I Write Letters

[Content Note: Misogyny.]

Dear Senator Sanders:

The personal is political—and the political is personal. When you said that Hillary Clinton is unqualified for the presidency, I know it was politics. But it was also very personal to me.

It's personal to me because it hurts to hear a woman I like very much being belittled.

It's personal to me because, when you hand a talking point like "even her own Democratic opponent thinks she's unqualified" to the GOP about the likely Democratic nominee, it makes it just that much harder for a Democrat to win, and who's in the White House makes a meaningful and practical difference to my life, and the lives of people I love, and millions of people I don't know.

And it's personal to me because it evokes ancient narratives about women's inherently lesser abilities. That toxic bit of casual misogyny in which you engaged upholds that erroneous belief about women, which is used against us. Against me.

When I heard you say that Clinton is unqualified, repeating it over and over, and citing reasons that did not render President Barack Obama and former nominee John Kerry undeserving of your support, I heard the voice of every man who's ever told me, in spite of my eminent qualifications, that I am unqualified. That I am not good enough. That I am less than.

And I heard the voice of every woman who's ever told me, in spite of her eminent qualifications, that she's been told she's unqualified. Told explicitly. Told obliquely, by getting passed over for jobs and promotions; by being paid less; by being discouraged from reaching for more; by being told she still has to do more, always more, to earn it.

By being denied access, autonomy, space, safety, equality, justice.

Women who are told we aren't qualified because we don't have the right training, even if "the right training" was denied to us. Possibly because we supposedly weren't qualified for that, either.

Women who are told we aren't qualified to speak on Important Subjects; who are told we are only qualified to speak about women's issues, or who are told we aren't qualified to speak about women's issues because we can't be objective.

Women who are told we aren't qualified to be authorities on our own lived experiences; who aren't even allowed to be experts on our own lives.

Women who are told we aren't qualified to make decisions about our own bodies; who aren't qualified to have agency over ourselves.

Women who are told we aren't qualified to be reliable witnesses to the harm done to us.

Women who are told we don't qualify for entry into spaces for which the requirements to enter are designed to keep us out.

Women who are told we are unqualified, because we have failed to live up to unreasonable standards of perfection.

Women who are told we are unqualified because of our bodies. Their size, their shape, their color, their gender, their ability, their deviance from an impossible beauty standard, their transgressiveness and difference.

Women who are told we are unqualified for no other goddamn reason than because some man doesn't want to compete with us on an equal playing field.

Senator Sanders, you did not call Secretary Clinton "unqualified" in a vacuum. You called her "unqualified" in a culture steeped in misogyny, the injustice of which is frequently transmitted through marking women as unqualified.

You said it about a woman who, if she isn't qualified, literally no other woman could be.

And you justified it by telling the lie that she called you unqualified first. She did not. And, further, your assertion that she did, and its implication you had to respond by doing the same (which you did not, even if she had), deflects the blame onto her. She brought it on herself.

I heard that.

I heard a man telling a woman that she was to blame for his misogyny directed at her. And that is very personal to me, because I have lived that refrain over and over for four decades.

Senator, you may argue that it's just politics. And maybe it is to you. But it isn't just politics to me.

It's personal.


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