Column

The VP Candidate Isn’t Being Vetted. She’s Being Scrutinized.

No woman will ever be seen as good enough, not even for the second-most important job

As Joe Biden inches closer to announcing his running mate, one thing has become clear: Because the presumptive Democratic nominee has committed to having a woman on the ticket, no one he picks will be seen as good enough for the job.

Kamala Harris is too ambitious; Elizabeth Warren is too much of a know-it-all; Stacey Abrams doesn’t have enough experience. This is more than standard vetting — it’s a live demonstration of the impossibly high standard women are held to, even when they’re up for the second-most important job. It’s the latest iteration of the “I’ll vote for a woman, just not that woman” phenomenon, and it shows that despite all the feminist gains made in female representation in D.C., America still has a problem with women in leadership positions.

Only 45% of American men would feel “very comfortable” having a female president; it makes sense that the same would be true for vice president — a role just a breath away from the presidency. That’s a bitter pill for women to swallow. It’s bad enough that there’s another old white man representing Democrats in the presidential election, but now we have to watch again as smart, capable women are nitpicked over and dismissed—another reminder of just how misogynist this country is.

Even worse will be watching how Biden’s vice presidential pick will be expected to answer for all of his bad decisions. We’ll see her questioned about the sexual assault allegations against Biden, about his poor treatment of Anita Hill, and over his unapologetic handsiness.

Now we have to watch again as smart, capable women are nitpicked over and dismissed.

As New York’s Rebecca Traister wrote in April, whoever becomes the vice presidential candidate “will wind up drinking from a poisoned chalice,” as their past of advocacy will then be used as a tool against them — proof, critics will say, that they sold out their ideals to work for a man who has been accused of behavior they have aggressively condemned or who demands they support policies they may have disagreed with during the primary contest.

For women, it’s a no-win situation. We will have to suck up our own misgivings about Biden for the greater good while we watch his female running mate get labeled a shill.

I want to be excited about a female vice presidential pick. I want to feel some measure of hope and joy during an objectively shitty time. But what’s more likely than women across America celebrating when Biden announces his pick is a collective girding of ourselves and our hope. Because we know that whoever the woman is, she’ll be a target for criticism, harassment, dismissal, and hatred. All for the crime of daring to think herself good enough for the job of second fiddle.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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