemies and greedy right-wing media, in coordination with local Republicans (see "GOP Enemies Wanted to Beat Katie Hill. Then They Got Her Nude Photos" in the LA Times2), forcing my resignation from Congress as millions saw me naked, gawking at my most intimate and personal moments (most of which I had no idea were documented), including the consensual relationship I had with a campaign staffer. I wouldn't tell Young Katie that just a year from when I was elected to Congress as a "rising star," less than a year after I was sworn in, my resignation would be official.
I wouldn't tell her that it was more than just me that the people—the institutions—behind this attack were trying to take down. I was used as an example to show women and girls that, no matter how powerful we become, we are still vulnerable. That the louder we are, the more we challenge the status quo and claim our place in this world, the more we expose ourselves. I, like so many other women, was used to show what happens when we scorn men. When we assert our independence. When we step into our power and take our seat at the decision-making table.
No, I wouldn't want my younger self to know about all this: about the darkness that has fallen not just over my own life, but over countless women's lives these past few years.
The morning after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in 2016, millions of my peers—many of them raised on rosy, privileged narratives of endless potential, just like I was—awoke to the brutal reality that America is still a deeply misogynistic place. And as we close out the second decade of the century, far too little has changed.
I am one of the most prominent examples of this kind of takedown, but what happened to me happens every day, across the country and around the world. We've come a long way in reducing the overt oppression and abuse of women, but the subversive tactics have continued and even grown, making misogyny more difficult to notice, and often impossible to fight against. Physical domestic abuse is at least no longer condoned (though it's nowhere near gone), but emotional and psychological abuse like I endured in my fifteen-year-long relationship are pervasive. Sexual assault continues at alarming rates—often in circumstances less obviously violent than a rapist in a dark alley, but just as damaging. The internet provides a breeding ground and endless tools for abusive behaviors where, most times, the perpetrator can remain hidden or protected, as exemplified by the cyber exploitation and nonconsensual pornography that was used against me. Countless iterations of sexism, misogyny, and gender discrimination continue in the workplace and in political office.
Powerful women who dare to make mistakes still face swifter and more brutal consequences than men. Brett Kavanaugh rode the "boys will be boys" train all the way to the Supreme Court, and Donald Trump ascended to the White House despite credible allegations of not only "inappropriate sexual relations" but full-blown sexual assault and rape. Women's reproductive rights diminish with each passing day. Cyber exploitation, harassment, and abuse traumatize—and sometimes literally kill—women for merely existing online, while some of the more egregious #MeToo perpetrators quietly make their way back into society and men get away with sexual assault and harassment everywhere, every day. Mass shootings devastate communities hundreds of times a year, so frequently committed by a male shooter with a history of domestic violence or "girlfriend trouble," but the desire to have power and ownership over women that fuels the gun epidemic rarely gets airtime.
One such shooting happened right after I resigned and took place painfully close to home. On November 14, 2019, just two weeks after I had resigned, a young man entered my alma mater, Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, and shot four of his classmates, killing two of them and himself. I, like everyone in our community, was devastated and angry. I felt the same powerlessness that they did. Except I wasn't supposed to. At least not like that. The kids in my district, my hometown, my own high school—they needed me. They deserved comfort and advocacy—representation—from their congresswoman. But on that day, the only thing representing them in Congress was an empty chair.
The Saugus kids deserved a government that took action on gun violence and prioritized their safety, but that government didn't exist. I no longer had any direct power to fix it for them. Not only that: I imagined that other young women, who might otherwise have put themselves forward to take up the mantle and prioritize issues important to young people like gun violence, were thinking twice about raising their hands. Almost all of us who came of age in our online world have photos, texts, even videos out there that were never intended for public consumption. What happened to me has called into question the post-midterm narrative that outdated notions of "electability" would no longer pose a problem for young candidates with normal lives.
Who would risk it now?
I grew sick with rage and grief about this injustice. I was Alanna without her knighthood—a warrior stripped of her power and armor and title. What battles could I fight now? How could I do my part to save the kingdom when the kingdom, ruled by an incoherent orange despot, didn't even want me?
Through the depths of my grief, however, I spotted something small and glittering on the ocean floor: an inkling of an idea, a nascent image that gave me hope. I was still thinking about Saugus High: my experiences there in the early 2000s; the kids there now; the school spirit I hoped would surround them and comfort them and lift them up in the trying weeks to come.
Saugus's mascot is the Centurion: the brand of ancient Roman military commander, noble but anonymous, who led each hundred-soldier unit in the vast Roman army. Centurions weren't the caesars or even the generals—theirs weren't the names that made it into our history books—but they formed the backbone of Rome's military cohesion, celebrated for their strength. They were the ones who brought individual soldiers into solidarity with one another and led their charges into battle. They were the grizzled ones—the ones who had seen real war and bore real scars, but stayed in the fight and stayed strong for their teams.
I pictured the bright, imaginative kid I used to be, and the scarred adult I'd become. I thought about the battles that American women still needed to win—battles that I could still help fight. And it occurred to me that I could assume the role of a centurion now. I could help organize women who were just starting to climb the leadership ranks. I could use the relationships I had built to liaise with the generals (those currently in power) and channel the resources that the front-line soldiers needed. I could use what I'd learned to help bring cohesion and demonstrate how to organize at scale. And I could lead by example, showing how to keep fighting and fighting well—even if you're not Sir Alanna, the most celebrated lady knight in the realm. Adult Katie's calling was to be a centurion—but instead of an all-male Roman army, ours is a force of modern-day Amazons. And we're fighting to win the future for young women, to hold down the battlefield for them, and to reconfigure the structures of power forever.
So, where do we start? I've seen so many women struggle to overcome deeply ingrained, gendered beliefs about themselves as they rise in leadership—in the workplace, in politics, or honestly, in any institution.
"I don't think I'm ready for that promotion."
"I'm sure there's someone more qualified than me to run for office."
"I'm an imposter and they're going to figure me out any second."
One of the queens of feminist writing, Simone de Beauvoir, said, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." I've thought about that a lot over the years. It's not that we grow up, hit puberty, and transition from girls to women. It's that from the time we can barely walk, girls are indoctrinated with fundamental beliefs about what it means to be a woman and what our role is within the world. In The Second Sex, written in the 1940s, de Beauvoir was among the first to point out the stark differences between how boys and girls are raised, and how that affects women throughout their adult lives. Though we have made some progress, girls are still raised with a different set of expectations and norms than boys. The consequences of that ongoing conditioning are severe, especially when it comes to leadership. So now, in 2020, despite all of the gains we have made, top leadership in every major sector is still overwhelmingly male:3
- Women make up just 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 7 percent of all top executives in the Fortune 100 companies.
- We are only 6 percent of all venture capital board representatives and lead only 9 percent of venture capital deals.
- Women accounted for just 18 percent of all the directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors who worked on the 250 top-grossing domestic films of 2017, and yet again the 2020 Oscars were seen as a snub to women in the industry, as women were shut out of the Best Director category altogether.
- And despite the watershed Year of the Woman in 2018, when women were elected to office in record numbers, we still make up just 24 percent of Congress, hold 28 percent of seats in state legislatures, represent 18 percent of governors, and are only 23 percent of the mayors of the 100 largest American cities.
Why? A lot of reasons—hence this book. But a major factor is that as a society, we tend to want our leaders to be self-confident, assertive, willing to take risks, and decisive—characteristics that are traditionally considered masculine. Cultural attitudes continue to suggest that women who exhibit those traits are inappropriate or off-putting. From childhood on, when boys raise their hands in class more, offer their opinions, say what they want, or assert themselves in sports, they are praised. When girls do the same, they're called bossy or annoying, and a lot of times, they're just simply not called on or heard at all. The result is that, despite our best efforts, there is a gap between the female gender role most women have internalized over the years and the perceived requirements of a leadership role.
Research backs this up. Study after study has shown that women are significantly less likely to desire and seek positions of power. We consistently downplay and undervalue our professional skills and achievements—a tendency we've developed by adolescence, when male students tend to overestimate their skills and female students tend to underestimate theirs in relation to their actual level of competency.4 (*Eye roll*—are any of us actually surprised? We all knew that boy in high school—he was the same one who couldn't keep it together when you scored better on a test than him.) In the workplace, this manifests as men submitting résumés for jobs or seeking promotions they're not quite qualified for (and often getting them!) while women hold back unless they're the perfect fit. In politics, we see it in the fact that mediocre men wake up one day and decide the world needs them to run for office, while the most brilliant women have to be asked over and over before we will even consider it, or plan for years so we feel ready, and we still question whether we're competent enough.
Imagine how different society would look if men questioned themselves even a fraction of the way we do.
Over the decade that I've spent in leadership positions in the nonprofit and political worlds, I've had countless conversations with women in which I encouraged them to apply for a promotion, ask for a raise, or stand up for themselves to a terrible boss or a defiant subordinate. Most of the time, the reason they need such encouragement (while less qualified men have unfettered confidence) comes down to the fact that we, as women, are raised to think that being assertive is being bitchy or bossy; being confident is being stuck up or full of yourself; being decisive or taking risks is being reckless and, especially if you're also young, immature.
We've all been called those things, and often worse. We want to shrug it off, but when a seed of doubt was planted deep within us practically at birth and steadily watered over the years, it's hard not to question ourselves, at least sometimes. And when people describe us in those ways to others in the workplace, it not only affects our own view of ourselves, it starts to cloud how other people see us, which in turn externally impacts our ability to rise through the ranks. All of this leads us back to the problem of women not seeking positions of power, or feeling like they aren't "ready" or qualified enough. And those who do feel ready are not welcomed when they jump in (see: Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren).
In addition to societal attitudes around "feminine" traits and how out of step those are with traditional leadership characteristics, the gender roles assigned to women in the home and at work are also barriers. In the home, women still take on the majority of the household tasks and responsibilities related to elder care and childcare, regardless of whether they work full-time outside the home. In fact, even among the younger generation of men who at least theoretically believe in gender equality, not much has changed when it comes to willingness to do housework. As Claire Cain Miller discusses in a recent New York Times article, "Young men embrace gender equality, but they still don't vacuum."5 A Gallup survey from 2019 showed that heterosexual couples between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four were no more likely to divide chores equitably than older couples.6 And a study published in January 2020 showed that when asked, more high school seniors today still say they prefer a family arrangement with the man as the breadwinner and the woman as the homemaker over any other kind of setup.7 Women, particularly women of color, are increasingly the breadwinners in their families. This additional time women spend on domestic labor is shown to be one of the biggest factors contributing to gender gaps in pay and promotions in the workplace.8
With all of the personal responsibilities women carry, we often have different considerations than men when we're up for a promotion at work that takes more of our time, or before we apply for a job that requires travel. These considerations can hold women back from growing in our careers and making as much money as our male counterparts, and deny us the opportunity to have the impact we should.
This happens in the workplace all the time, but we see it play out in politics as well. Our traditional views of what is acceptably feminine trickle down to how we view ourselves and our ability to lead, affecting both the political ambition of women and how voters perceive women candidates. Men are more than twice as likely as women are to report that they've "seriously considered" running for office at some point in the future (16 percent of men, compared to 7 percent of women).9 Women, on the other hand, are far more likely than men to assert that they would never run, and 64 percent of women, compared to 46 percent of men, said they "have never thought about" a future candidacy. Much research has been done on why that is the case, and there isn't a singular answer. But it's clear that it is a combination of several factors: men have more exposure to politics; they are seen as leaders simply because of their gender (men assert themselves as dominant and leaders, which becomes a self-perpetuating truth); they have more experiences with competition and sports, which build confidence and desire to win; and, more globally, men benefit from very deeply embedded gender socialization and gender roles that have made political office seem so impossible for women that they don't even consider it an option.
Research also shows that when women run, they win at the same rates as their male counterparts.10 So while voter perception of women candidates is definitely not the same as it is for men, the real challenge on our hands is breaking down the centuries of socialization that has led women to doubt our own potential as leaders, and fundamentally reshaping current gender roles to stop the institutional disempowerment of women so that our family lives, workplaces, and political structures make space for us as leaders.
There are a number of books written entirely on this subject. In fact, my friends and I often say, "Lean in, Sheryl!" (in reference to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In) as a phrase of encouragement to each other. That's not what this book is about, but it is an important facet of the world we live in—and one of the many systemic barriers we have to overcome if we want to get to true equality.
But I'm one of the lucky ones. I didn't have nearly as large a confidence gap to overcome as many women do, and I owe that to the fact that I was raised not only to believe that girls could do anything boys could do and to have full confidence in my own abilities, but to believe that women are warriors.
My parents are largely to thank for this, but my grandfather played a unique role in introducing and fostering the concept of warrior women in my life. My dad was a police officer and my mom was an emergency room nurse. They tried to work night shifts on the weekends while my sister and I were growing up so they could be home with us as much as possible during the week. That meant that almost every weekend, we stayed with my grandpa (aka Papa) and he was a huge influence on us both.
Papa was a professor of political science at UCLA. He was a well-respected scholar and educator in Greek political theory, but I think he loved Greek mythology as much as he did the works of Aristotle and Plato. Our bedtime stories included lessons on the origins of democracy interspersed between ones about the Trojan horse and the Siege of Troy and Icarus and Odysseus. But the stories that truly stuck with me were the ones about the women who were even stronger than men—Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, whom the male heroes depended on for help; Artemis, the protector of women and young girls and goddess of the hunt; and her acolytes the Amazons: the warrior women I admired the most.
My sister and I would pretend to be Amazon warriors fighting battles on our horses (our bikes). And once the show Xena: Warrior Princess came out in 1995, we became total fangirls. It was like the series was written just for us. Papa discovered the show as he perused and notated the weekly (print) TV Guide
- "So many of us feel disenchanted with the lack of gender equality in public office and high positions of power. We know that things feel imbalanced, but we don't know what to do about it. Katie has endured many trials and tribulations in her fight for this battle. Using her experience, she provides real answers and a roadmap toward equal representation in She Will Rise. This book serves as an inspiration and a utility tool for anyone who thinks the current system in which we operate needs to shift."—Kristen Bell, actor, activist
- "A new wave of feminism needs new leaders. Katie Hill's She Will Rise recounts the brave and critical work of the feminists who got us to where we are today, and explains what we need to do next to achieve full equality, now that we have taken up the charge. For anyone concerned with finally having an equal society where women's voices are heard, this book is a must read."—Alyssa Milano, actor, producer, author, activist
- "As we mark one hundred years since women earned the right to vote, we take pride in our progress and reflect on all the work left to do. She Will Rise is a brave and honest look at the structural inequities that hold women back and the pathways to break down those barriers and make deep, lasting societal change. Katie Hill lays out a vision for women's rights while interweaving her own personal story about building power, taking responsibility for mistakes, and moving forward."—Christine Pelosi, Chair of CA Democratic Party Women's Caucus
- "As someone who has personally dealt with double standards in politics, I'm captivated by Katie's story. Even as men who have harassed and assaulted women walk the halls of Congress, Katie faced the ultimate double standard-being publicly shamed and forced to resign. What stands out most about Katie's story isn't the tragedy of what she endured, but the courage and resilience she showed in the aftermath. She Will Rise reflects that spirit and shows how, together, women can fight back and create a better and more equitable future."—Lis Smith, democratic strategist
- "Katie Hill has taught us that the only way to build endurance is to endure. In She Will Rise, we learn about one unstoppable woman and also about the unstoppability of women."—Carrie Goldberg, victim's rights lawyer
- "She Will Rise is a refreshingly honest assessment of the state of American women--both what she's overcome and what's standing in the way of progress. And Hill's personal story of triumph and tragedy will leave you angry, hopeful, and fired the f*ck up."—Erin Ryan, host of Hysteria podcast by Crooked Media, contributorto The Daily Beast
- "This unvarnished account turns a devastating setback into a powerful argument for change."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Aug 11, 2020
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing