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On Wednesday, March 4, a day before Elizabeth Warren announced that she was stepping out of the presidential race and a day after her Super Tuesday performance made it a foregone conclusion that she’d have to, I posted the following meme on my Instagram Stories:
A progressive male friend I’ll call Jack saw it and messaged me to say, “Warren lost her home state and lost other states behind Bloomberg. We kinda need you to wake up.”
His insinuation—that my unwavering support of Warren was not only stupid but also detrimental to the Democratic cause we share—infuriated me in so many simultaneous ways that I had trouble expressing them elegantly. I asked him not to “we” me. I ordered him to lose his pompous tone. I implored him to look at the hashtag I’d included—#gobluenomatterwho—which, to my mind, explained that I was already awake, and merely paying homage to a woman I thought deserved it.
He sent a long reply, explaining his understandable fear about another Donald Trump win and included this sentence: “Sorry if I don’t think it’s time to post ‘yas, queen’ memes about someone who is in fourth place.”
“Seething” is the closest I can get to articulating my immediate reaction, but it still falls short. Jack’s flip response smacked of so much casual sexism, but given my past experiences in disputes with other men that were similar in spirit, I had a feeling any protestation I made would be labeled as an overreaction. Calling him out too overzealously would all but guarantee I’d be accused of seeing misogyny everywhere I looked. It would mean hearing that not every criticism is rooted in gender politics. I found myself trying to let him off the hook—”He’s right, there are bigger fish to fry here, stop sulking”—and considered not saying anything at all, telling myself it would be better to leave things be.
But how could I just do nothing? Already furious about Warren’s defeat, Jack’s invocation of “yas, queen” put me over the edge. “Yas, queen”—something I hadn’t even said in my post—was a metonymy, a female incantation meant to incorporate all the silly, trifling, girlish things that women say. It was meant to belittle me, cut me down to size with a condescending male pat on the head. It was to say—even as Jack expressed exasperation at my silly little post—that all I am good for is silly little posts. He was—without irony, somehow—reminding me that if we have any hope of evicting the misogynist in chief from the White House, I needed to stop being such a girl about things.
Electing a woman is important to women for all the reasons electing a Black man was important to Black Americans. Most obviously, we need to see ourselves reflected in the highest office to know that it’s possible.
It’s a cylindrical trap, and one I’m sick of being held in, and I don’t think anyone would fault me for feeling like my head might explode, or that I might scream because of it. Same goes for my feeling of despair that a brilliant woman who was such a formidable contender only weeks ago was wiped out for no discernible reason, and with it, the feeling so many of us shared that finally, maybe, we would be treated as equals.
Electing a woman to be president is important to women for all the same reasons electing a Black man was important to Black Americans. Most obviously, we need to see ourselves reflected in the highest office in the land to know that it’s possible. Little girls and Black children need heroes who look like them—they just do. Ditto gay kids and trans kids and Muslim kids and Asian kids. I’m Jewish, so will it be exciting if this country elects its first Jewish president? Yes, of course it will. But it’s hard not to feel like we’re closer to doing that—even at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, and orthodox Jews somehow throw their arms around Trump, who had a literal Holocaust denier at the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem—than electing a woman, because Bernie Sanders looks like the men who have ruled this country for most of its existence.
I’ve never faulted Sanders (or even Jill Stein or Ralph Nader) supporters for voting their heart. In a democracy, you should be able to cast your ballot for who you want without being accused of throwing an election or acting out of spite. And yet, it’s hard to wrap my head around the experience of hearing people not realize that the most revolutionary thing would have been to elect a woman—especially one like Warren, who was the smartest candidate in this race by a mile—and also don’t seem to understand why Warren’s loss is so devastating for some of us.
I’d like to know what it’s like to have a president who understands what it’s like to be gaslit. Not all women fit this bill, but Elizabeth Warren certainly would have.
It’s not that I think men can’t represent us. (I was glad, for example, for Senator Chuck Schumer this week, who went totally punk rock on Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch over abortion rights—something we’re somehow still debating nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade.) It’s that I’d like to know what it means to be represented on the world’s stage by someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to face pay inequity or sexual harassment or catcalling or the experience of a man repeating her idea, only louder. I’d like to know what it’s like to have a president who understands what it’s like to be gaslit. Not all women fit this bill, but Elizabeth Warren certainly would have. And I’m sick of having to defend that position—men have never had to.
Ultimately, Jack and I volleyed back and forth a few times, and after my last response, I had an uneasy feeling. I was having trouble sitting with my rage, as I often do. I had the impulse to explain myself further, to remind him that we’re on the same side and that I appreciate his passion. My instinct told me it was my job to smooth things over, to bring us together, to make sure I hadn’t upset him, to reassure him that after my requisite mourning period in response to Warren dropping out of the race, I would pull myself up by the bootstraps and work my ass off for whichever of the remaining men win the nom (which I will do). But I resisted. It was uncomfortable—”What if he thinks I’m a bitch?” I wondered. “What if he thinks I’m crazy?” But I sat with that discomfort, and just let it hang there. And I’d like to think Elizabeth Warren would be proud of me for that. I’m for sure proud of her.