• Cindy Mundahl

A Letter to Progressive White Women

Photo Credit: Politico

Dear Progressive White Women:

I thought we were working to smash the patriarchy, but from what I’m seeing and hearing these days we are only planning to give it a gentle nudge and a wink and then spend 2021 wondering why we’re still fighting for our basic human rights. I’m concerned by the recent fervor I’m seeing among progressive white women over the Democratic candidates for president. Well, not all of the candidates, just the ones I thought we were done with, old white men like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who rose to the top of a recent Iowa poll of Democratic candidates, and progressive white men like Beto O’Rourke who claim to know their privilege and yet still believe they should be centered and followed. I’ve also witnessed a number of my progressive white female friends fangirling over Mayor Pete Buttigieg. I realize Buttigieg is a breath of fresh air in many respects. He’s an unapologetically gay man. We’ve never had a gay man, at least that we know of, run for president so Buttigieg’s presence in this race is a breath of fresh air. But let’s get real here, Buttigieg is in no way qualified for the role of president. The last two years have taught us much about the experience needed to run our country. He’s the mayor of a Midwestern town, South Bend, Indiana, that has a population of just over 100,000 people, a majority of whom are white. Buttigieg is actually calling out his inexperience in his campaign, calling himself Mayor Pete. What woman or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) could call themselves out as inexperienced in this manner and even be considered a viable candidate? I can’t think of a single one.

Democrats are in a unique and historic moment having six female candidates running for the presidential nomination in 2020: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson. Some of these women are more qualified than the others, and they all bring new perspectives to the race in large part because of their gender. Each woman has their individual strengths and weaknesses as all candidates do, but I fear that progressive white women are discounting them and buying into the media’s misogynistic characterizations of them, or aren’t really giving them a second look because deep down inside we feel we can only be led by white men.

I’ve often struggled with the question of whether to support a candidate solely based on their stances on the issues or to factor in other criteria such as their character, fitness for the job, their gender or some combination of these factors. I’ve heard numerous times from people, especially from progressive white women, that gender should not enter into the decision in selecting a candidate, but isn’t that only because we never had the opportunity to factor in the gender of our candidates for over 200 years? The choice was always made for us by white men and now that we are faced with an actual choice, we’re still following white men. Men have been the candidates for 57 of the 58 presidential elections proving that gender is in fact a consideration as to whether a candidate is qualified to run for the office of the president. We believe gender wasn’t a factor only because it was male candidate versus male candidate until Hillary Clinton ran in 2016. Once faced with an actual choice between genders, we are then told we should not use gender as criteria for our choice in candidates. Once we have more than one gender on the ballot, the female candidate is accused of ‘playing the gender card or the woman card’ when they mention their gender as if men didn’t get to be a candidate in large part because of their gender. Gender has always played a role in our choice of candidates, so why should 2020 be any different?

I’ve often seen older white women at protests carry signs with messages like, “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this stuff.” I believe we’re still fighting for women’s rights because white women fall in line behind the patriarchy at election time. We only have ourselves to blame. BIPOC women understand we are our greatest enemy, but why can’t we? As progressive white women, we all need to look deep inside of ourselves and ask why we continue to uphold systems like the patriarchy and white supremacy that work against our own best interests and the best interests of all of humanity.

Many people argue that only a white man can beat Trump. I think that’s simply an argument to keep the status quo in place and to absolve ourselves from doing the tough work of examining our inner biases that allow us to keep upholding patriarchy and white supremacy. We have a propensity to elevate white men as our leaders no matter their qualifications, but also to doubt the leadership potential of women and BIPOC with impressive credentials. In 2016, we learned the hard lesson that millions of people deem a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic white man to be a more worthy candidate than a white woman with arguably the best qualifications of any candidate of any gender in the history of our country.

There’s never been a time in our history where our country has needed to upend the status quo more than today. I believe a white man can’t undo what needs to be undone because they are the very people who created the systems we need to dismantle – patriarchy and white supremacy. Each is a great stain on our country. Can’t we as progressive white women do the right thing, for others as well as for our country and work to get a woman on the ballot in 2020? I can’t bear the thought of having to tell my daughter and future generations of women that I chose the status quo at the very time when our country needed us to vote with courage and vision. Isn’t that what being a progressive truly means?

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