When we woke up today and checked the election results from Super Tuesday, we hoped to see Elizabeth Warren’s name pop up as the winner of at least one state. We would have been thrilled to see her name atop the results of all of the Super Tuesday states, but even that, we know, is too lofty an expectation with four other candidates in the race. Instead, we were greeted by a list of top three vote getters who look remarkably similar to 44 of the last 45 presidents this country has had. Are women even electable, you guys? Just kidding! That’s a very stupid question.
How did we even get here? We started this Democratic primary with the most diverse set of candidates – EVER! Literally, ever! What a powerful image it was to see the diversity of America at least partially reflected in a presidential context and on the debate stage. What was most impactful for us was seeing the representation of women (not just one white woman!) on the debate stage. It was empowering and exciting! But then, over time, we descended back into very familiar territory.
Why are we stuck with two white men as the Democratic frontrunners? There are a few things to consider, but one of those things is sexism. We’ll say it again for people in the back, SEXISM IS ALIVE AND WELL IN AMERICA, PEOPLE! And yes, WE ARE YELLING. That’s because we are ANGRY. GET OVER IT!
Now, because we know the internet loves a strawman to knock down, we aren’t arguing that sexism was the sole cause of why Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, or Kamala Harris are not in the top spot despite broad-based national support at one time or another. Elections are complicated and there are many factors to consider. However, sexism empirically played a role in the election of Donald Trump and it is certainly playing a role in the 2020 election.
If you think we’re living in a post-sexism world because now the US Congress has a (sadly low) record number of women serving within its wall (24%!), listen up. Researchers have demonstrated that undervaluing the competence of a woman is a thing that happens ALL OF THE TIME. Take, for instance, the study that found that women competing for research grants needed to wildly outperform men in order to be seen as as competent as men. Or we can look at this study, that found that, all else being equal, women being evaluated for a promotion were held to higher standards than the men. We could look at this study, which finds that women are penalized for exhibiting competence in male-dominated fields. Or this study, which finds that we expect women to help others succeed (e.g., “drop out!”). Or this study, which is one of many that reports that we don’t like when women acknowledge they actually know stuff (e.g., “thinks she’s a know-it-all”). Literally, so many studies. If science isn’t your thing though (note: you should really reconsider this stance), you could even take a look at the most recent episode of the Bachelor’s Women Tell All where they dedicated an entire segment to the hateful speech (“bitch,” “slut,” “whore”) thrown at these women online or watch this video to see what happens to women when they run for office.
Look, I know this is getting a bit lengthy, but bear with me here because we have one more giant topic to wrestle with – the quizzical instinct to write off a woman running for office as leaning into “identity politics” (aka when people of one group prioritize the interests of their own group). First, all politics are identity politics, and therefore, identity politics are not new. What is new is which groups are demanding to be heard in the discussion. Identity is baked into the founding documents & laws (e.g., land-owning white man) & has been instrumental in shaping our decisions about who our leaders should and should not be. Candidates since FOREVER have been leaning into their own identities as middle class, midwestern, whatever to create connections with the electorate. Second, identity shapes what policies get put in place and what initiatives take priority. This is, perhaps, why things like family leave, child and elder care, expanding access to birth control, and accountability for sexual harassment and assault always seem to end up on the backburner. Except for this cycle when several women brought those issues to the forefront of their campaigns, only to be attacked for playing the “woman card”. Maybe if we directed some more funding away from male pattern baldness to tackle black women’s maternal mortality rates, things would be different. IDK? Even Joe Biden, one of those men who had a super Super Tuesday and who often claims credit for the Violence Against Women Act, was willing to bargain away the mandate to cover the cost of birth control as part of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Why, you ask? Because it might... wait for it… offend Catholic men. So, yeah. If that’s not identity politics, I don’t know what is.
In closing, we’re tired of hoping that someone might “remember the ladies” when they’re in charge. Vote smart ladies into office!