When women don’t get my vote

Nearly all women running for office deserve respect, but they do not always deserve a vote.

by Abby Bar-Lev

As a feminist, it is important to me to support other women. As a feminist involved with politics, it is especially important to me to support women running for political office. But just because I am a feminist does not mean I am going to always unwaveringly vote for the woman.

There seems to be a rather wide misconception that ardent feminists will always vote for a woman candidate even if there is a more qualified man. Sometimes it is not about the sex of a candidate, but everything else that makes a candidate vote-worthy: issue positions, policy proposals, sincerity, experience and excitability.

On the other hand, some studies show that women tend to be harsher critics of other women’s success than do men.

There must be a median between those two extremes. Women who always blindly vote for women are just as guilty of ignorance as those who refuse to vote women into office at all.

In fact, voting for a woman simply because she is a woman can almost be regarded as offensive. After all, women constitute at least half of the country’s population, if not slightly more. It goes without saying that women come from a broad array of backgrounds and experiences on any handful of issues. To assume that there is one position any given woman will take on a subject pigeonholes half the population and insults the individual intelligence of each woman.

To be sure, it is important on a face level for young girls to be able to look at the makeup of our government and see some semblance of proportional representation. After all, while a few key women in office may be inspiring, it still cannot be valued as an expansive success for womankind.

And with that, while all women in this country are of different beliefs and backgrounds, there is definitely something to be said for blanket similarities. It is a struggle for nearly every woman to run for office. Especially for economically disadvantaged women, minority women, women with family obligations, or women without a support network, myriad obstacles stand in their way to get their name on the ballot box and be taken seriously. Not to mention that many of the women currently running for office grew up in an environment where such a thought was scorned and there were not as many female role models in office to look up to as there are now, however scant the numbers remain.

Therefore, many women running for office, regardless of party affiliation or issue stances, have faced similar struggles to get to where they are and will arguably bring an insight from those struggles into office. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, for instance, served as a Republican in the Arizona state house before being appointed Justice, but even as a conservative woman on the Court she was receptive to minority and women’s rights, as she came to the court with empathy for their struggles. To assume that women largely carry an insight or perspective that is at the least different from most men running for office is fair game.

Yet many know all too well that just because someone is a woman does not mean she represents a woman’s best interests. I almost always find myself at odds with Republican women, for example. Just because a woman’s name is on the ballot does not mean that I trust her to fight for issues I feel are important to women: reproductive rights, health care, education, the environment, equal pay, advancing scientific research, etc. I am not ashamed to support a man over a woman, when that man will better and more substantively represent me than a woman with whom I have nothing in common. There are many women for whom I am proud to give my vote, and I respect nearly all women running for office even if I do not check their name on the ballot.

With a pending presidential election in which two of the Democratic contenders so far include a woman and an African-American man, deciphering who better represents me is going to be an internal battle. But while I strongly believe it is imperative to support women running for office, always voting for the woman is not a prerequisite to feminism.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected].