Jessica Valenti

Not a Man 2020

There’s no shame in wanting a woman to be president

Now that Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris have announced their intent to run for president — and American women are expressing excitement over multiple female candidates on the ballot — we can expect a familiar refrain to reemerge from the shadows of 2016: Caring about gender in an election is sexist.

How could feminists, who claim to want equality between the sexes, admit to wanting to vote for a woman?

The short answer is: Because political representation is important. Despite historic gains in the midterms, women still hold less than 25 percent of seats in Congress and less than 30 percent of those in statewide elective executive offices and state legislatures are women. Those aren’t just numbers — as the government decides if women will be able to access abortion without jumping through hoops, or what kind of support single moms will get, less than a third of the people at the table will be women.

Still, as was the case in 2016, we will watch as those who want the first woman U.S. president get labeled as “vagina voters” or political neophytes. The assumption, once again, will be that caring about the gender of the candidate means that it’s your only concern — as if it’s not possible to weigh gender the same way you do any other factor when you vote.

So let me say this now, before the onslaught against feminists begins in earnest: I’m tired of defending why it’s important that women are represented at the highest levels of government; tired of reciting statistics or pointing out the policy impact when women actually do hold a critical mass of elected office. It’s absurd.

What’s more biased: Wanting a female president, or expecting half the population to live in a country of laws crafted by men?

The truth is that a vote for a man is far more tainted by bias — generations of patriarchy, to be exact — than any vote for a female leader. We live in a country where for over 200 years, men have been elected to the presidency because they were men. Still, a vote for men is depicted as a politically neutral act, whereas a vote for a woman, that’s influenced by the desire to push back against years of inequality, is painted as silly or shallow.

Like so many things related to women, the feeling that gender should play a role in picking a president is characterized as political unseriousness — a judgment that feels particularly insulting in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House. We know Trump won thanks to racist resentment and sexist backlash, yet almost no one would say Trump was elected because he was a white man.

To vote as a woman is to always be suspect — even if you’re voting for a man. As Jessica Williams noted in a short but brilliant 2016 Daily Show segment, while women who supported Hillary Clinton were being mocked as only caring about gender, women who voted for Bernie Sanders were called naive and boy-crazy. Any vote we cast, any choice we make, is automatically called into question.

Since there’s no winning cultural approval, women might as well do and say whatever they want. For me, that means being unequivocally thrilled about voting for a woman. That doesn’t mean any woman will do (Gabbard, I’m looking at you), but it does mean gender matters to me. It matters to a lot of us — and it should.

There’s no shame in voting against generations of male rule; it’s not shallow or single-minded. It’s a substantive and thought-out political choice that could change this country for the better. It’s a choice to be proud of.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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