Last week, Vice President Joe Biden (and 2020 Democratic nominee for President) announced his running mate: Senator Kamala Harris. Almost immediately after the announcement, the sexist and racist attacks against Senator Harris began. Even before the announcement was made, press coverage of the selection process was blatantly misogynistic. Reporters questioned if Senator Harris was “too ambitious” to get the nod. They even described the process of choosing a candidate in terms of ABC’s Bachelor franchise (“who will get the rose?”), as though this group of highly qualified, intelligent women was in competition to date Vice President Biden, rather than to be the possible President of the Senate and a potential successor to the President.
Sexism and racism in politics aren’t new. When Sarah Palin was selected to be Senator John McCain’s running mate in 2008, she faced a barrage of offensive media coverage, including being given the degrading nickname “Caribou Barbie.” In 2016, Hillary Clinton was beset by sexist media coverage, as well as ongoing misogynistic attacks by supporters of other candidates.
This type of hatred is not limited to candidates themselves, nor is it exclusive to the media. Melania Trump has been shamed for her former work as a model. Then-candidate Donald Trump mocked the looks of Heidi Cruz, the wife of Senator Ted Cruz. He then went after fellow contender for the Republican nominee for President, Carly Fiorina, based on her appearance.
Since Senator Harris was selected to be on the Biden ticket, she has been subjected to attacks on her heritage and ethnicity, how she advanced in her career, and even her citizenship. Given the prevalence of misogynoir — the toxic combination of sexism and racism that Black women often face — this type of coverage is unlikely to stop.
There is a different way.
We all play a role in how political conversations unfold, whether we are talking to friends and family members, consuming media, or commenting on social media. It is time that we say “enough” to sexism and racism in political coverage. If someone makes a sexist or racist comment, tell them to stop. If a news organization is talking about a candidate in a sexist or racist way, let them know why that is wrong — and stop watching, listening or reading their content. Contact businesses that advertise on news outlets that peddle sexism and racism, and tell them that you won’t buy their products or services unless they pull their advertising from that outlet. Call out sexism and racism online. Do your part to stand up to hatred and bigotry. Be part of a movement to change our culture.
No candidate for political office is perfect. There are typically numerous legitimate grounds on which you can criticize a candidate. We are not asking you to never criticize Senator Harris or any other female candidate because they are women. Doing so would also be a form of sexism, as women are just as capable of defending their records as politicians as men are, and should not be treated like delicate flowers who cannot handle criticism.
Instead, we are asking you to be thoughtful in how you talk about politics. Is your commentary about a person’s political stance or record? That is fair game. Do you have something to say about a candidate’s attractiveness, voice, clothing, or sexual history? That is misogyny. Are you challenging whether a person of color is *really* American? That is racism.
Politics can be ugly. But as Americans, we can and should be able to focus on the issues, rather than a person’s sex, gender, or race. This election season, let’s do better — and be better.