Jessica Valenti

‘I’ll Vote for a Woman, Just Not That Woman’

Most male voters still have a sexism problem

Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images

As much as I’d like to be optimistic going into the new year, Elizabeth Warren’s announcement that she’s running for president reminded me of an immovable fact about America: There is no woman who will ever be seen as good enough, smart enough, or qualified enough for most men in this country.

As we did with Hillary Clinton in 2016, we will hear different iterations of the same tired, sexist refrain about Warren (and any other woman who throws her hat in the ring): I’d totally vote for a woman, just not THIS woman.

Before the “not all men” crowd arrives to explain to me that they’d happily support a female candidate, let me be clear: I’m glad that there are individual men who will support Warren, or some other woman who runs for president. Kudos to you for the brave, progressive stance of supporting the candidacy of a capable, smart leader. You’re in the minority, though. American men largely do not have faith in women as leaders. In fact, only 45 percent of American men say they are comfortable with the idea a female president.

And that’s just the idea of a woman as commander in chief. There are plenty of people who support female politicians only in theory — finding faults with them the minute they’re actually running for office.

We know that American voters — men and women — hold female candidates to different standards. Studies show that women who are running for office need to be “likeable” in a way that men do not. They are also judged on their appearance and attractiveness, as well as the tone of their voice (God forbid they sound “shrill” or “loud.”)

In 2016, it was easy to imagine what would have been said about Hillary Clinton if she showed up to events disheveled or if she gesticulated wildly with her hands — both hallmarks of her former opponent Bernie Sanders. Americans are simply more willing to allow for such foibles in male politicians.

Of course, many of the women who run for or hold office are actually more qualified and effective than their male counterparts. Hillary Clinton, with her decades of public service and formidable intelligence, facing down Donald Trump was a stark example of this, but studies also show that women in Congress outperform their male colleagues because only the most talented, high-achieving women can rise to that level of power in a sexist society.

Still, I suspect as 2020 approaches, we will watch as supposedly progressive male voters explain why whatever women are running for president are somehow lacking. They won’t admit that it’s due to sexism, and they will be outraged if you suggest it is. (At least Republicans have the decency to admit that no woman will ever do — 60 percent of them say they don’t want to see a female president in their lifetime.)

I don’t write this to shame the men on the left who can’t seem to get it together to feel enthusiastic about women in politics, but to point out that no one is immune to misogyny in America. We all grow up with the same double standards, the stereotypes and biases; it makes sense that we’d fall victim to that kind of thinking, even as adults. What matters now is what we do about it.

If progressive men want to walk the walk, they can start by examining their unconscious biases, and asking themselves why it is that every female candidate just doesn’t seem to cut it.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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