“I am not sure it’s wise. You want a ticket that represents men and women.”
Who said that about running two women on a presidential ticket? Mitt Romney? Mitch McConnell?
Oddly enough, it was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, one of two Democratic female senators from California. Feinstein didn’t explain if she felt like women had been unrepresented by almost every major party presidential ticket in history, but Ann Friedman nails the core issue:
Feinstein’s reticence speaks to a deeper dynamic about gender and public life in America. Women are in the habit of accepting male candidates as the default and male perspectives as neutral rather than gendered. Women candidates can’t necessarily count on more support from women voters than from men, perhaps because women are used to getting past the question of whether candidates resemble us, and considering instead whether they’ll represent us.
This problem is obvious, yet it’s so ingrained in our society that people don’t often notice it (particularly people whose perspectives are represented and valued). A gay judge can’t make a fair ruling on marriage equality, but a straight man will only take the law into account. A Latina is going to bring baggage and biases, while a white person will represent everyone.
People’s experiences are going to inform their outlooks, which is why diversity is important. A person who’s experienced racism, sexism, or poverty is likely to more easily understand those challenges and empathize in a way someone else doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that women and people of color can’t also understand and represent white men. As Friedman points out, it’s often easier for them than vice versa, and not just in politics:
Yet it’s not just a problem in politics. Even though the majority of moviegoers are women, we get tons of movies with male protagonists because the overwhelmingly male filmmakers assume women will be able to empathize with all types of characters, whereas men will only relate to men. (This dynamic extends to race, too. It’s why the “black best friend” is a rom-com trope — Hollywood assumes that viewers won’t relate to a woman of color in the lead role.)
Social science says that the less privilege you have, the less obsessed with yourself you are. Because you’re not used to seeing your personal characteristics and issues highlighted in politics and pop culture, you’re forced to identify with others (usually people with more privilege and power than you have). You’re used to seeing people who don’t look like you and finding common ground. “Women everywhere tend to think and know more about men’s lives than men do about women,” writes David Graeber in The Guardian, “just as black people know more about white people’s, employees about employers, and the poor about the rich.” The only way around the relatability problem is to stop assuming men can only relate to male candidates, or that white people can only identify with white protagonists.
I realized as I’ve mulled this over what a rare situation I find myself in. My state assembly member, state senator, congressional representative and two senators are all women. Sometimes I’m happy with their leadership, sometimes I’m not. But I haven’t seen a slew of men around my neighborhood tearing their hair out because their needs aren’t being represented, or running to the masculine embrace of Governor Jerry Brown because his clear-headed, unbiased governing is their only hope.
I’m sure we will hear many pundits over the next few years concur with statements like Feinstein’s that the US just isn’t ready for two women on the ticket. I hope there are enough strategists and politicians smart enough to ignore them. Certainly a sexist backlash is inevitable; it’s something just about every female candidate faces. But there are also significant signs of a shift in how our culture reacts to that backlash. One strong one is that female candidates and the organizations that support them have been able to highlight that sexism to raise serious money. That money belongs to people who also have reservoirs of enthusiasm and energy that could be tapped by the right women on a ticket.