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Ad hominem: Attacking the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself, when the attack on the person is completely irrelevant to the argument the person is making. Ad hominem attacks are usually made out of desperation when one cannot find a decent counter argument.

On Thursday, the Post-Star, a newspaper covering the Glens Falls/Saratoga area of upstate New York, published a letter to the editor about the voting record of the area’s U.S. Representative, Elise Stefanik. The author of the letter appears to criticize the fact that she smiles a lot. To my ladies who have been told by strangers to smile more, apparently there’s a threshold for how much smiling we can do now.

The author goes on to say “If Elise was ugly — which she is not — it would be so much easier to hold her accountable for how she votes with apparently no regard for the people who elected her.” This line struck a nerve. Are we only allowed to hold our politicians accountable if they don’t look a certain way? What makes this author think that Rep. Stefanik should be able to skirt praise or criticism based on the way she presents herself? As a Republican woman, Rep. Stefanik faces criticism every single day. I think it’s hard to say that she isn’t aware that some people in her district do not like the way she votes. Every member of Congress runs into that, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on.

It gets worse though. Rep. Stefanik rightly took the newspaper to task, blasting them on social media for their decision to run the editorial. Usually my rule is to never check the comments section, but a trip into the fray revealed even worse statements. One comment insinuates that by being a Republican, she must vote against the interests of her own gender. They blast her for being thin-skinned and brush off her concerns while redirecting the conversation. I’m going to say this once and not say it again: Highlighting a personal attack from someone is not being thin-skinned; it’s standing up for yourself and speaking out about divisive rhetoric.

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If y’all thought that was bad, it moves on to full dumpster-fire mode. Morgan Zegers, a small business owner, former candidate for New York State Assembly, and all-around girl boss came to Stefanik’s defense on Facebook. The sexist comments continued and intensified. I’ll sample just a few here: “Do you know that the Republicans are oppos[ed to] women being full citizens?”, “You’re pathetic”, and my personal favorite, “Until women recognize that the Republican agenda is to marginalize and suppress women, I will not nod and smile at vacuous women who in their ignorance aid the enemy.”

When did we decide that personal attacks are okay? If your answer is the 2016 election, I have a follow-up. Why do we let someone else’s rhetoric dictate what comes out of our mouths or what we type? These below-the-belt attacks don’t warrant getting dirty. They should inspire us to call out the behavior and rise above. The same people that rail against the decline of civil discussion are often the ones attacking the other side on social media. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of this. We too often categorize each other and make assumptions about their voting habits and beliefs.

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At the end of the day, there will always be trolls and people who are out there to tear you down. For too long, women have been told to not reply to personal insults and attacks. I think it’s time conservative women speak up and take a stand against divisive rhetoric.

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” – Justice Louis Brandeis

Jillian K