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We Have to Stop Blaming Women Voters for Trying to Survive

Joe Biden stands in front of a row of flags.

In March, when Tara Reade accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s, the allegation was met with conspicuous silence. This was no doubt in part because media outlets were cautiously working to vet Reade’s allegation, which she made on a podcast about a year after she and several other women said Biden had touched them in ways that made them uncomfortable. But for a lot of women and especially survivors, that silence was also rooted in fear, in the acute awareness we’d soon be forced to make an impossible choice for survival, and almost certainly be blamed for whatever decision we made.

In the month since Reade came forward, new, extensive reporting corroborating her claims has made her story impossible to ignore. If the #MeToo movement, which a disappointing number of “feminist” advocates have seemed all too willing to shrug off in recent weeks, has made anything clear, it’s that treating even one survivor as expendable can erase all of us. Survivors have everything to lose and nothing to gain from coming forward, and in a world that too often assigns credibility based on gender, steadfastly believing women is the only way we can begin to dismantle rape culture.

For feminists and allies who stand with survivors, balancing support for Reade with fear of what a second term for Donald Trump would mean for the most marginalized among us feels like an impossible choice. And it’s frustrating that not only did many women actively vote for and organize in favor of better options, but also that women politicians, women’s groups, and women voters are being held more accountable than Biden himself, and blamed for quite literally trying to survive.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s fair and even important to be critical of “feminist” advocates and politicians who have tried to actively discredit or have been silent on the allegations against Biden. This can be true at the same time that it’s frustrating that male politicians aren’t even being asked about the matter, because of the expectation that it’s solely women’s job to fix, let alone even care about, rape culture.

Sure, prominent women politicians like Stacey Abrams, Gretchen Whitmer, Kirsten Gillibrand, and others who have been asked about allegations against Biden have been active surrogates for him. Biden’s pledge to appoint a female running mate is also naturally drawing more attention to women in his orbit. And yet, frustratingly, this pledge is not only breadcrumbs after a Democratic primary with unprecedented female candidates, but also a reminder of how women are used as shields for powerful men to deflect accusations of sexism, and made to shoulder all the work and tough questions on “women’s issues” so powerful men won’t have to.

Again, silence on and dismissal of the sexual assault allegation against Biden isn’t a position anyone who calls themselves a feminist should be defending, but it’s been frustrating to see a complete lack of nuance in criticism of women’s groups and female politicians, as if there isn’t very legitimate reason to fear inadvertently contributing to Trump’s reelection.

With half a year left of his first term, Trump has already appointed more judges than Presidents Obama or George W. Bush did in two. Many women and feminists know the irreversible damage of a second term for Trump, mainly for the most vulnerable among us, and for future generations. Leftist and progressive folks are right that in a few issue areas, Biden and neoliberal Democrats aren’t different enough from Trump and Republicans, and yet, almost everything ultimately comes down to the courts.

Courts have the potential to decide almost everything. The Affordable Care Act, a compromise bill, is constantly being challenged in the courts. Even if Medicare for All is enacted in the future, if Trump has another term to create the judicial system in his image with young, conservative judges, few progressive policy achievements could stand.

Specific to women, survivors, and all people marginalized by the cis-het patriarchy, let’s be clear: reproductive rights and bodily autonomy have been on the chopping block for years. Hundreds of state and federal laws pushing abortion care out of reach in many parts of the country, disproportionately for low-income people and women of color, have passed in the last decade alone, while recent increases in self-managed medication abortion have also gone hand-in-hand with a trend of criminalizing people for the outcomes of their pregnancies.

Another four years of Trump could easily shift the Supreme Court’s 5-4 conservative-majority to a 7-2 majority, and fill key judgeships with even more extremists. We could easily reach a point-of-no-return, arguably for the next few decades, and see abortion rights hollowed out or overturned altogether—maybe even criminalized. Those who try to oversimplify legitimate fears about what will happen if Biden loses are telling on themselves, and their view that the human right to bodily autonomy is just a pawn in day-to-day political games, rather than a deeply personal matter of survival.

And let’s be real: Women who strongly oppose Biden due to the sexual assault allegation are facing just as much criticism as those who don’t, and will be blamed for the worst effects of Trump’s second term if he’s reelected. It’s a lose-lose for all of us. This entire Democratic primary has felt like a series of gut punches to women voters, culminating in this last, devastating blow.

No matter what happens, Biden and Trump will be wealthy, white men; they’ll be fine, and so will the wealthy, white politicians who protect them from meaningful accountability. But there’s no way for women to emerge from this traumatic election cycle without being blamed for making an impossible choice that many of us actively fought to not have to make, and all in an attempt to survive.

(image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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