The Baffler, February 27, 2019
Dianne Feinstein, Amy Klobuchar, and the liberal feminist sideshow
We should start with the affirmation that there’s no woman among us, from the most marginalized and exploited to the most loathsome and powerful, who has not been negatively impacted by sexism. (There’s not a man who hasn’t, either, but I don’t want to talk about men right now.) Throughout her career, Dianne Feinstein has faced sexist impediments, as has Amy Klobuchar—and because sexism, like all prejudices, is presumptive and baseless, that’s unjust. When Vox’s Laura McGann defends Klobuchar’s poor treatment of staffers by claiming “the same kind of behavior that damages women can benefit a man,” she is correct. When Jennifer Palmieri writes in Politico that “we still hold women in American politics to higher standards than men, which puts added pressure on female bosses,” she speaks the truth. Kate Harding is probably even right when she tweets that “this country hates older women,” though the point is not very well illustrated by a long-serving elected official who’s also a multi-millionaire.
Because people like Feinstein have spent decades declining to take climate change seriously, we no longer have time to point out that sexism exists and stop there. Sexism is bad, always, of course—but if you came to me with news that someone used a gendered insult against Betsy DeVos, I’m going to respond like a dad who’s tackling a major home plumbing problem completely beyond his skills: “I’m kind of busy right now, pal!” It is the time for ruthless political prioritizing. Hand-wringing over insults against oligarchs and undue “pressure” on bosses is low on the agenda; we have more important tasks before us than fashioning a world that’s comfortable and accommodating for those particular demographics. You might even say part of the agenda is making those demographics uncomfortable and thoroughly un-accommodating them, though sexism would be an unacceptable (and impractical) way of doing so.
It’s also not actually a defense of Klobuchar to say that she was acting like a man, though this has been the tack taken by many. “We do not expect a man to put others first,” McGann writes. “Assertiveness, decisiveness, and command of others are all considered positive qualities.” Considered positive by whom, I must ask; voters who’d be impressed by a candidate’s refusal to “put others first” sound to me like Donald Trump’s base. But liberal feminists are stuck in the mindset that if a man gets away with it, a woman should, too—or, worse, that acting “like a man” is what feminism is all about. These commentators seem used to calling a phenomenon “sexist” and getting heaped in praise on social media for the catch, all while ignoring the need to address how that sexism should be remedied. There are more worthwhile questions to ask than “is the coverage of men and women identical?” We already know it’s not. But we have to devise more constructive ways of combating sexism, because going off like a car alarm whenever we spot it isn’t working.