Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren was the most brilliant Democratic candidate

Ahead of International Women’s Day, the last standing female candidate for President of the U.S. has bowed out.

When I heard that Elizabeth Warren was suspending her campaign yesterday, it felt a little like déjà vu. The same weariness, the same sadness and sense of defeat I’d felt when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 U.S. election washed over me.

I found the same fundamental question swirling in my head: what would it finally take for a highly competent, accomplished, brilliant woman like Warren (the most brilliant of the bunch, in my humble opinion), running a progressive grassroots campaign, to be elected to the top position in the U.S.? Why do well-liked women with solid support behind them suddenly become persona non grata when they aspire to the top job?

I mean, Warren was the person who everyone told me that “flawed” and “compromised” Clinton should have been if she had any chance of being elected back in 2016. “Clinton is unlikeable,” I remember folks helpfully explaining to me. “Now, if Warren ran, I’d vote for her in a heartbeat,” they reassured me.

And, so Warren ran, and nope… not her either. This time, (surprise, surprise!) she was deemed “unelectable.” “We like her and her plan,” many said, “but we just don’t think she has what it takes to get elected and beat Donald Trump.” As the bluffs are called, the goalposts keep changing and women candidates continue to “inexplicably” remain contenders, never the choice.  We keep waiting for that elusive candidate who will manage to be some magical combination of confidence, knowledge and cheerful reassurance that won’t scare off the boys and the women steeped in misogyny, raised to always look to men for leadership. It doesn’t matter how many boxes a woman candidate checks, there will always be something lacking. Mainly, a penis.

It was not that long ago that I was looking at the field of Democratic candidates at the beginning of the campaign and marvelling at the diversity and number of top-tier female candidates. I was positively gushing at the options available to choose from and feeling so optimistic that finally the political landscape was changing, and the hope was emerging that I would see a female president in my lifetime.

And then, one by one, they started disappearing and dropping out from the top tier of contention. Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and now, Elizabeth Warren.

Once again, the choices have dwindled down to two 80-year-old men. Very different men, mind you, but two old, white men, nonetheless). I now have to listen to people patiently explain to me that “we should care about the platform, not the gender.” Apparently the fact that 45 men and zero women have occupied the position of U.S. president so far is pure happenstance and has absolutely nothing to do with structured patriarchy and sexism.

Warren decided to drop out of the Democratic primaries after she failed to win any states on Super Tuesday, including her own state of Massachusetts. It’s absurd to think that a strong policy wonk, a powerful debater and a progressive fighter (the woman created the Consumer Protection Bureau and fought Biden hard on bankruptcy laws FFS!) with so much experience and a proven track record and a clear vision for her presidency could not manage to win any states — not even the one she’s currently representing as Senator.

Express any sort of dismay or frustration online about how questions unfairly swirled about her “electability” and people (men, usually) will pop up to tell you that she didn’t run as good a campaign as her supporters thought she did. I had people telling me that she was too progressive and simultaneously not progressive enough; that Schrodinger’s Cat of a paradox where perfection is forever unattainable, and satisfaction never guaranteed when it comes to voters’ subconscious or very conscious double standards involving female candidates.

Women aspiring to the top job are always found deficient, lacking, unlikeable, shrill, sketchy, unelectable, too combative, not combative enough, too hated by Wall Street, not revolutionary enough, have too much baggage or too little experience, are unprepared, too methodically and robotically prepared, have too many plans, not enough plans, too much of that “can’t quite put my finger on it” vibe that most voters, who swear weren’t swayed by her gender, can never quite articulate. What writer Roxane Gay called that “mutable metric” that people will find “to literally vote for anyone but a deeply qualified woman with a clearly articulated vision for change.”

Warren would have been formidable against Trump during the debates. The way I saw her annihilate Mike “I’ll pay my way to the presidency” Bloomberg on national TV made me look forward to it. She held him accountable and she called him out with determination and the calm assurance of someone who knows she’s got facts — lots of them — backing her. The man spent $500-million on ads and Elizabeth Warren “regulated him like a bank” as someone beautifully put it on Twitter. His failure was her doing, and maybe a glimpse of what could have been.

Despite what people will tell you, she ran a solid campaign, protecting women’s rights, demanding the rich pay their fair share of taxes, guaranteeing healthcare for all and having a pragmatic and well-thought-out plan for enacting a strongly progressive agenda. When interviewed about Sanders and Biden after her exit from the presidential race, Warren unapologetically said, “I think I would have made a better president than either one of them, that’s why I was running.”I believed her.

Sadly, too many didn’t.

A UN survey, whose results were ironically published the very same day Warren announced she was dropping out, asked people in 75 countries about gender bias and found that 90 per cent of people have anti-women bias and 50 per cent say men make better leaders.

“Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91 per cent of men and 86 per cent of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights,” according to the study published in The Guardian.

Here’s a survey clearly showing that nine out of 10 people are biased against women, yet everyone on my timeline or Twitter feed denies that they’re among that nine. They insist that they’re that one person who didn’t or wouldn’t vote for Warren, not because of her gender, but because of other (vaguely unclear) reasons.

This is the problem with unconscious bias. You don’t realize it’s there because it manifests as doubt, uncertainty, distrust, a candidate’s inability to “connect”; it manifests as that “mutable metric” Gay wrote about where some people, who would never in a million years admit to a bias, end up finding women like Warren strangely “off-putting.”

Yesterday, I came across a flower shop in Montreal that was all decked out for International Women’s Day. Somehow, for a lot of well-meaning but misguided folks, a day dedicated to women’s rights has mutated into some weird amalgamation of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, where men get to praise and thank all the women in their lives. While I appreciate the sentiment and all the outpouring of love that I see expressed around me, International Women’s Day isn’t a personal holiday about your mom or your girlfriend. I’m not looking for flowers, I’m fighting for equality.

IWD is about women’s rights, women’s freedom to choose, about reproductive rights and political power. It’s about the struggle for equality and the ever-necessary and ongoing battle for equal pay, safety from sexual and physical violence, and yes, the ability to ascend to the top political position in the land and change a system that often marginalizes and disadvantages us from within.

There will be a million think pieces published explaining how and why Elizabeth Warren was cast aside because of misogyny and sexism. And there will be a million more denouncing that accusation and deploring feminist’s instantaneous knee-jerk reaction to want to attribute her loss to those reasons.

As Elizabeth Warren admitted, when asked the question, gender is “the trap question for every woman. If you say, yeah, there was sexism in this race, everyone says ‘whiner.’ And if you say, no, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

I’m part of the bazillion women who navigate this world fully aware of what I bring to the table, but also questioning how and when my gender has limited me in ways I can’t even fathom sometimes. It doesn’t stop me from moving forward, from fighting for what I want, for succeeding in my goals, but sometimes I wonder how much easier it could be if I didn’t have to fight so hard or worry so much about my own rights and safety.

Just because I supported Warren doesn’t mean I don’t like Bernie. I like him very much and I would choose his progressive agenda over Biden’s any day. But that doesn’t mean I don’t firmly believe that Warren would have been the better choice and that double standards and misogyny didn’t play a major role in her loss. It’s not unreasonable to claim that a country that’s still largely debating women’s reproductive rights and has a President who faced no penalty for sexually assaulting women isn’t ready to vote for one. It’s not unreasonable to be frustrated and angry about it either. The U.S. presidential race has, once again, proven to me that gender continues to be an insurmountable barrier for the top job — and I wish it weren’t. Happy International Women’s Day! Like Elizabeth Warren herself said, keep fighting for righteous causes. I know I will. ■

See more editorials by Toula Drimonis here.

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