The set up couldn’t be clearer. On the one side, there is a vulgar, amoral ignoramus who can’t provide the time of day without either getting it wrong or lying about it. On the other there’s . . .
Not A Man 2020
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) January 21, 2019
There are two points buried in these succinct words. The first is obvious, that a woman would be more deserving of our vote than Trump because Trump is such an awful president. The other is that we should vote for a woman, any woman, because this is the time for a woman to ascend to the presidency.
Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard have announced their candidacy. Each is a flawed candidate in her own right, but each has one virtue that can’t be denied: they’re “not a man 2020.” Is that reason enough?
“In essence, the threat of losing the traditional norm of men as breadwinners led men to abandon support for the first major-party female candidate in American history and come out in support of her opponent,” wrote Cassino in an article titled “Emasculation, Conservatism and the 2016 Election.”
Michelle Goldberg doesn’t contend that Hillary Clinton lost solely because of sexism. There were the Russians and Jim Comey, too, not to mention her campaign sucked, but “sexism pretty clearly played a role.”
A fair amount of academic research shows that women who seek power on their own behalf — as presidential candidates necessarily do — evoke what one study called “moral outrage.” When Cassino and his colleagues asked another group of voters to describe the candidates in a single word, the one most often attached to Clinton was “bitch.” Other researchers have found that, even controlling for factors like political ideology, support for Trump correlates with higher levels of “hostile sexism” — the view that women are not just different than men, but inferior.
The question isn’t whether there is sexism, or even whether sexism played a role. Assuming, arguendo, that was a significant causal factor for Clinton’s loss, so what? Will people vote for a candidate they believe to be the best choice for president or be shamed into voting for a woman, any woman, or have Goldberg and Valenti call them sexist?
The incoming class of representatives from the midterms suggests that women certainly can be elected to federal office. Many were. Clearly, the voters in their congressional districts decided that these were the representatives they preferred speak for them in Congress. And they were women. That’s great. Not so much that they’re women, but that they’re the individuals elected by their constituents. That’s how elections are supposed to work, elect the person you prefer without regard to irrelevant characteristics like race or gender. And they did. And they elected women.
Plenty of women understood intuitively that a misogynist backlash helped Trump win his Electoral College victory. It’s why they poured into the streets the day after he was inaugurated, and why they’ve led the Resistance ever since. It’s why there’s a record gender divide in voting patterns and a record number of Democratic women in the new Congress. And it’s why it’s both thrilling and slightly terrifying that the Democratic presidential field is going to have at least three strong, viable female contenders.
A curious gap in the shallow view of people like Goldberg and Valenti is that no one stopped women from running, voting, before Trump. It’s not as if there were no women in office. There were, despite the cries of misogyny. Sure they griped about their treatment. Everybody does, as men jockey for position with each other and, when women play, they have to jockey too.
Everybody in Congress wants status. Nobody goes to Congress to be a back bencher. But some gal named Pelosi managed to out maneuver a whole lot of fellas, proving that her political chops are strong and smart. You don’t get to be Speaker of the House by complaining.
Since no one elected me to spokesperson for anyone, men included, I hesitate to suggest this is anything more than my idiosyncratic view. I couldn’t care less about the gender or race of a candidate. I care deeply that the candidate be someone whose vision and policies I support.
If that person is a woman, I will support her. I will vote for her. I won’t think twice about her gender. Heck, I won’t even think once about it. There could be nothing less important than her gender, much as there was nothing less important about President Obama than his race. He wasn’t a black man. He was the President of the United States of America.
America has never before seen a presidential primary in which this many women compete against one another. It could help to normalize female political ambition, allowing the candidates to be individuals rather than archetypes. Voters who are hungry for female leadership won’t be forced to rationalize away the flaws of a lone woman contender. Real progress is not just being able to vote for a woman, but being able to vote for the best woman.
This is where it goes off the rails, because Goldberg is as wrong as ever. Real progress isn’t being able to vote for a woman, or even the best woman. Real progress is being able to vote for the best person, and that best person may be a woman.
Goldberg discounts Gabbard, but is willing to hold her nose for the three women who profess to being progressive candidates for president. No doubt she’s aware of the flaws brought to the table by three ambitious candidates trying desperately to overcome their sordid histories to match the moment’s progressive expectations. They will spin and twirl, as needed, to achieve their moment in history. And perhaps one will emerge as a candidate worthy of support.
But if there are only two things that can be said in their favor, that they are “not Trump” and they are women, will that be enough to prevail? Whether voices like Goldberg’s and Valenti’s reflect the views of women any more than mine reflect men is unclear, but if their pitch is to shame men into voting for a woman, any woman, to avoid their accusations of misogyny, fragility, sexism, then they’re not only shooting blanks, but their aim reflects a far lower view of women than mine.
There is no reason why the best candidate for the presidency of the United States can’t be a woman. There is no reason why the best argument for that candidate shouldn’t be that she’s the best candidate rather than a woman candidate. Until they realize this, sexism will prevail, but the sexism is on their side. I won’t be shamed into voting for anyone. I will vote for the best candidate for president. If that happens to be a woman, so be it.