The Smug Identity Politics Argument for More Women in Politics

by William Skink

As part of a Last Best News series called the Montana Ethics Project, Carol Williams puts forth the argument that we need more women in politics. Williams traces this sentiment back to the 80’s, during the Cold War with Russia. From the link:

“In the early ’80s we had a very big scare of what the nuclear buildup in both the Soviet Union and in the United States could bring. It was a very tense time. What I noticed after many months of paying attention to the nuclear debate issues was that almost nobody was ever on television expressing an opinion of a woman.

“They were all generals and colonels and scientists. But they were all men.

“I got to talking with a few friends and we decided that it would be really interesting if we could start a group that would be just for women to explain nuclear technology and the importance of the issue in terms of everyday concerns around the kitchen table, of how it would affect your education and lack of spending on schools because we’re spending all the money on nuclear weapons.”

What is Williams saying in this quote? That women couldn’t understand the mansplaining Generals and scientists, or that women didn’t care about nuclear proliferation unless framed around their kitchen table dispositions? This doesn’t seem like a very feminist argument, if you ask me. Here’s some more from the piece:

“We have a lot of work to do. The challenge I think is getting more women to run, getting more women elected. To do that we have to reach young people. We have to make it clear that we still only make 77 cents of the dollar that men make; there are still issues of choice. All of those things we thought we were going to solve in the ’60s haven’t gone away. It’s taken longer than we thought. It’s going to be the challenge for those of us who are still involved to reach out more to younger people and bring them into making the same kinds of sacrifices that we’ve made.

“Because we aren’t going to have equity in this world, we are not going to have real democracy in America, we are not going to have justice in America, until we have equality in America.

“It’s not because women are smarter, it’s not because women are better. Women lead differently. Women have different ideas. And with the challenges we have in this century, we cannot change America and make it better without everybody at the table, everybody putting their best foot forward, and everybody making a sacrifice to meet this challenge.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, I think Carol Williams is being disingenuous when she says that the challenge is getting more women to run. What she is leaving out is the party affiliation Williams, as a Democrat, would prefer her candidates to have because, let’s be honest, Williams doesn’t want to see more Jennifer Fielders or Sarah Laszloffys get into office, right?

Then we have the problem of appealing to young people. Is the Democrat strategy of promoting identity politics really the way to appeal to young voters? Maybe Williams isn’t paying attention to the presidential primary, but young people aren’t exactly flocking to the Hillary camp, despite the Clinton campaign’s tireless use of the woman card. Having surrogates gender-shame women for not automatically supporting Hillary because she has a vagina also hasn’t helped.

Next, there’s the problem of claiming to want equality, then, in the next breath, making the claim that women “lead differently”. I found this sentiment echoed in a Cosmo piece making the same argument Williams is making, that we need more women in Congress. Here is a snip from the Cosmo piece, titled The Only Way to Combat Congress’s Sexism Is to Flood It With Women:

Congress is sexist. So says Illinois Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, a former journalist and health-care executive who in 2012 became the first woman from her district to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As she faces reelection in November, one of her top missions is to flood Congress with women and people of color so the lawmakers drafting bills “truly reflect the makeup of America.”

Bustos spoke to at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Women’s Issues Conference in New York City on Monday, where party leaders like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi celebrated one dozen women currently running for Congress. Among them are former Orlando police chief Val Demings, former Maine state senator Emily Cain, and Cedar Rapids City Council member Monica Vernon — who, if elected, would become the first woman Iowa has ever placed in the US House of Representatives.

“Let’s look at the fact that equal pay for equal work has not made progress. What other explanation can there be other than that there’s some sexism at play?” said Bustos, who serves as the vice chair of the DCCC’s recruitment committee and co-chair of the Red to Blue committee, an effort to put Democrats in seats currently occupied by Republicans. “Why are we not making progress on campus sexual assault? Why are we not making more progress on sexual assault in the military? These are issues that are mostly female victims that we’re talking about. Women can relate to this issue in a way that is very, very personal,” she said.

Again, this is a Democrat effort to get more women in politics. I doubt Cheri Bustos was happy when Sarah Palin got the nod to run as McCain’s VP pick, nor is she probably celebrating Cruz’s picking Carly Fiorina to be his VP pick. Why? Because these efforts are not really about getting more women into politics, they are about getting Democrats into office. And to do that some borderline sexist arguments have to be made:

Bustos, who has campaigned for all these female candidates, says that recruiting women is a “very different process” than for recruiting men. “Women typically, the first questions they ask is how is this going to impact my family? How do you take it, running for political office, when it is so nasty?” she explains. Women are also concerned “about whether they will be able to grasp the complexity of the issues that face our nation,” she says. “Men are typically like, ‘Can I win?’ I kid you not.”

Bustos’s observations are backed up by empirical research. According to a 2012 study by the Women & Politics Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs, compared to men, women are less encouraged to run for political office, are less likely to consider themselves qualified for office, are more likely to perceive a negative bias from the media, and are still responsible for a majority of household- and family-related work.

The argument that we need more (Democrat) women in politics seems to hinge on women being fundamentally different than men when it comes to how they lead and how they think about issues. Isn’t that kind of sexist? Am I missing something here?

Instead of just assuming that more women in politics is automatically a good thing, I’m going to be more equitable than Carol Williams with the following bold assertion: women can be just as narcissistic, corrupt and destructive as men in the political arena.

Getting more women into politics, when the argument is coming from a Democrat, is nothing more than a calculated strategy to get their candidates into office. When it comes to appealing to the youth vote, this strategy is sputtering worse this year than it did the last two presidential election cycles. Will Democrats recalibrate if the un-democratic coronation of Hillary Clinton blows up in their face?

Doubtful, and if you want to understand why, I suggest a great piece from Vox (h/t Dan Brooks) about The Smug Style in American Liberalism.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to The Smug Identity Politics Argument for More Women in Politics

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    Last Best News is another of those sites that is so proud of itself that it deletes comments. I know this because the comment I put on that Carol Williams post yesterday is now gone.

    What did it say?

    I asked why Democrats have been unable to raise women’s pay. I also asked why we don’t pay attention to disabled people, particularly the blind, being paid even less than women workers, when they’re compared to men.

    Remember, this is a women’s year. Everyone else needs to get in line.

  2. JC says:

    Actually, some women can be more “narcissistic, corrupt and destructive in the political arena” than some men. Madeleine Albright immediately comes to mind. Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who epitomizes the genre of opportunistic, self-serving politics. Nothing like a Trump-Clinton general election to turn off a whole generation to the notion of participating in the electoral process.

    • Greg Strandberg says:

      Maybe that’s the idea. We saw how the low-turnout in ’15 was expected to benefit the Missoula school bonds.

  3. steve kelly says:

    What’s gender got to do with it? Or voting for that matter? The system is corrupt to the bone.

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