During the debate for a Virginia House seat between incumbent Representative Dave Brat (R-Va) and his Democratic challenger, Abigail Spanberger, there seemed to be a state of confusion as to who was running for Congress.
In the span of just ninety minutes, Brat managed to mention Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 21 times. With references to “Nancy Pelosi’s liberal agenda” and constant attempts to link Spanberger’s opinions to Pelosi’s “failed policies,” Brat completely disregarded his opponent’s unique ideas and state interests.
While the incident made for an entertaining headline, this was just one example of the blatant sexism that still pervades American politics.
In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton ran for office as one of the most accomplished political figures in history. From serving as a Senator to being the Secretary of State, Clinton was indubitably qualified to sit in the White House. However, Donald Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton was playing the “Woman Card.” On several occasions, he even implied that Clinton was just a woman running for the title of the “First Woman President.” As many shrugged this off as typical for Trump, condensing Clinton’s entire campaign into two words was damaging to the efforts made by all women running in political campaigns. Two years later, this notion of disregard is still alive in the midterm elections.
Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative, brought an impressive resume to Virginia citizens when she announced her plans to run for Congress. However, Brat was too busy comparing her to Nancy Pelosi to hear her stances on issues. Throughout the debate, Brat argued against issues that Stanberger had not even mentioned. An hour later, The Washington Post fact-checker pointed out that Brat had taken issue with claims made by another Democrat running for the House. In this, Brat had clearly been misinformed about who his opponent truly was.
While one may expect most people to be astonished by the ignorance of Brat, mass media turned the “Pelosi” repetition into a joke, and right-wing media took the debate as an opportunity to continue bashing Nancy Pelosi’s separate campaign in California.
Thus, there’s a reason why women are heavily underrepresented in U.S. politics. Time after time, they are told that their looks are ground for mudslinging, their experience can be condensed in a card, and their names are the same as every other woman who has run for office.
If American citizens do not listen to what women have to say, we continue to invalidate all the progress that has been made in the past years. Sexism has taken a new form. It’s no longer phrases like, “Women are worse than men,” or, “Women belong in the kitchen.” Sexism in the 21st century is stereotyping and granting respect to a person based on their gender.
In response, women are beginning to retaliate against sexism. Increasingly, women are running for office and becoming more vocal about sexist remarks. This is all due to empowerment from movements like #MeToo and the Women’s March. As we continue to back women, we have paved a way for sexism to slowly exit the political system.
For her closing statement in the Virginia debate, Abigail Spanberger stated, “I am not the Democrat who supported single payer in the primary, I am not Nancy Pelosi, and I am not President Barack Obama. Abigail Spanberger is my name.”
After decades of pretending that sexism is no longer a problem, let’s give a voice back to women and call them by their names.