I CAST MY FIRST BALLOT in November 2008.
At the time, I had a lot of anxieties about the significance of my vote and its impact on the future of my country. It was a stress pattern that I shook by 2012, and, thankfully, it has not returned in this cycle.
There’s something new brewing in the 2016 elections, however. Women — particularly young singles — will decide our next president. In doing so, we’re forced to navigate a new and more hostile climate that asks us to compromise our identities for the sake of politics.
This is nothing new for women of color. In January 2008, with Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton still vying for the Democratic nod, The New York Times asked, “Who’s Black and Female and How Do They Vote?” Binta Brown, a lawyer, said the race between Obama and Clinton had “freed [her] from having to make her choice along gender or racial lines.”
At the time, a fairly large number — 12 percent — of black women polled didn’t know which candidate they would support. Joyce Johnson, one member of the Obama camp, “acknowledged that some black women fe[lt] pulled in both directions.”
As a white woman, I have never had to choose between my race and my sex in political matters. The constant gender banter of the 2016 election will likely be the closest I’ll ever come to experiencing the kind of deep ambivalence that women of color have dealt with for years.
We knew sh*t had gotten real when Clinton’s opponents began to assert that her supporters were “voting with their vaginas.” That is, that she had earned their votes because she had a vagina just like they did, as if the presidential election was some sort of strange sorority bid. That logic implies that all Clinton voters have vaginas, which is categorically untrue; the former Secretary of State is winning voters across race, gender, and class lines.
Accusing a female Clinton supporter of “voting with her vagina” is a crude tactic designed to shut down the importance of women voters, by making it seem as if votes for candidates you oppose could not possibly be cast with the brain. This amalgam of the tired “they only vote for him because he’s black” and “bleeding heart liberal” diatribes ignores the fact that white people with penises have been voting other white people with penises into office for centuries.
These accusations impact all women. Banal insults don’t just silence women who support Clinton. They also create a cycle of uncertainty for women who choose to back other candidates. You have to stop and wonder, should I be voting with my vagina? Should I be supporting sisterhood by casting my ballot for the woman who will likely become our first Madame President?
That, frankly, isn’t something I want to debate in an election year. I’d much rather be confident in my decision, without a bunch of gendered insults muddying the waters.
Things are worse for non-Clinton voters. Although Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has a great deal of support from young women, sexist men are his most vocal backers. The Berniebros have made a name for themselves by inventing new, insulting nicknames for Clinton and her supporters, and by harassing them online.
For his part, Sanders has apologized to the Berniebros’ more prominent targets, and his supporters have made efforts to police their own communities. However, Sanders’ silence regarding the online harassment his voters have unleashed on girls next door who dare to criticize the Vermont senator or show a shred of support for Clinton? That’s troubling.
I’m a woman who supports Sanders, and I don’t advertise that I’m “voting blue, no matter who” — at least not in Sanders-oriented social media groups. I don’t want to endure the onslaught of comments labeling me a paid spy for Clinton, or any of the other much less polite names the Berniebros have for women like me. I’m sure I’m not the only one of Sanders’ female supporters to feel this way, but we’re — mostly — all staying quiet.
I see us being pushed to the side by the ‘bros, and I wonder if it’s just history repeating itself.
Lastly, there are the women who, for reasons I cannot fathom, support the virulent sexist that is Donald Trump. Maybe they like his xenophobia, or his pseudo-fascist dialogue. I really can’t say.
But I can tell you this: they’re being forced to choose — perhaps more than any of the rest of us — between their identities as women and their politics. How else can they back a candidate who thinks sexual assault is inevitable and finds breast pumps disgusting?
In 2016, I’d like to say we’ve progressed past the point of entertaining a demagogue like Trump. Clearly, we haven’t.
At the very least, however, we could be past asking women to choose between their identities and their politics. Just let us vote with our whole selves, and f**k off.