How could they not be insulted? After all, America has had 48 vice presidents, of whom a mere 48 were men. And now there has to be a woman? It’s enough to make men feel as though they’re not good enough.
Kidding aside, with Biden’s running mate soon to be revealed, many Democrats are determined that she not be hamstrung by the kind of misogyny that Hillary Clinton and so many other female politicians have been subjected to. So the Biden campaign and allied organizations are strategizing on how to counteract sexist attacks against her, whoever she turns out to be. As The Post recently reported, they plan to confront the issue head-on:
The posture by Biden’s campaign and women’s groups is meant to be far more aggressive than the way gender attacks were dealt with in 2016, when Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, often tried to downplay or ignore such gibes and was not taken seriously on occasions when her team did point to sexism. It’s also a reflection of the changed environment since then, as women expanded their political power with nationwide marches and the #MeToo movement ushered in fights against sexism in business, the media and politics.
That will create a fundamentally different atmosphere than what we’ve seen before. Individual sexist comments and criticisms will not only be quickly highlighted, but we will also have an ongoing discussion about sexism itself — one that women running for office have often been reluctant to engage in lest they draw more attention to their gender and make the problem worse.
Not long before she pulled out of the presidential race earlier this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) explained the dilemma women face when they are asked whether sexism is affecting their candidacies: “There are only two answers and they’re both bad. The first one is, ‘Uh, yeah,’ in which case everybody says, ‘Oh, whiner.’ The second is to say, ‘Oh, no,’ in which case, at least every other woman looks at you and thinks, ‘What planet is she living on?’”
A national debate about the sexism women candidates face might make your average pundit a little more aware of what they’re doing when they comment on the running mate’s looks or say “Why doesn’t she smile more?” — but only a little (Democratic dinosaur Ed Rendell recently noted approvingly that Susan Rice had done some smiling during a TV appearance). Those kinds of comments are often made thoughtlessly — not out of a conscious attempt to be sexist, but because they’re where lots of people gravitate when considering a woman candidate.
The fundamental problem is that running for office — i.e., having your own ambitions for power — is, while natural and even praiseworthy in men, still considered somewhere between inappropriate and psychotic in women. As Cornell philosopher Kate Manne, author of “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny,” told me last year, “The real fatal flaw is ambition, and wanting to lead, and wanting to have a male-dominated authority position at the expense of men — and particularly white men — in the race. And that implicitly becomes the basis for suspicion and moral condemnation.”
Let’s not forget that we went through a nomination race in which six women ran for president, most of whom were highly qualified. Despite the fact that Biden ran a primary campaign everyone understood to be anemic at best, he won precisely because voters decided that “electability” meant the general electorate would only vote for a white man.
Biden’s current lead in the polls suggests that those Democratic voters might have been on to something. But it may also be that the position of vice president embodies enough subservience to make a woman tolerable even to some voters with sexist tendencies. As one evangelical Christian woman told the New York Times recently in praise of Vice President Pence, “I’d say he is like the very supportive, submissive wife to Trump. He does the hard work, and the husband gets the glory.”
Biden’s running mate will certainly be attacked. But even if she could well become president in the next four years (Biden will turn 78 in November) or seek the White House on her own in 2024, for the next few months she’ll be working and advocating for a man. And that, more than anything else, could blunt the effects of the sexist venom she receives.