Oftentimes, microaggressions and violence towards women in politics do not begin in their political careers, but at home. Our biggest proponents are the men in our lives who sprinkle doubt and misogyny in the household. And yet, we persist with ferocity. Women’s intersecting identities create a foundation of empathy that provides the compassionate leadership our country needs.
My father is a self-proclaimed “girl dad.” Yes, he was fine with buying me tampons. He never policed what I wore. But he did fill me with crippling self-doubt about whether I would be capable of pursuing a career in politics.
I was freshly 18 when I voted in the 2020 primary election. I was filled with excitement, and yet still mourning the loss of my last few years of innocence during Donald Trump’s administration. I chose to vote in person at my local polling place, my alma mater, Roscomare Road Elementary School.
Behind me in line were two young girls, their Skechers lighting up with their every microscopic movement. As I stared at my younger self in the class of 2013 photo, I overheard the girls ask their father where all the women were. My heart sank when I turned and realized that they were pointing at a poster of all of the United States presidents, from George Washington to Donald Trump. The excitement in the pit of my stomach turned to rage — yet another generation of young women were left wondering where their seat is at the table.
In order to see how other women in politics felt about ever-present misogyny, I reached out to USF debate team captain Nitz-fa Dimanche. I realized that our experiences are painfully similar. When she told her father that she wanted to be president of the United States, she was met with a false sense of support. “Even if I were to run, he would not vote for me, but of course, he would root for me,” said Dimanche. “And I feel like that to me is the stance of every man I’ve met in my life.” And while it is painful to admit, I agree wholeheartedly. We are told we can change the world, but only in small digestible doses. But these attitudes have not deterred Dimanche from pursuing politics. “Men like my father have shown me that women in politics are just [as] needed,” she told me.
After hearing Dimanche’s path to politics, I questioned if I would recommend this field to my younger self. So, I asked Emy Lipkind, a third-year politics major and Leo T. McCarthy Sacramento Fellow, if she would recommend a career in politics to young girls. “I experience way more misogyny in my interpersonal relationships than with my politics major,” she said. “I would say to young girls: either way you’re gonna experience misogyny. At least with this field you may be able to do something about it.”
As a queer Middle Eastern woman, I have seen and faced intersecting injustices. Lest I remind you, a mere six days after Trump was sworn into office he enacted the travel ban which halted travel from seven largely Muslim countries from entering the United States in an effort to minimize supposed terrorist threats. The pen is mightier than the sword, and in this case the pen signed an executive order prohibiting people from my parent’s homeland from entering the United States. Most recently, the overturning of Roe v. Wade also sought to limit my rights.
I am continuing to persue politics knowing that there are people in government who wish to harm me. In times of self-doubt, and as I prepare for a DC and summer in Sacramento as a Leo T. McCarthy Fellow, I turn to women like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for inspiration.
Ocasio-Cortez has combated years of misogyny with grace and humility. After being verbally attacked by Florida Representative Ted Yoho, she spoke out against violence towards women in politics. Instead of issuing a sincere apology, Yoho reminded people that he is a father and husband. To this Ocasio-Cortez replied, “I will not stay up late at night waiting for an apology from a man who has no remorse […]using abusive language towards women. But what I do have issue with is using women, wives, and daughters as shields and excuses for poor behavior.” I will always admire the way Ocasio-Cortez approached violent attacks against her character with poise.
On days when my identity is being attacked by leaders, I ask myself, why am I the voice needed in our current political climate? I believe that people with intersectional identities make more knowledgeable and empathetic future politicians. Dimanche, who is Haitian-American, said, “When you have intersectional identities, ignorance is not an option. Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s more apparent. I feel like you have this insight to injustice because you experience it on so many different levels.”
Experiencing injustices makes you hyper aware of everything around you. The politicians who use our bodies as a political playground and the fathers who doubt our strength do not understand the power of empathy in dismantling the patriarchal structures that this country is built on. There is something innate about women in politics, and I believe that this weapon scares men in the political sphere.
The intersectionality that many women in politics possess is making us a threat to the white, cisgender, heterosexual men that currently hold positions of power. We see the issues, we feel the issues, and we know how to solve the issues. We have years of dealing with misogyny under our belt — so give us your best shot.