In recent days, Elizabeth Warren, like so many women, was placed in the unfortunate position of having to address a problem created by men. On Monday night, at a town-hall event in Exeter, New Hampshire, a reported asked the Democratic presidential contender if she found Joe Biden’s comments calling her “angry” to be sexist and if she believes sexism is an issue in the 2020 race. “That shouldn’t be a question that just the women have to deal with,” Warren answered. “This should be a question the men should have to confront, head on.”
The comments in question from the former vice president stem from a Medium post in which Biden, responding to Warren’s claim that his policy proposals are “repeating Republican talking points,” accused Warren of espousing “an angry, unyielding viewpoint that has crept into our politics.” He went on to condemn her purported style for complaining. “Some call it the ‘my way or the highway’ approach to politics,” Biden wrote in curiously Trump-like fashion before going on to argue Warren’s style is “condescending to the millions of Democrats who have a different view.”
So, Joe Biden, the man who has themed his entire campaign around removing the stenches of racism, xenophobia, and misogyny currently emanating from the White House under the repressive Trump administration, is trying to portray his female opponent as an angry, uppity woman who needs to stop lecturing Democratic voters to death.
In response to Biden’s casual sexism, Warren sent out a campaign email with the subject “I am angry and I own it.” In the email itself, Warren defiantly rebuffed Biden’s characterization of her campaign and its messaging. “Over and over, we are told that women are not allowed to be angry. It makes us unattractive to powerful men who want us to be quiet,” the email read.
The reporter knew this intel when posing that question to Warren so he already knew how she felt about being called angry. And, even if that reporter didn’t want to weigh in on the obvious under the silly pretense of maintaining “objectivity,” the onus should never be on a woman to explain a smaller man’s regrettable attitudes towards women. After all, Biden is not the only person curiously using this trite line of attack against a woman seeking power.
As the Washington Post reported, Pete Buttigieg claimed Warren is “so absorbed in the fighting that it is as though fighting were the purpose.”
Heaven forbid anyone, much less a woman, fight for what she believes in. After all, we can’t all be Pete Buttigieg: a white man who exploits the little marginal minority status he has a gay man who coddles the prejudices of white voters (as previously mentioned, Black voters aren’t as fortunate) with the hopes that the pandering will accelerate his political career. All to the delight of the monied interests sponsoring his presidential bid. His way of politicking may serve his ambition and bottom line well, but if you are not angry in this moment, one wonders why any reasonable, informed voter who doesn’t look at America through white folks’ blinders would pay you any mind. Clearly, you are not up for the task at hand.
Nevertheless, beyond Warren’s political opponents trafficking in superficial, sexist tropes against her because apparently substantive debates are not in their skillset, the mainstream media is just as complicit.
The Washington Post published an article under the headline “Is Elizabeth Warren ‘Angry’ and Antagonistic? Or Are Rivals Dabbling in Gendered Criticism?”
As Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic of the underlying problem: “The piece did what campaign journalism will often do: It summarized lines of attack that have been used against a candidate, and assessed them. Members of the media echoed his charge. The dynamic is extremely familiar. It is also instructive. When Clinton made her first presidential run, in 2008, she faced sexism of a swaggering strain. (In Salem, New Hampshire, just before that state’s primary, hecklers interrupted a speech Clinton was delivering. “Iron! My! Shirt!” they chanted.) The sexism of 2020 will be subtler. It will be sneakier. It will know better—but it will persist nevertheless.”
Indeed, from the very beginning of Warren’s campaign, here “likability” was challenged. As was her “electability.” I’m not so sure the sexism of 2020 is subtle, but it is surely persisting.
While all of this is predictable, it doesn’t make what Elizabeth Warren and all of the other women running from president have had to endure.
In recent dates, I have seen Joe Biden effectively yell at Elizabeth Warren for not giving him credit for a federal agency of her brainchild. Likewise, Pete Buttigieg spent most of his time during the last debate taking shots at Elizabeth Warren while he danced off beat away from numerous positions he held only months ago. Joe Biden stands for nostalgia and gets to scream without condemnation. Pete Buttigieg is cruising by with favorable coverage thanks to the perks of being a white man who shows up, but what does he stand for? Uh, himself? Centrism? Big Pharma? I don’t know, some variations of bullshit.
Point is: why do these men get to express anger and agitation for such trivial principles but the woman who built an entire campaign around fighting corruption gets to so easily be depicted as a shrew?
This week alone, I have read stories about a school district in Minnesota apologizing after a video showing workers throw away hot lunches for students with outstanding debt. Are you not angry about living in a country where the phrase “school lunch debt” is a real thing?
Before that, I read how new government data shows an unprecedented 69,550 migrant children were held in U.S. government custody over the past year. According to United Nations researchers, that’s more children detained from their parents than any other country on the planet. How are you not angry?
Additionally, Marquis Jefferson, father of Atatiana Jefferson, the Black 28-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a white Fort Worth police officer, reportedly died of a heart attack. It was infuriating in of itself to find that Black people aren’t safe where in this country – including their own homes – thanks to law enforcement. How much angrier are you now finding out that not only did a Black father have to bury his daughter, he died of a broken heart?
And, as I write this, there has been another mass shooting.
Another Massachusetts politician running for president, former governor Deval Patrick, revealed in a presser related to his ill-advised late entry into the already crowded race that he “kind of a hard conversation” with Warren. He went on to say this is a moment for not just big Democratic solutions but American solutions that last. For him, that somehow means that he does support Medicare for All. Let him tell it, the moment calls for “a little humility.”
I can’t help but find that to be another gendered critique. However, when considering which candidate speaks to the moment, am I to believe that someone referred to as the “foreclosure mogul” whose aim is to sell Americans a message of “unity” in a climate in which a corrupt bigot may get reelected and fundamentally change the country solely off of racism is the best way to win in 2020? Patrick is more entertaining when trying to sell the purpose of his candidacy, not so much when lecturing Warren on “humility.”
There are two candidates currently speaking to the anger over the inequality that has long soiled this country: Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. It does not matter in this instance if you support either candidate, but their collective support illustrates that yes, many folks are mad and want a fairer system. But, why is it that only one of them can get away with being depicted as anger?
We all know the answer, but as Warren said so herself, it’s time for men to have to confront this sexism, too — starting with some of her opponents and their recent line of attacks pulled out of their pathetic lil’ bag of old sexist tricks.