Women

Presidential primary season, which lasts so long it’s actually like 5 seasons, is one of my very favorite times. This season has been especially exciting; it’s not every year you get 17 potential nominees on the Republican ticket or a guy like Bernie Sanders pushing the Democratic party left. I love this shit.

But every day it’s becoming more drop dead serious and less fun. The rhetoric on both sides has become increasingly divisive, dismissive, abusive, and scary. And no one is suffering from these dialogues right now more than women.

Part I

I was listening to NPR while driving home from Lucy’s daycare drop off this morning. Morning Editions’ guest was Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of a pro-life organization called the Susan B. Anthony list. She astonished me by using feminist rhetoric, quotes, and examples to discuss why the pro-life community believes that women should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

She claimed early feminists thought the “soul” of a baby and mother were inextricably linked, and so modern feminists should, too. She had to go back 150 years to find an example of a progressive that NPR listeners could hopefully relate to. We’ve done some research, we’ve made some progress since then. If I wanted to back up a social and medical position I hold, I sure as shit wouldn’t cite research done in the 1800’s to back up my point.

She also defended Donald Trump’s revision of his statement two days ago that women who get abortions should be punished, and instead agreed that the doctors who provide abortions should be jailed.

I’ve always been angered by the pro-life movement, but listening to this woman on the radio felt devastating. She spent the largest portion of her on-air time pleading that women who do not want to have babies, who want abortions, should be helped by those in the pro-life movement, to the extent that this makes them want to have their babies.

Using my first pregnancy as a benchmark for the experience, here are my questions for Marjorie Dannenfelser:

How will you help me through my first trimester, when I feel sick to my stomach for 3 straight months, but still need to work full time and take care of my one year old daughter? How will you prevent me from feeling wretched, pukey, like I need to lie down all the time? How will you help me meet my deadlines at work? How will you help me run around after my daughter when I’m completely exhausted? How will you help me afford any medications I need?

How will you help me in my second trimester, when my clothes no longer fit? Will you buy me new ones? Will you help me to afford healthy food? Will you pick up my 30 pound toddler for me when I no longer can? She likes to be carried. 

How will you help me through my 65 pound weight gain? My paralyzing back pain? My insomnia? How will you help with my anxiety? Will you pay for my hospital bills? Will you pay for my c-section? Will you go through 50 hours of labor for me? Will you go through awake surgery for me? Will you help me through the trauma of birth? Will you take my baby away after birth and give it to someone else since I didn’t want it? Will you help me feel whole again? Will you pay for my therapy after birth? For my Lexapro when I suffer depression after birth? Will you pay for my birth control so I don’t get pregnant again?

This is a woman whose party thinks that food assistance and subsidized health insurance are hand-outs that should not be supported. So please, how the fuck will you help me?

Claiming that it is a feminist act to force a woman who does not want a child to go through pregnancy and birth is fucking sick.

Part 2

I want to address this even though I know it’s not a popular opinion for young Democrats, who are largely with Sanders.

Yes, you can be a feminist and vote for Sanders, fine. But you can’t say that you look at both candidates equally and decide based on positions and personality, and not on gender. It is not possible to do this. Because all media coverage is not created equal. 

What you know about your preferred candidate, you know from media coverage. The coverage you consume is hugely biased. Research shows that women running for political office are not discussed the same way their male counterparts are.

For example, Bystrom and her coauthors found in newspaper coverage of 2002 mixed-gender gubernatorial and senatorial races that 8% of news stories about female candidates mentioned the candidate’s marital status compared with only 1% of men’s news stories, and that 6% of women’s news stories in that year mentioned appearance compared with only 1% of the men’s stories. Bystrom and her colleagues also found disparities in the extent to which reporters call attention to the gender of women candidates, but not of men candidates. Qualitative examples of gendered media coverage abound. For example, Carol Moseley-Braun, the only African American woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate, who sought the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, was once described by The Chicago Tribune as a “den mother with a cheerleader’s smile.”

When men run for political office, we just don’t talk about this kind of thing. I don’t hear anyone saying that Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders will be a good or bad president because they’re a certain kind of Dad. No one gives a shit that Bernie Sanders divorced his first wife, nor should they, but it doesn’t go both ways.

Most notably, media coverage of Hillary Clinton in 2008—and especially cable news coverage—was filled with sexist remarks, from Glenn Beck describing Clinton as a “stereotypical bitch” to Tucker Carlson stating, “When she [Hillary Clinton] comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.”

There were also instances of sexism faced by Clinton on the campaign trail that the media did not regard as newsworthy: Susan J. Carroll observes, “Sexism and sexist remarks by journalists and on-air pundits were treated as acceptable—a normal part of political discourse.” Although they are from different parties and brought quite different backgrounds to the 2008 presidential election, both Clinton and Sarah Palin were portrayed in sexist ways and faced the same gender stereotypes.Women are grossly underrepresented at every level of political office in the country.

These are examples from the right, but they infiltrate. I’ve spoken to many young Democrats for Sanders who think Clinton is shrewd, unlikeable, untrustworthy, pandering. Why are these the words that are used to describe her?

Read this paper. Here’s an excerpt:

Before Hillary Clinton’s bid for the Democratic nomination, Elizabeth Dole was the first serious female candidate for a major party presidential nomination. Research on her campaign showed that voters were more likely to learn about her appearance or character than her issue positions, and many stories were negative (Aday & Devitt, 2001). Her role as Bob Dole’s wife was mentioned in a significant number of stories and was usually mentioned in the first third of the story. Overall references to her family outpaced those for her opponents (Heldman et al., 2005). Dole was not alone in being portrayed stereotypically. In 1984 Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman on a major party ticket, ‘‘was described as ‘feisty’ and ‘pushy but not threatening,’ and was asked if she knew how to bake blueberry muffins… . When she stood before the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, anchor Tom Brokaw announced: ‘Geraldine Ferraro … The first woman to be nominated for vice president… Size 6!’’ (Baird et al., 2008, p. 1).

To Bernie fans: of course you do not have to vote for Hillary because she has a uterus (as Killer Mike helpfully pointed out). But be aware that you’re not making your decision based on “the facts,” when “the facts” are fluid. There are no “facts.”

Women have a long history of being told to pipe down, to look hot, to speak softly, to smile, to put out, to nurture, to not be so emotional. Hillary Clinton is a strong, smart, powerful, competent woman. She speaks up. She interrupts. She doesn’t apologize for things that she shouldn’t, like being paid to give speeches, which was her job, even though she is expected to.

Whether you want to admit it or not, these engrained biases will affect how many people vote.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because THIS MATTERS. I agree with many of Sanders’ positions. I would love to see universal health coverage and affordable college tuition. I would love to see a marked change in the devastating growth of income inequality. Lucky for me, Hillary Clinton agrees on these issues; she always has. People just don’t believe her.

There’s an old trope, a thing I heard growing up that we tell our kids: you can be anything you want to be when you grow up. How can I tell my daughter this? How can I tell her she can be an engineer, when only 18% of those holding bachelor degrees in engineering are female? Can she be one of the 17% of mathematicians in the United States who are female? Can she be one of the 0% of U.S. Presidents who has ever been female?

Vote for whichever candidate you want, but don’t tell me it’s not about gender, or that gender isn’t an important factor in this race.

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5 thoughts on “Women

  1. You are awesome. You are outspoken and fantastic.

    But my heart breaks easily these days (prolly cuz I’m 7 months pregnant). I know my views on HRC will never be unbiased. I know about patriarchy and internalized oppression — I’m a survivor of more shit aimed at women than I care to list here. And I’m a feminist to the death.

    But I’m a Bernie supporter (and I shouldn’t have to say “but”). And I respect HRC, and I will vote for her if she’s the nominee. I’m so exhausted by sexist vitriol from the Bernie camp and exhausted by HRC people questioning my feminist values. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think there’s a moral high ground with either of these candidates — at least not the way supporters from either camp argue it.

    I’m heartbroken and I’m a feminist and I’m a Bernie supporter and I respect HRC and I will vote for her when and if the time comes. I don’t know why I feel compelled to tell you all this. I just want to be counted.

    Thanks for being articulate, well-researched, and outspoken. I’ve got your back even if you think I shouldn’t back Bernie.

    Keep up the good work.

    ________________________________

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    • Thank you so much for your comment!

      I don’t really think either democratic candidate is specifically at fault so much as the cultural undercurrent of sexism, media bias, and so on. I believe Sanders is a feminist, too. I like Sanders! I really do. I respect your vote for him.

      I just also think it’s important to point this stuff out, because I think there are at least a few Bernie supporters out there who spew a lot of vitriol Clinton’s way. We, as a society, need to look at where that comes from.

      Good luck with the pregnancy! It’s a wild ride.

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  2. Like the previous commenter, I also feel the need to defend my vote for Bernie. I’m pretty sure you don’t mean it this way, but it feels like what you are saying is that we as women should vote for a woman. I’m not less of a feminist because I’m voting for a male. I understand that Hilary will address female issues (reproductive care, childcare, pay equality) in a more intimate way. But still, I prefer Bernie because he will address those issues as well.
    I agree with you that people should research more and understand why they are voting for whoever (especially republicans!), and I’m desperate to see a woman president. I just feel that If it comes down to that, Hilary will be just good enough.

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    • Hello! Thanks for your comment!
      I certainly don’t mean to tell anyone how to vote. You can be a feminist and vote for Sanders, actually, many women I respect as powerful feminists are voting for Sanders. I do not mean to imply that feminists must vote based on gender or they’re not feminists, that would be wrong and counterproductive.
      What I wanted to call attention to with this was how media coverage of our democratic candidates is inherently gender biased. I think it’s something that we, as women voters, need to be very aware of and take into consideration when we vote. When Sanders yells, it’s because he’s calling for revolution; when Clinton yells, she is told by media outlets that she needs to watch her tone (and smile more).
      Even though you and I are both feminists, we each look at the candidates and come to different conclusions about what is important. I agree with Sanders on almost everything (I do not agree with his positions on gun laws) and would be thrilled to have him in the white house.
      I think Hillary would be a better president because she’s whip smart on policy, pragmatic, willing to work with those across the aisle to get things done, great on foreign policy, and so on, not just because she’s a woman. But is that a factor for me? Fuck yeah.

      Like

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