You might be surprised to learn that a political rally for a towering, 6’8 man in a hoodie who exudes intensely masculine energy could attract nearly 3,000 women attendees to an auditorium of a local community college in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Gisele Barreto Fetterman—wife to Pennsylvania lieutenant governor and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman—wasn’t at all.
The success of her husband’s Women for Fetterman campaign event last week, featuring a special appearance from Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson, was a long time coming, Gisele told Jezebel. (The line at the rally, in which Fetterman declared that “women are the reason we will win,” stretched for blocks outside the building.)
He’s “been talking about [abortion] since it was very unpopular,” the second lady of Pennsylvania, or “SLOP” as she’s affectionately called by her team, told me in a phone interview—even in deep-red Pennsylvania counties. Gisele, herself, volunteered as an abortion clinic escort throughout her college years, shortly before she met John in 2007, while he was mayor of Braddock, Pa. Gisele—who first came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant from Brazil at 7 years old—had written a letter to the mayor about the very sexy topic of the city’s thriving steel industry. He invited her to visit, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Speaking of history, Gisele noted that John has been outspoken about abortion rights since his 2016 Senate campaign: “His first ad, when he ran for Senate in 2016, he did it on abortion,” Gisele said. This, of course, was before the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, spurring Democrats to trip over each other to urge voters to vote for them to save reproductive rights. Gisele is particularly proud of her husband’s first ad in his unsuccessful 2016 Senate bid, because she believes it shows women voters in the state they can trust that her husband isn’t just saying what he knows is popular right now—quite unlike his Republican opponent, Dr. Oz, who’s flip-flopped on the issue several times in the last decade, most recently calling it “murder” at all stages.
“I had someone in Mercer County come up to me after that, and she pulled me aside, and she whispered to me, because she was scared, and you could see it in her eyes—’I had an abortion. And I’m not a murderer,’” Gisele recalled. “That was heartbreaking, because this is what we’re hearing now.”
Calling abortion “murder” is just the latest entry in Oz’s extensive catalog of wildly offensive, sexist comments, which includes asking Martha Stewart what sex is like for women of her age, declaring that incest between second cousins is fine, and forcing us all to picture him masturbating to his own magazine covers. Gisele says she’s well-acquainted with Oz’s “long history” of sexism, and she referenced some lesser known allegations of animal abuse against the former talk-show host, spanning back to a 2004 USDA settlement with Columbia University that details alleged inhumane treatment of puppies in an Oz-led study. (Puppies!)
“I think if you look at a profile of someone who makes misogynistic comments, who abuses animals, who does all these things, you’re getting a picture of someone who’s a pretty dangerous person,” Gisele said. “That’s certainly not someone I would want making decisions on my rights or any other women’s and folks’ rights in the state, deciding whether doctors go to jail for performing life-saving services. That’s a really terrifying place to be.”
The Fetterman campaign website currently has a page dedicated to a countdown of how long it’s taking Oz to comment on Senate Republicans’ national 15-week abortion ban, proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) this week. “This extreme bill would force women to give birth against their will, and would also put doctors in prison for five years for providing basic medical care,” John says in a short clip on the page. At his Women for Fetterman rally last week, he stated his first move as senator, ideally, would be to vote to scrap the filibuster and codify Roe.
Fetterman is currently leading Oz in the polls—even in formerly Trump-supporting areas of the state—which has local papers suggesting that abortion rights are actually motivating conservative and independent women to switch sides and/or register to vote.
Oz is hardly the only Republican candidate skirting public comments about abortion at this time, when all polling indicates the deep unpopularity of abortion bans could cost them this November. Oz is, however, one of the more easily roastable candidates this national election cycle, plagued by one wildly embarrassing gaffe after another. He’s recently been caught lying about owning 10 houses and has inexplicably posted a video of himself posing as an every-man, buying “crudités” at a local grocery store he mispronounced. The Fetterman campaign has been relentless in dragging Oz for each of these slips of the tongue, often going viral on Twitter in the process.
Candidates typically leave their social media accounts to staffers to handle. So is John this funny in real life? “No, he really is that funny. I think we both are,” Gisele said. I imagine a sense of humor has been important on a campaign trail that’s seen no shortage of stressful moments: John suffered a stroke back in May and said in June that he “almost died.”
“I always say it’s important to take the work seriously, and we take the work very, very seriously,” Gisele said. “But we don’t take ourselves or each other seriously. And I think that’s what you see. We’re committed to the work, but we’re going to have fun doing it. It’s the only way to get through it.”
Speaking of “fun,” one of Gisele’s first moves as Second Lady was to open the pool of the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor’s mansion to the public—specifically to children who wouldn’t otherwise have access to one. She and John also rejected living in the mansion altogether. Gisele told Jezebel this is the same ethos she’ll take to Washington if her husband is elected. “It’s going to be doing the same kind of work, only a few more people are paying attention. And the platform is just slightly bigger,” she said.
Gisele’s activism long preceded her marriage to Fetterman, inspired by growing up undocumented and being raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. As the first lady of Braddock, she founded the Braddock Free Store, a non-profit organization that provides local lower-income families with food, diapers, baby formula, clothing, and other household items. A few years later, Gisele co-founded 412 Food Rescue, a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing food insecurity. “I think of things that would have helped my single mom who raised me while she was a domestic worker, like, ‘What would have supported our family?’ We made it, but what would have helped us get there?” she said.
If it’s any indication that Gisele and her family have “made it,” in 2019, she shared a photo of herself and Kim Kardashian in Harrisburg in an Instagram captioned, “I looooove when friends come to visit.” She considers Kardashian a friend to this day. “We reached back out to Kim after Uvalde—we wanted help supporting a father who wasn’t able to attend the funeral of his daughter, because he was in prison for nonviolent drug charges,” Gisele recalled. In response, Kardashian “helped to do advocacy to try to change that.”
“You just build these friendships along the way, and sometimes ask for help when things come up,” Gisele said. “I think we’re all navigating these truly strange worlds—where we cross paths and then find where we can support each other.”