Project Wonderful

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Stop Shaming Women For Wanting To Elect A Woman

(Image Source)

Recently a Facebook friend posted the following:
"Is it possible to be ‪#‎ImWithHer‬ and also ‪#‎FeelTheBern‬ as the same time? One half of me definitely wants to see a woman in the White House....but the other part finds herself agreeing more with Sanders platform. Not to mention I want it to be a qualified woman for the job, not just a woman for the sake of it....‪#‎ImStillAFeminist‬"
She's not the first one to post a similar status or to message me privately to ask my advice and when they do, it's heartbreaking. When someone says to me, "I don't want to vote for Hillary because she's a woman" what I hear is, "I very much want to vote for Hillary because she's a woman, but I am being made to feel like that's wrong."

This is a lie that Bernie Sanders' campaign is benefitting from and now openly propagating and it is pernicious. As Jessica Valenti writes in her fantastic piece for The Guardian, "Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it." Come to think about it, I said that too. If Hillary's record on women's rights, her shared experience as a member of a disenfranchised group, and her impact on women's political ambition are not compelling enough reasons to for you to vote for her, I disagree with your decision but I can respect that. However, choosing to support a woman in part because of what having a female president can do for our country is not a shallow or simplistic point of view.

Because I know who I am and I know how these things work, I told you the truth. I am supporting Hillary because she's a woman. It's not the only reason, but it is the most important to me. Academic research shows and my own experiences bare out that people decide in their gut whom they are going to vote for and they rationalize it later, not even realizing they have done so. Here is an excellent study that I recommend to all fellow election nerds. (This same phenomenon by the way, is why I firmly believe that a swath of Bernie's support is rooted in sexism and why it's so difficult to prove.) I am a person who thinks about descriptive representation all the time. I spent a year and a half working for a PAC whose mission was simply to endorse LGBT candidates for office. So yes, Hillary's gender is important to me. All things being equal I will always support the woman or the trans* guy, or the person of color. But equal they are not.

Almost as offensive as the implication that it is wrong to consider Hillary's gender as a positive aspect of her candidacy is this implication that she can either be a woman or she can be the best candidate, but she can't be both. It is quite the fiction that her opponents have been able to push that somehow the symbolic and historic significance of Hillary's candidacy is the only possible reason people support her. That right there speaks to how sexist our system really is and why having a woman chief executive is a selling point that cannot be overstated. Sady Doyle, whose writing is so spot on and expressive it makes me feel like I'm blogging in crayon, explores this point in greater detail here.

Let's be clear about something: Hillary Clinton is considered by experts to be the most qualified Presidential candidate in modern history. She has been named the most admired woman in the world twenty times. She led the charge for universal health care long before it was central to the Democratic platform. She was the author of the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. She has been the most vocal and conversant on ending gun violence and in fact won Mario M. Cuomo Visionary Award from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence last year. She was the first candidate to come out in favor of ending the Hyde Amendment, the first to visit Flint, Michigan and has put forth a detailed and sweeping plan to reduce student debt.

I'll stop here because the purpose of this piece is to address a sexist tactic not to convince you to vote for Hillary Clinton. (Although might I suggest you click here, here and here for starters on that.) My point is that the suggestion that Hillary's gender and her qualification for the office are somehow at odds or mutually exclusive is baseless and sexist but if Elizabeth Warren were running for President against a male politician with Hillary's record and experience (although no such person exists) I can guaranFUCKINGtee you that people would be saying the exact same thing.

I don't mean to belittle any woman who says, "I won't support a candidate just because of her gender" or "I'd love to see a woman President but I want to make sure it's best the one." I have said both of those things. About Hillary Clinton. In 2008. When I worked for John Edwards because I believed he was the most progressive and yes, most morally upright, choice for President. But two important things have changed since then, two important women actually: me and Hillary Clinton.

Clinton's record as Secretary of State and her grace and poise in the face of the most serious attacks I've seen on her since I've been politically sentient have moved her from one of five Senators in the Presidential race in 2008 to far and away the most qualified candidate running now. She's also deliberately campaigning differently when it comes to her gender which, combined with the fact that she's not running head to head with another potential historic candidacy (we can talk about Bernie Sanders' Judaism another time), highlights the historic nature of her candidacy rather than making it an aside.

When my Bernie supporting uncle realized I was all in for Hillary he messaged me "8 years ago she was 'too polarizing' what happened?" And the answer is, I woke up. I realized that language like "too polarizing" or "untrustworthy" was residue from years of partisan attacks against her many of which have their roots in gender. I realized that in a Democratic primary where everyone agrees on basic policy what people do is more important than what they say and I realized that yes, I had underestimated the huge benefit, of having a woman in the White House.

I'm not here to tell other young women, and frankly I'm sick of hearing who you should vote for. As I wrote earlier this week in response to the articles discovering that the New American Majority will decide this primary, "Your vote is like sex. No matter who someone is or what they have done for you, you don't owe it to anyone." (And as an aside, it is 2016. We are at the point in our nation's history where no Democrat should be asking for a cookie for supporting communities of color.) But I'll tell you this: a campaign that wins the nomination by making women feel like there is something wrong or bad about wanting to see themselves represented at the highest echelons of government is not any revolution I want to be a part of.

(Author's note: Get excited! I am announcing a BIG (well, appropriately sized) endorsement on the blog tomorrow.)

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