Generation Y in Politics: Krystal Ball’s candidacy


I have been waking up at 4am to work. And I like it. Not only have I been writing more regularly, but also, as soon as I became committed to waking up at 4am, I became committed to going to bed at 8:30pm. And then I got a routine. And all that research about how a little routine begets more routine? Well, it's true. Because after three months of not being able to figure out how to get to the gym, I started fitting the gym in after I got the kids to school.

So today, I woke up at 4am, and started my daily tour of the web before writing. At the Huffington Post there was something about the glass ceiling. It caught my eye because I'm sick of glass ceiling BS and I wanted to see who wrote the article so I could hate her.

But the article was about politics, which I don't pretend to know very much about, and it was written by a woman running for Congress. That seemed potentially interesting. So I clicked.

Turns out it's Krystal Ball (who realizes she has an unfortunate name and addresses that in her post) who is running to represent Virginia in the U.S. Congress, and if she wins she'll be the first woman under 30 to do so.

I like that. I like the idea of young women in Congress. New perspective. New issues. More collaboration.

So I read her post and it turns out there are racy pictures of her on the Internet, and she wrote the obvious response: Women are sexual beings. It's okay.

There is a history of women's sexuality not being compatible with legitimate power. And I have spent a lot of my career trying to figure out how sex and power go together in a legitimate way.

Ball summarizes the problem here, when she writes about the advice older women have given her:

I was often told to cut my hair, to wear shorter heels, to dress in drab colors. I realized it was actually because they wanted to protect me. They did this because, for their generation, female sexuality was dangerous to display in the workplace, especially in politics.

But this is impractical advice for a generation of women who are living their whole lives online. There are so many photos of these women online already, that there is no way to portray a grown woman in 2010 as asexual.

Ball dives in head first:

How did I end up with private photos of me at 22 with my ex-husband across the entire Internet, and in papers from London to New York to Boston? It’s not because people care about the Congressional race in the first district of Virginia or because of my positions on energy independence, school choice, marriage equality, or pro-growth environmentalism.

But Ball walks a fine line. She knows that the photos have nothing to do with her campaign. She knows the tactic to ignore issues and go for salaciousness is nothing new. But she is not immune to having her feelings hurt.

And now, I present to you: A generation of women who are not only going to cry at the office, they are going to cry in their husband's arms, and they are going run for Congress, all at the same time.

They wanted me to collapse in a ball of embarrassment and to hang my head in shame. After all, when you are a woman named Krystal Ball, 28 years old, running for Congress, well, you get the picture. Stripper. Porn star. I’ve heard them all. So, I sat in my husband’s arms and cried. I thought about my little girl. I couldn’t stand the idea that I had somehow damaged the cause of young women running for office. I couldn’t stand the idea that I might shame my family, my friends or my supporters in some way.

The reason I love this post is that it's not black and white. It's about the complicated way women deal with their sexuality and power and vulnerability. All at once.

Ball talks about how it is no coincidence that the two Republicans in Congress who are consistently willing to cross party lines are women. We already know that women are more collaborative in the workplace, and Ball convinces me that she will help create a more collaborative government.

Even if she's not as left-leaning as I am. Even if she’s a member of the NRA. Do you know how to tell people that it's okay for women to be sexual and have power in Congress? Donate money to Ball's campaign. I did, just now. Here's the link for you:

61 replies
  1. Jonathan Dariyanani
    Jonathan Dariyanani says:

    I am Krystal’s husband. Your post is extraordinary. Krystal is deeply moved by what you’ve said. However, she’s a Democrat, so please correct that.


  2. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    Thank you for bring Krystal’s campaign to our notice. I am happily sending her a contribution. You go, girl!

  3. Chris
    Chris says:

    Wow. That is an unfortunate name. Kudos to her for not changing the hand she was dealt, in name or sexuality. I am interested to hear how her career will progress.

  4. Kate
    Kate says:

    A friend mentioned this piece, and Ball, to me about a minute ago, and here you are, with a post. Way to stay current. I kinda wanted to say “way to stay on the ball”….

  5. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I long for the day when you can’t tell the difference between a Democrat & a Republican because they actually accomplish something by practicing the novel concept called “working together.”

  6. Jen
    Jen says:

    Thanks; great post! As someone Krystal’s age, working in state politics for a female elected official just a few years older, this post really resonates. Krystal’s an inspiration. I look forward to learning more about her and her race!

  7. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Women’s sexuality undermines power structures. Always has. All the laws based around protecting the females belonging to dominant males. If this really happens, revolution.

  8. Mike Jackson
    Mike Jackson says:

    Why should I feel sorry for this woman? The real issue is that she isn’t qualified for Congress. Period. She has accomplish nothing so far in her life. She needs to grow up, live a life, and then at 48 years old run for Congress. Its that simple.

    • Teri
      Teri says:

      Give me a break. What’s so magic about 48 (or middle age) that would suddenly turn her into a serious candidate? I’m 31 and I’ve done more than most 40 somethings or even 50 somethings I know – age is just a number. Just gave money to Krystal’s campaign :) Good luck!!

    • fdx
      fdx says:

      Mike, she’s a small business owner and a mother. Why is it a good idea for young women to be in Congress?
      Krystal’s own words:
      “Women felt they had to choose between family and career, and … came into their own after their children left the house, unleashing their intellects with a fierce determination to succeed, but somewhat handicapped by how far they could rise by having spent so much time subordinating their lives to their husband’s careers.

      So, I decided that part of the reason that things in this world are the way that they are, the reason I had to wonder whether the baby bottles I bought contained toxic BPA, the reason that there was not affordable day care, the reason that society would tolerate throwing anorexic girls out of treatment after the insurance expired and the reason that my own pregnancy had been legally treated as a pre-existing condition was because ultra-talented women, like Hillary Clinton and my own mother, weren’t in Congress while they were young . I thought to myself, what if I ran for Congress, at 28 years old? What if I won? What if my generation ran for office as young women, often with young families? Could that change our country? Would my generation tolerate marriage inequality, failing schools, an often-tainted food supply and a level of scorched earth politics? Absolutely not.”

    • Jill Miller Zimon
      Jill Miller Zimon says:

      Mike, I guess you didn’t know that the average at which men run for office for their first time is….drumroll – 28! Give that man a prize.

      Talk about what image we want to show our kids when we think of political courage – someone calling out the inanity of using photos from our college days as a way to distract voters from the issues.

      Penelope – very nice post – thank you (and I say that as a 48 year old lawyer, social worker, freelance writer, mother of three and elected city council member). Here’s something I wrote for the Women’s Campaign Forum on the same subject:

    • injaynesworld
      injaynesworld says:

      Excellent piece, Penelope. Our mutual friend Elizabeth at Gifts of the Journey sent me over and I’m glad she did. I think you and I have a lot in common and look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Casual Surfer
      Casual Surfer says:

      You can always find reasons that someone isn’t “good enough” to run for office, Mike. Maybe they have too many kids, or didn’t have any. Maybe they didn’t have a successful career prior to government service or maybe they were TOO successful so they won’t be able to adapt.

      Inexperience, or too much experience, is not a reason to say someone isn’t ready for Congress. If you can define the skills she needs that you know she lacks, then we can have a conversation. But for now you are just scrambling to make up reasons and arbitrary requirements (like the minimum age of 48). Those are not valid arguments. Try again.

  9. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    There are a lot of lessons in this post.

    1) Parents, don’t get too cute with your kid’s names. You may not be doing them any favors.

    2) There needs to be a new paradigm for letting people put dumbass youthful actions in the past (although this depends on the nature of the actions–I don’t know in what way the pictures are “racy”).

    3) And yet we need to learn that actions have consequences, even if we took those actions when we were young. “Looking ahead” is a really valuable life skill that too many people don’t learn. But if you use it, you can make more informed decisions.

    4) It seems to me that men also suffer consequences when they are in Congress and sexual and that becomes public. Certainly we can argue about degrees, and that’s a valid discussion–but it’s not a completely nonexistent issue for them, either. The difficulties seem to arise, as they often do, when hypocrisy becomes part of the picture.

    As a side note, didn’t Joan Allen already make this movie?

    • Tzipporah
      Tzipporah says:

      No, men in politics “suffer” only when they display *inappropriate* sexuality (getting married and then having affairs, or promoting anti-gay measures and getting caught with a gay prostitute).

      Krystal’s pictures were with her (ex)husband, right? Women in politics are not allowed to be sexual within any confines. Look at what they did to Hillary.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        Sorry–I would have thought that at least half of that would have been clear from when I mentioned “hypocrisy.” But here’s what might turn out to be a parallel: the new senator from Massachusetts. He got elected, but there were an awful lot of jokes about his decades-old photo shoots. This, too, is one of the things I was thinking about when I wrote my original comment.

  10. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    Why is it that we can’t find ANY politicians who don’t have skeletons in their closets? Those people are out there, but I suppose those are the people smart enough to stay away from politics.

    For decades we’ve voted in people who cheat on their spouses and have children outside of the marriage, tax cheaters, politicians who vote against equal rights for gays while having a gay affair, etc…and now we have to deal with the next generation of politicians who have to apologize and back peddle about stupid pictures of themselves on the internet. I really don’t want to see pictures of Ms. Ball and her sex toy. There’s nothing “empowering” about it – that’s just her lame attempt at a political spin.

    Is it that this type of behavior goes hand-in-hand with being power hungry? I just don’t get it. I would be so proud to vote for someone whose background is not a distraction from the work they’ve chosen to do. Unfortunately, I don’t see that opportunity presenting itself any time soon.

    Every politician makes me want to abstain from voting, and that really pisses me off.

    Penelope wrote, “The reason I love this post is that it's not black and white. It's about the complicated way women deal with their sexuality and power and vulnerability. All at once.”

    Why the hell should any woman OR man have to ‘deal’ with their sexuality? What does that even mean? The only reason that Ms. Ball has to ‘deal’ with her sexuality is because the entire world can see pictures of her engaged in lewd behavior with a quick google search of her name.

    Why can’t we expect, and receive better standards from our leaders?

    • Teri
      Teri says:

      Really? Have you even seen the picture? So lame. I guess the moral of the story for ResuMAYDAY is if you ever want to run for any office you’d better be the most boring person ever – don’t go to parties, don’t make mistakes and certainly don’t let your picture be taken. Whatever.

      • ResuMAYDAY
        ResuMAYDAY says:

        Teri, I’m not advocating a boring life – and I’m not saying that people have to pay forever for their mistakes. But it just seems that EVERY politician out there has earned their fair share of mud dragging. In Ms. Ball’s case, the spin is sexual empowerment, which is a joke. It’s upsetting. Maybe this is a sensitive issue for me because I come from Illinois. Quite frankly, I’m still reeling that Blago was found guilty of only 1 of his charges and it’s well known that all of our politicians deserve to make license plates.

        I would just love it if our country’s politicians could actually work towards the betterment of the country, and not have to spend so much of their time hiding or explaining or apologizing for their pasts.

      • ResuMAYDAY
        ResuMAYDAY says:

        Teri, I’m not advocating a boring life – and I’m not saying that people have to pay forever for their mistakes. But it just seems that EVERY politician out there has earned their fair share of mud dragging. In Ms. Ball’s case, the spin is sexual empowerment, which is a joke. It’s upsetting. Maybe this is a sensitive issue for me because I come from Illinois. Quite frankly, I’m still reeling that Blago was found guilty of only 1 of his charges and it’s well known that all of our politicians deserve to make license plates.

        I would just love it if our country’s politicians could actually work towards the betterment of the country, and not have to spend so much of their time hiding or explaining or apologizing for their pasts.

        You’re right Teri. I should just be thankful her sex toy pics weren’t worse than they are. I can only imagine what the next decade of political hopefuls will be throwing in our faces.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Unless you want jehovah’s witnesses running the country your going to get the ultra type A personalities. They are the only ones willing to put up with all the BS you have to go through to get to the top of the political pile.

  11. Don
    Don says:

    Where to start, great post. Routines can be great as they help you accomplish the things you need to do. Glad to hear you are finding time for the gym. I liked very much the excerpts from Krystal’s article. I liked the term pro-growth environmentalism. As someone who designs new projects I always thought an environmentalist should be pro-growth as the new installations we do all have significant environmental measures not present in existing developments. An as a 55 male I disagree with the comment about her needing to be older. Congress is full of too much of the same background. A young vibrant and engaged mother and wife under 30 is a seriously underrepresented dynamic in Congress. I also like the way she dealt with the photo situation. We all win if our representatives are more representative of all of us. I tend to wonder where the Washington elite actually come from and what they know about real life. Sounds like a great opportunity for Virginia. Also nice to have you posting more often Penelope.

  12. caren
    caren says:


    I really like your writing. It's captivating and original. It also used to be very honest at one point, but I'm finding that this quality is slipping away. It's very subtle, but I notice two things – €“ you seem to have a right-wing agenda which is fine, but just be honest about it. "She's not as left-leaning as I am" is not true.

    It also appears that you are trying to be more and more like the pioneer woman, which was charming when you first wrote about it, but it's getting a little weird now.

    Be yourself. You're better that way.


    • Brad
      Brad says:

      P has a right-wing agenda? Hmmm. I can’t recall a single issue, ever, where she leaned right.

      To the photos, all the good ones must have been taken down already. Everything I’ve seen is pretty tame, at worst a little drunken-stupid.

  13. Willa
    Willa says:

    Saw you this morning on MSNBC so I looked you up and saw your twitter that you would be appearing on FOX. I tuned in to FOX just to hear your comments. I was sorry to hear Meghan say that you were down in the polls. If I could vote for you I would…we need more young people to be focused just as you are. Stay the course.

  14. Annie
    Annie says:

    I just donated. I love her platform. I love her story. As a 29-year old woman, helping a peer achieve her dreams just made my day.

    Last time I checked, sex between two consenting adults was a normal and healthy expression of our humanity.

  15. Casey
    Casey says:

    I could not agree more with Ms. Ball regarding the need for younger women in Congress. I am a 37-year-old, married, full-time working mother of three young children who is not being represented by any politicians, but I simply do not have the time to get involved in politics. She is absolutely right that the issues that are so important to me, to us, will never get the attention they deserve unless those of us who care about them speak up. I donated to her campaign. My desire to see her win supersedes the fact that I am a Republican. I guess women really are better at reaching across the aisle when it’s the right thing to do.

  16. Naomi
    Naomi says:

    Seriously, when I first read your post, I was thinking this woman cannot possibly be a Republican based on the outstandingly liberal words coming out her mouth… and I was right. Haha.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      Thank God for that right? We’ve had enough of republican war mongering spendaholics for awhile. God blessed America when He got the republicans out.

  17. Akhila
    Akhila says:

    This is an excellent post, Penelope, and thank you for writing about it. I think Krystal Ball’s response to this entire affair has been intelligent, mature, and brave as well. I think she makes a whole lot of sense and I hope that people wake up to the double standard that women in politics are being forced to bear. More and more, as we continue living and growing up in a digital age, our lives are going to be documented in photos & writing online. It’s going to be easier and easier to find potentially damaging information about people online, and this is going to be used to tear down politicians. But somehow, women always seem to bear the brunt of this discrimination, being termed as “sluts” and “whores” while men who do the same are almost applauded with terms like “player” and “pimp” which have an almost positive connotation. This double standard is pretty stark when it comes to our country’s politicians and I applaud Krystal Ball for standing up and telling the truth.

  18. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    Krystal Ball’s photo “scandal” is most certainly an example of sexism. As a 23 year old female, I was brought up to consider no other alternative than to go to college. My dad taught me golf so that I wouldn’t miss out on corporate golf tournaments. I always knew that I would have a career and that I would support myself. None of these things I saw as having anything to do with my sex, but everything to do with the independent and intelligent individual I was raised to be.

    It was only after college that I realized that not everyone, even my peers, had this same perception. I have friends that think it’s crazy that I don’t want to take my boyfriend’s last name when we get married, and are shocked when I tell them that he has agreed that we both hyphenate our last names as a compromise (a compromise he’s more ok with than I am). And I suddenly feel that there are certain expectations, domestic and emotional, that I just don’t believe I would face if I were male. And honestly, I also think that I’m a little scared to grow up fully, because it means facing those expectations and becoming a modern, sexual woman, and everyone knowing it. Even without “lewd” photographs, it’s out there, in public, all the time (and on a side note, “lewd”? Are we really being serious? They were taken at a party. Maybe we should bring back bonnets and keep our shoulders covered).

    Thank heavens for women like Krystal. Yes, she’s fighting a personal battle, the kind you can expect when you enter politics. But for the very reason that she’s doing that within a political context, she’s also fighting that battle for the rest of us, too.

  19. Dan
    Dan says:

    I am not Krystal’s husband, but I am a CPA and very conservative Republican who is married and has a one year old daughter. There is no way in high h%ll she is going to win. The dems are going to get swamped by a tsunami that’s coming their way soon. Heck, even in lefty Madison, Feingold is going to lose that state, big time. Hooray for freedom!

  20. Tony
    Tony says:

    The comment by Dan reminded me that:
    The reason politicians don’t listen to the masses is because the common man is stupid.

    • Dan
      Dan says:


      Your attitude is the same attitude of Osama and the reason the Dems are getting swamped. I will put my IQ and work ethic ANYDAY up to your’s and I will annhialate you on both. I am no liberal, just the grandson of hard working (lega) immigrants who came here knowing NO English and with 6th grade educations in hand. Most Americans are spoiled, which is why spoiled brats/children like you vote mindlessly for liberals. Hard work and struggle are not part of your vocabulary.

  21. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Two quotes from Krystal Ball’s piece in the Huffington Post that I found interesting –
    “But I wasn’t that successful in getting support from the powerful women who formed the core of Hillary’s Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit. These were the women I looked up to, who had blazed the trail for me, I hoped to earn their support more than anything and they didn’t support me in the numbers I had hoped for.” (prior to the photos being released) and
    “However, my biggest support during this whole sad episode of my life has come from supporters of Hillary Clinton. In effect, they have been telling me that what happened to me could have happened to one of their daughters. They will not see their daughters called whores when they run for office just because of some college or post-college party. They will not watch the tide of everything they fought for washed away by the public exposure of female sexuality.” (after the release of the photos).
    Krystal will still have to win over voters based on her stand and knowledge of the issues but I commend her on taking this ‘racy’ photos issue head-on. It’s an experience learned by/dealt to a Gen-Y’er and being taught to people of all generations in the politics arena and age of the Internet. How she handles this experience will be closely watched by the people who are able to vote for her and will give them some measure of her ability to deal with an unanticipated issue and personal stress.

  22. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Great piece and interesting comments. Now, if you are as impressed with Krystal as I am, get out and work for her. You don’t have to live in her district to donate money or to make phone calls. As a resident of the 1st district I can tell you she is fighting an uphill battle in this rather conservative area. Uphill, but not impossible, when you consider her opponent Rob Wittman has done little in Congress and was recently ranked the least effective member of the Virginia Delegation. Visit and find out how you can help!

  23. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    Let’s be honest the majority of women in their 20s have had some sort of racy pictures of themselves taken at some point, be it a halloween party or a private experience with an ex lover, however, most of us are just not interesting enough to have them leaked. The only thing Krystal Ball is guilty of is being of public interest and being a totally normal young woman. Good for her!

  24. chris Keller
    chris Keller says:

    Something else, really uplifting, going on here: that women are getting behind other women, instead of being jealous, being catty, being merely competitive.

    Shout-out to boomers: if you have experienced woman-to-woman nastiness in the workplace in the past, it is time for a revolution of kindness and support for your fellow woman, as in this post and its responses.

  25. Dale
    Dale says:

    The benefit of having nontraditional representation is their departure from the traditional. So what if some people/women/men are more emotional in public or private settings when hurt. What’s wrong with crying or displaying emotion not traditionally ascribed to males? (So long as you get up and kick butt when the moment of emotion is over.)
    One does not have to take on the characteristics of the dominant cultural being to be successful in that culture. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying for as long as I’ve read your work?

  26. billy flynn
    billy flynn says:

    You go girl!
    If the political establishment in all their wisdom and “exemplary” behaviour is so effective, why is the country in such a mess? Maybe it’s time for a real change….

  27. Mike
    Mike says:

    No matter what political office you get into you will be a novice for a period of time. No lower office can prepare you for the next one up the line. When she gets in she needs to keep quiet and pay attention for awhile.

  28. Gloria
    Gloria says:

    Dear America,
    The reason I won’t defect to another country is I know I won’t get that same infuriating reaction. You’re all precious for expressing your opinions & the only regret is to never to meet you all…

    Alas- I wanted to hate this candidate, but can’t. Perhaps she won’t win, but it’s a fresh campaign filled with the good stuff up front. Maybe I’d pay my taxes instead of borrowing from our IRS if more candidates like her popped up. Heck, maybe I’d get back to reading the rags again, fight off the depression, and look for that “Rove Rocks” tee I love to wear to cities not L.A., SF, or NY. *sigh* good times!

    But…I’m betting you’ll allow for my lending habits to continue. Thanks (not millions- of course…) USA!

    Best of luck Ms. Ball! Any campaign efforts I delve in will be with you. Also, my apologies…Krystal Ball was a fake name i used to give out to creeps until I moved on to Ginger Wings. Currently in circulation- Jasmine Rice. ;)

  29. James
    James says:

    Divorced and on her second husband before 30! She sounds really together and fit for public office.

    And yes, I would think the identical thing if it was a 28 year old male divorcee.

    • Jill Miller Zimon
      Jill Miller Zimon says:

      James – have you ever heard of starter marriages? Do you recall how many already sitting legislators have had multiple marriages, not to mention affairs? You must have a very small list of acceptable folks for whom you’d vote, given who actually runs for office.

  30. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    It’s unfortunate that Krystal was caught in the same Girls-Gone-Wild kind of trap so many young women are being caught in. They believe they are being empowered by exhibitionism when actually they are taking a step backwards for the gender and playing into hands that only want to exploit them either for financial reasons or mere gratification. Good luck with the election, Krystal. You have a huge hurdle to overcome.

    • Jill Miller Zimon
      Jill Miller Zimon says:

      Exhibitionism? She was at a private holiday party with her husband. This wasn’t David Vitter at a brothel looking for a dominatrix. Wow.

      “playing into hands that only want to exploit them either for financial reasons or mere gratification.”

      What does that mean in this case??

  31. Rob
    Rob says:

    “there is no way to portray a grown woman in 2010 as asexual.”

    Janet Napolitano seems to do a pretty good job of it.

    I enjoy your blog, I learn something new every time I read it.

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