The road to 2020 has only just begun, and it’s more important than ever to unite as a party. The consequences of division are, well, sitting right there in the White House.
I spent part of high school at an all-girls school. In addition to a lifelong love of plaid skirts that borders on fetishistic, it also instilled in me the benefits of single-sex education. The fastest runner was a girl. The smartest biology student was a girl. Student body president? She was a girl, too. I’m not going to tell you it was always a supportive environment: We were teenagers, most of whom came from privilege. We loved and lost and backstabbed and bitched. But it was freeing to be in a place where young women were free to excel in leadership positions, in sciences, in sports, and in everything else. In an academic environment where some of our teachers were nuns, women who by their very title will always be a runner-up, always the Bridesmaid of Christ but never a priest, we were told that we had a place at the top of everything we did and that it was ours to aspire to.
I can’t help but think of this when I see the field of female candidates who are currently running for president of the United States. Whether intentional or not, these women have normalized the idea of female presidential candidates, disarming their gender as a weapon to be used against them. Their presence makes anybody who tries to use the argument, “I’d vote for a woman just not that woman” look ridiculous. We are daring them to say, “Not that woman, or that one, or the other one either,” knowing that each time they find a fault with another woman it makes them look like they have a problem with ALL women. We are no longer looking at one woman’s candidacy as historic; instead, we can see a field of female candidates running as normal, as something that women do. We can evaluate them not as “The Female Candidate,” but just as “a candidate.”
Oh, the misogyny of #Election2016 remains, but with more than one female target to hit, we can’t have the constant bombardment on a lone candidate. This is no longer London during the blitz. This is Europe 1944: We are the allies on the march to defeat fascism and Russia’s army of bots and the alt-left’s minions of baby men, and while either might lob a “Kamala Harris slept her way to the top” bomb at us or try to advance an “Amy Klobuchar is a monster” narrative, they don’t have the weaponry or the manpower to rain down bigotry and lies every day on one person like they did on Hillary Clinton.
But that doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. Women have long been pitted against each other out of social conditioning that tells us our primary directive is to land the most eligible bachelor and because of the limited spots available for us everywhere else when we break free of that expectation. It’s always been an imperfect system: Men are always going to bring other men along. But when we look to other women to bring us along, we have to first hope they can do what’s necessary to get into those positions and then are actually listened to when they get there. And while these positions are numerous for men, they are much less so for women, always leaving us in the situation where we are all competing for the one spot allotted to us.
But the Class of 2020 seems to have figured this out. In a dynamic where the female candidates actually are competing for one spot, that of the Democratic Party nominee and quite possibly the first female president of the United States, they are supportive and congratulatory of each other, offering up, for example, Kirsten Gillibrand’s celebratory tweet for “three of my Senate sisters.” We need to learn from them.
The female candidates in this race are setting a tone for the Democratic Party that is far different from the one in 2016. Civil-rights icons Dolores Huerta and John Lewis were booed and heckled by Bernie Sanders’s supporters at the Nevada caucus and the Democratic convention respectively. The female chairperson of the Nevada Democratic Party was doxxed and both she and her family were threatened. Imagery of Hillary Clinton on a broomstick with “Bern the Witch” were sold online and even became an event title on the Sanders’s website. But Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand, and Warren are simultaneously showing us they have the grace and level-headedness to be the nominee for the highest office in the land and, perhaps more importantly, to also support the one who actually wins it.
Let’s not fuck this up.
While it’s true that a faction of that 2016 animosity is still there—a combination of bots and bullies who believe the only way their guy can win is if they tear down anyone who tries to vet him, we have to recognize that those of us who spent the last few years fighting them off had the luxury of being able to coalesce behind one candidate. And while 2020’s wide field of dynamic women is exciting, it will eventually lead to us having to pick one. Friends who we canvassed side-by-side with in 2016 might now possibly be phone banking for someone other than our top pick. One of the male candidates may end up as the party’s nominee. And we cannot afford an “us versus them” mentality; like our candidates, we have to maintain a level head. It’s like right now we’re at the wine-tasting having a blast, all of us getting excited about which wine fits our palate best. But eventually we’ll have to choose one bottle to buy and we can’t let it come to blows or else we’ll end up with the spit bucket in the White House, which is what we have now.
This seems simple enough, but it requires something much more difficult from us: that we do our due diligence. We need to read the article, not just the headline. Watch the whole video and not just the part that was edited. We need to ask questions. Is this a common practice? Are other candidates doing the same thing and not getting hammered for it? Is this source credible? Just because the candidate is saying something I don’t like, are they in fact correct?
When we don’t ask questions and do our homework, we get a narrative where Senator Gillibrand strapped a bomb to Al Franken and threatened to detonate it unless he stepped down from the Senate, instead of the one where eight women accused him of sexual misconduct and so the majority of Democratic senators, including Bernie Sanders, said he should resign. We get sensational hashtags like #CopMala, a biased reference to Senator Harris’s record as a prosecutor. We get anonymously sourced articles in national Pulitzer-winning papers about what a terrible boss Senator Klobuchar is. When we don’t ask questions we get an ignorant left to match the ignorant right: an electorate that just demands things with no idea how they actually happen and that howls words like “rigged” and “corporatist” when they get denied. And, as always, we have to ask ourselves if the criticism would be the same for a white man and stop it when it isn’t.
None of this is to say that we shouldn’t vet the candidate. Asking questions and getting the whole story is part of the vetting process. It allows for us to get the truth for ourselves, free of the bias coming from within our party and propaganda coming from without. It’s the only way out of our dystopian present. We know without a doubt that there are foreign actors along with the Republican Party feeding us a daily diet of half-truths and outright lies. We must ask what’s in it before we just swallow it.
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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