The “Shame” Vote

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 . . .

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.

17 thoughts on “The “Shame” Vote

    1. Anthony Kehoe

      Although what follows is not likely this cycle since I don’t think there are any serious GOP contenders to Trump, I’ll posit this anyway. Imagine the election ended up being between a DEM male and a REP female. Does anyone seriously imagine Roxane will still say “[t]he other is that we should vote for a woman, any woman”? This comment is rhetorical since I don’t think anyone would suggest she would, but I could be wrong.

      1. LocoYokel

        Still, I would like to see that. I think the repubs should nominate a woman just to see the reaction. Or even better, a genetic male that says (s)he identifies as a woman.

  1. REvers

    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.”

    I’m shocked.

    1. SHG Post author

      Part of the “proof” is the word choice, since “bitch” is a word associated with men denigrating women. It’s reminiscent of when the children at #AppellateTwitter got their panties in a bunch because I called an unhinged woman unhinged. When I was informed by the woke that this was impermissible, because men oppressed women with such language, it presented a problem. So what do you call a woman who is crazy? The problem isn’t that women can’t be unhinged, but an unhinged woman can’t be called unhinged. Orwell would be pleased.

  2. B. McLeod

    Recently, our system seems to have developed some trouble with that “choosing the best candidate” thing. The 2016 election was already a debacle once the primaries had concluded. Pouring qualified candidates into the process doesn’t mean either party will actually select one.

  3. Solon

    If Goldberg wants “the candidates to be individuals rather than archetypes”, shouldn’t she tell those who would make them archetypes: “Not a man 2020”?

  4. kp

    The article carries the seeds of its own destruction-

    “Plenty of women understood intuitively…”

    It was true she listened to reason and understood her advisors, but she knew intuitively that it was Putin’s fault and so America started WW3 under their first female President.. Wikipaedia 2021.

  5. Casual Lurker

    “So what do you call a woman who is crazy? […] …an unhinged woman can’t be called unhinged.”

    I usually call them “psychotic”. (It’s a perk of the profession). If I get the stink-eye, I usually add “that’s a clinical assessment”. Admittedly, it usually doesn’t help.

    Sometimes it takes a sales-job with a bit of puffery. For example, when they complain about terms like “unhinged”, “nutjob”, “crazy”, “psychotic” or, dare I say it, “hysterical”, ask if they’d prefer “non compos mentis?”. Point out that it’s your professional opinion, which you usually charge for. However, just for them, this one time, you offer it to them, gratis. They should think of it as a friendly “term of endearment”. (SNL’s Jon Lovitz: Yeah, that’s the ticket!) Unless they’re ungrateful bitches, they’ll thank you!

    On topic: One reason pollsters get things wrong became blatantly obvious to me just prior to the 2016 election. During an all-male group therapy session, led by a new resident, that I sat in on, the question of whether one would vote for a woman running for president somehow came up. The group’s consensus was a resounding “no”. The reasons largely consisted of the usual tropes, such as “do you really want her finger on the nuclear button during that time of the month?”

    I pointed out that there have been successful women leaders in other countries, including those with nukes, such as Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher. Or, more recently, Theresa May and Angela Merkel. One fellow instantly brought up Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, who had recently been both impeached and removed. It’s this outlier that gets unanimous head nods in agreement, showing where the confirmation bias lies.

    Of the group’s members that bother to vote, all admitted that at some point they had voted for women for other offices, at all levels of Govt. (Even ~~ gasp! ~~ Hillary). But somehow felt the presidency was different. They all said they would “never, ever” repeat that outside of the room, and would certainly never tell that to their wives or girlfriends.

    Of course, you need to consider that the group’s dozen-or-so members are only a minuscule sampling, by men who were there because they were neither the most emotionally stable individuals or the evolved social model some would have them be. (All also claimed to be “henpecked” in some fashion).

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