Getting a woman in the White House

How you can help level the playing field


Lavender Brown | Tue, 5 Feb 2019


Image Courtesy of Californian Democratic Committee

The US presidential elections have begun. Democrats, including the big names and total unknowns, across America have begun to announce their candidacy for the party nomination. In the 2018 midterms a record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives – a whole 126 out 435, which is around 30%. Not a great percentage but, hey, social change is slow. It should be no surprise, therefore, that a significant number of women are running for president. The likes of Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California have all announced their candidacy. And they have a decent shot. These women aren’t just outliers with no hope, they have a real shot at winning the nomination. 
 
It goes without saying that more women in politics is only a good thing. More women in leadership to more accurately reflect the population is so important. Particularly in a country where reproductive rights are under siege.
 
But we need to be careful. 
We need to make sure that we don’t accidentally sabotage them with ingrained subtle sexism. 
 
One of the big factors in American elections is likability, perhaps more so for potential presidents than in any election anywhere else in the world. Is the candidate someone I can have a beer with? Are they down to earth? Are they likable? It’s a big part of why Bill Clinton won, and Hillary didn’t. That may be a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s not entirely untrue. 
 
But why is that? Why didn’t Americans like Hillary? She was labelled as having a screechy nasal voice and mocked for being a nagging harpy of a woman. There were comments about her outfits and aesthetic decisions that came before questions of policy. I won’t lie to you, I wasn’t Hillary’s biggest fan and I did find her voice kind of annoying. But you wouldn’t describe a man in this way. No man is described as a harpy; it is an exclusively female insult. A not insignificant number of pro-Trump t-shirts featuring the slogan “Trump that Bitch” were sold across the nation. In fact, President Trump’s election despite his record of sexual assault – sorry, that’s alleged sexual assault – in and of itself proved that America is okay with sexism. 
 
It would be too easy to say that with a record number of women elected in 2018 we have beaten this problem. That sexism is over. But that would be a foolish mistake. Sexism is an insidious virus that infects your mind in subtle ways that are difficult to spot and untangle from day to day life. The same is true for politics. President Trump refers to the speaker of the House Nancy but the minority leader of the senate as Schumer rather than Chuck. 
 
So what now? How can we try and level the playing field in 2020?
 
First of all, semantics matter. Keep an eye on the coverage of the democratic primary. Call out times when the media use sexist language, even if it is only very subtle. Take note when Elizabeth Warren is described as ‘unlikable’ and read it as ‘un-fuckable.’ Spot where Kamala Harris is asked why she didn’t have children and don’t be afraid to criticise news anchors that discuss in detail Kirsten Gillibrand’s fashion choices.
 
The only way that we will get a woman in the White House is if we acknowledge our own internalised sexism and make the effort to fight against it. Remember, a woman cannot win this political race if she is defending her right to race at all. 
 

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