This Time article is worth quoting at length:
“But as we watch – and I with growing dread – the winnowing down of the Democratic field potentially to three white men, Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg, we are faced again with the problem of gender. I have, thus far, been disappointed watching progressive white feminists and feminists of color alike continue to argue for a socialist revolution on the grounds that gender would be covered. They make this same case about race, and that, too, is dubious.
Sanders is the most progressive and revolutionary candidate on the merits, these folks argue, so the fact that Warren is a woman – and similarly progressive – can’t matter. The insistence that an elderly white man’s socialist revolution will better address my 21st-century black feminist gender concerns is textbook white liberal paternalism. How will Sanders white masculinity affect and inform how he governs? This is a question that we should get to ask. Being progressive doesn’t mean that one’s race or gender ceases to matter in one’s leadership style and prerogatives, especially not in a world where gender and race are always presumed to matter for how women and people of color will govern.
There are two other broad strands of argument on the left from those who insist that they aren’t compelled to proffer the vagina vote. There are those on the black left, who have convinced themselves that there’s no reason to vote for a white woman, because white women are simply water-carriers for a white-supremacist project. As a black feminist, I stand in a long tradition of black women thinkers who have critiqued white women’s gender and racial politics and have called them out for their collusion with white supremacy. And as a regular black chick, I have more than a few stories of white women who inspire my resentment. But a patriarchal analysis reminds us that gender still matters, and it still determines access to structural leadership. In a world where white women voters skewed toward Trump and will likely skew toward him again, it’s fine to distrust white women. It’s not fine to shunt gender to the side when an actual progressive female candidate is running for office.
The second group judges candidates based on how they stack up on the merits with regard to progressive policy. So if you are a member of the radical anti-capitalist left, and Warren insists, as she did in Tuesday’s debate, in talking about how “to make markets work,” then on the merits you have to vote for Sanders the Socialist. Or so the argument goes. But because the analysis of gender here is ancillary, these folks never have to think about whether the first woman to win the presidency can do so as a socialist, given the ways that the concept of the “bleeding heart liberal” carries underneath it a misogynist edge about namby-pamby femme people. It is remarkable that Warren has fared as well as she has running as far to the left as she has. America carries big-stick energy around the world, a phallic project that places female leaders in the position of trying to replicate these behaviors in order to appear tough or reject them at the risk of appearing soft. (Hillary Clinton couldn’t crack this code, and Warren will have to figure it out if she manages to face Trump in the general.)
These voters also choose never to think about the ways that merit-based arguments of the same sort are deployed by corporate America or the halls of academia to wall women and racial minorities out of access to great jobs and organizational leadership opportunities. Anyone who has ever served on a committee charged with hiring candidates who bring some diversity to a place understands how things go when the white guy who meets all the criteria (because he has had structural access to all the privileges that would help him meet all the criteria) is up against a promising woman or person of color who is very good but falls down in a few categories. Or conversely she’s the best, but the standards as written and understood make hiring her seem like too much of a risk. Hiring committees often struggle with what feels to them like the fundamental unfairness of allowing a candidate’s diversity to put them over the top. Many (white) members of these committees see this as a sullying of (a mythic) meritocracy in a way that disadvantages white men. But first, they have to believe that the man in question received all his qualifications on the merits and not because of structural privileges. I expect people on the progressive and radical left, those who claim to understand how intersectionality works, to know better, but they aren’t acting like they do.
Wanting a woman to rise to the top of an almost all-male pack is not a position that needs defending. What should be defended is the uncritical desire to elect yet another man to a position that 45 men and zero women have held. That choice, to choose another man for President, should be held up to the strictest scrutiny and the highest standard. Gender alone is not a sufficient qualification to be President (though I can think of a few recent Presidents for which this seems to be the only qualification they had). But I am convinced that it should offer an edge in a situation where no cisgender women, trans people or gender nonbinary people have ever had a position. I think race should work similarly. The experiences one gains from being marginalized because of racism and sexism offer invaluable perspectives that often make candidates inclined to be more egalitarian and inclusive, precisely because they know intimately what exclusion feels like. We have another opportunity in this election to make clear that gender is not the stepchild of radical politics, and it is long past time that we take it.”