Politics

Op-Ed: Warren’s Loss Hurts. Let Women Grieve.

Sexism played a huge role in her exit, despite what looked like a promising campaign early on.

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Why isn’t America ready for a woman president yet?

Elizabeth Warren didn’t get fair treatment in her campaign. Even if she hasn’t yet said it explicitly, I’ll say it for her: Sexism played a huge role in her exit, despite what looked like a promising campaign early on. 

And American women are tired of it. 

We’re tired. We’re angry. We’re sad. Even if Warren wasn’t your favorite candidate, women can relate to the deeply frustrating situation of being told “you’re smart, qualified, talented, and have a lot of good ideas (or plans),” but — “you’re not right for this job.”

That job, in the case of Warren, was President of the United States. She would have been the first woman president in America’s 243-year history. At least 59 other countries have already beat us to this milestone. 

Women everywhere know the double standards we face when it comes to our appearances, our work, our bodies, our worth. Those double standards are amplified on the national stage when you’re seeking the highest office in the land. So if the women in your life seem a little sadder, or a little angrier, today or tomorrow, give them a little grace, and time and space.

We are now living in a time when there’s more diversity in political leadership than ever before (it’s not a high bar). We elected the first black president 12 years ago. Four years ago, Hillary Clinton put 65 million cracks (votes) in the glass ceiling. But even that progress wasn’t enough for Warren, or any other woman, to break through.

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You don’t have to identify as a woman to understand the pain and frustration that this brings. It’s not 2016 all over again, but rather a continuation of it. What makes this year particularly heartbreaking (or galling, choose your adjective) is that this time, it’s the Democratic electorate who let women down. 

For women, the most troubling refrain we face in schools, at work, with our families, or wherever else in society, is: you’re not good enough. We have to work extra hard to lift each other up and convince ourselves that we are enough. That takes energy and effort. 

This election cycle, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand, all sitting senators, weren’t good enough, either.

Countless Americans said in 2016 that they were totally comfortable voting for a woman — just not that woman, Hillary Clinton. Four years later, it turns out that’s total bullshit (which we already knew). Because of Trump’s unexpected triumph in 2016 via the electoral college, Democrats took the wrong lessons from 2016: that a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, or that America isn’t ready to elect a woman president at all.
 

Guess what? Hillary Clinton already beat Trump (by 3 million votes), and Elizabeth Warren would be “electable” — "if you fucking voted for her."

Democrats became so spooked and panicked by Trump’s victory, that they’ve been desperately searching for some indefinable quality of “electability,” the magic factor that will enable them to beat Donald Trump this November. Survey after survey shows that that’s Democratic voters’ #1 priority: defeating the incumbent president, his corruption, and his policies. 

But the concept of “electability” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The men in the race don’t get asked that question as much, if at all, despite their own various flaws.

Unfortunately, electability dogged Elizabeth Warren until the end. We and countless other news outlets interviewed several voters in the early primary and Super Tuesday states who told us that Warren was their preferred candidate. They liked her policies, but they worried enough Americans wouldn’t vote for her because she’s a woman. One young woman said her friends told her she’s “stealing” votes from Sanders by voting for Warren.

With these kinds of assumptions and pressures, is it any wonder that Warren’s campaign didn’t go further?

Then there’s the total lack of media coverage over the past month of her campaign. She received some favorable coverage when she was polling high in the fall, but come January and February, when most voters who aren’t political news junkies actually start paying attention to the primary, cable news was spending significantly more time talking about Michael Bloomberg than Elizabeth Warren. She was left out of key polls and often not even mentioned as a candidate still in the race. Quick reminder: Michael Bloomberg decided to skip the first four voting states. And he still got more coverage than Warren. 

And here’s the key: the default lens through much of our news and media is filtered through a very male point of view. That determines what issues are elevated, which candidates get the most coverage, who is presented and understood to be a viable candidate, all based on conscious and unconscious biases. 
 

American law professor, and later politician and US Senator, Elizabeth Warren lectures a law class at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early 1990s. | Getty Images

She wasn’t a perfect candidate. No one is. Among other things, the criticism of her claims about her Native American heritage were legitimate; the claims were an affront to many people in an oppressed minority community, and they needed to be addressed.

But in terms of policy acumen, a willingness to listen to her critics, and a record of accomplishments, she was pretty damn close, for many. Because she’s a woman, her flaws are magnified. And there was no way for her to please everyone. She went after Bloomberg, and people cheered. Other people thought she was too mean, too angry, too strident. She responded, yes, given the state of the country, "I am angry, and I own it." Others say she’s too much like a professor or scolding teacher. And if she dances or lets loose, she’s considered awkward or inauthentic. 

There’s a reason why women members of Congress who are Bernie surrogates are tweeting they’re having a tough day, too.

Maybe one day America will get there. I’d like to think it’ll be in our lifetimes, though my heart breaks for anyone who won’t get to see it, like the women who fought for the right to vote 100 years ago. Warren, for her part, invoked a famous mantra that was born after she dared to stand up to Mitch McConnell in the Senate three years ago, when she told her campaign staff that she’s suspending her campaign. She said, "If you leave with only one thing, it must be this: choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough – and they will – you will know that there is only one option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist."

It’s going to be hard. But we’ll persist.