The women in the country report feeling deflated as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced she would be dropping out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, and this is something that both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden need to take into account as they move forward.
Warren acknowledged that this feeling among women and little girls is one of the hardest parts of leaving the race:
Warren says one of the hardest parts of leaving the race is all those little girls and women who are going to have to wait four more years for a female president. pic.twitter.com/XUSwIEkTf2
— Sarah Reese Jones (@PoliticusSarah) March 5, 2020
Sanders supporters assume right now that Warren will endorse the Vermont Senator. Polling “in February found that 40% of Warren’s supporters picked Sanders as their second-choice candidate. Meanwhile, 28% picked centrists as their second pick.” That poll was taken before the winnowing of the field, but if Sanders expects to get the women who were supporters Warren, he’s going to need to address the problems he has with women, including his supporters’ issues.
From accusations of sexism and harassment within his campaign to consistent issues with “Bernie Bros” attacking women online to having his old writings on fantasies of women being abused flagged, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders is being vetted in 2020 in a way he wasn’t in 2016, and much of it stems around women.
No, I’m not suggesting Bernie Sanders is a Trump or even a Bloomberg. The accusations against his campaign have been of other people mistreating women and it being dismissed, not of Bernie himself doing it. But dismissal.
Dismissal is what happened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a wound in the collective psyche of so many women in our country that will not heal until women are respected as important, autonomous beings with the same rights and freedoms as men, including the right to have their reputation matter. That wound changed the women in this country for a generation. It was the last straw, after Trump the predator being elected by our fellow citizens in an unspeakable betrayal.
That wound is even larger today, the day that the last viable Democratic women dropped out of the presidential primary, four years after the most qualified candidate in modern history “lost” an election to a self-confessed sexual predator.
To get the woman vote, a candidate needs to understand this rawness and let women know he or she is on their side, will respect them, will listen to them, will champion their rights. But Sanders is currently dismissing the Democratic votes for Biden as “establishment Democrats.” Women are as far from the establishment as one can be in this country. The ERA has yet to be ratified.
So the attacks on Elizabeth Warren, the campaign accusations, the “Bernie Bro” issues and old writings, in which he writes, “A child has an old bitch of a teacher (and there are many of them),” look like an over-arching narrative instead of one-offs. A story in which Bernie Sanders has a problem with women.
The narrative goes way back. In a 1972 article written for the Vermont Freeman when he was 30, Sanders wrote, in what his campaign explained was an attempt to discuss cultural gender roles, satire, and fiction:
“A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.
“A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.
“The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday — and go to Church, or maybe to their ‘revolutionary’ political meeting.
“Have you ever looked at the Stag, Man, Hero, Tough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspaper with the articles like ‘Girl 12 raped by 14 men’ sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?”
Sanders has previously addressed the article as a “piece of fiction,” likening it to Fifty Shades of Grey. His 2016 campaign spokesman Michael Briggs wrote it was a bad attempt at dark satire, and “in no way reflects his views or record on women,” noting that bringing the essay was an attempt to distract voters from “real issues.”
The problem *now* with that 2015 dismissal is that 2020 is very different from 2016. The country is in the beginning of an awakening about how women are routinely sexually harassed and assaulted. Attitudes toward women are one of the “real issues” currently facing American women.
Due to misogyny and sexism, our medical right to freedom over our own bodies stands threatened and we have two men on the Supreme Court who actively hate women’s freedom, not to mention a President who stands credibly accused of rape and sexual misconduct by at least 22 women and a Vice President who can’t be alone with a woman because of his primitive beliefs about us.
The Sanders’ campaign noted at the time that these articles were written 40 years ago and much has changed. Back then, for instance, Sanders believed that cancer can be caused by lack of sexual “adjustment”.
Sanders recently did the right thing in firing a campaign field organizer who used his private twitter account to harass other candidates, including mocking Elizabeth Warren over her looks. But then the journalist who wrote that story was harassed and doxxed.
Accusations of sexism and sexual harassment leveled against the Sanders’ 2016 campaign revealed an atmosphere so toxic that,”Two delegates who supported Mr. Sanders two years ago recently told his staff that he can’t run for president again without addressing the sexism they believe surfaced in his last campaign.”
More accusations followed.
As I’ve written before many times, sexism and sexual harassment are prevailing cultural values that can be found everywhere; which means, not just in the Sanders’ campaign. Sexism, sexual harassment and assault shouldn’t be used as weapons by people who don’t care about them when found in their own camp; for instance, the way Republicans, who still support a man credibly accused of rape and sexual misconduct 22 times, try to hit Democrats over an issue that they themselves spit on (see the treatment of Dr. Ford during and after the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing).
If one is running in the Democratic Party, one needs to be accountable to the growing importance of women’s political power, and not dismiss women’s concerns.
Making the woman vote even more important for Senator Sanders, Yale research study released Monday showed that Sanders will actually drive moderates and swing voters to Trump, “Approximately 2 percent of Republicans choose Trump over Sanders, but desert Trump when we pit him against a more moderate Democrat like Buttigieg, Biden, or Bloomberg.”
Which brings us to the “Bernie Bro” problem.
Sanders has had a consistent problem with his supporters expressing ugly, misogynistic attacks on women, including violent harassment during the 2016 campaign that rivaled that of the Trump supporters. It’s continuing in 2020, with the latest being the threats toward the Culinary Union. “In tweets, the union and its leadership have been referred to as ‘bitches,’ ‘whore,’ ‘fucking scab’ and ‘evil, entitled assholes.'”
I am, full disclosure, a supporter of many of Senator Sanders’ platform issues – especially getting money out of politics, but it’s impossible not to see the line between this old essay and the longstanding actions of some of his supporters.
Even though I was one of many consistent targets of the sexist attacks by Sanders’s supporters in 2016, I defended Sanders saying he didn’t seem to hold these beliefs. Today, it’s much harder to believe that Sanders doesn’t actually hold at least some of these beliefs that have come to define his campaign and its supporters and I believe women deserve better from him.
Women shouldn’t be afraid to voice that they want someone who innately respects them. They shouldn’t be afraid that supporters on the left will attack them and threaten them for voicing their opinions and preferences. But many of them are, once again, just like they were in 2016.
After four years of Donald Trump’s assaults on women, including nominating credibly accused rapist Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court for his lifetime, women known now, if they didn’t before, that attitudes translate to policy and to nominations, which impact them in their daily lives.
Any Democratic candidate who doesn’t recognize how fed up women are is making a grave error.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.