samantha bee on female presidential candidates

Samantha Bee Breaks Down the Sexist BS Behind Those “Unlikable” Female Presidential Candidates

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We’re nearly 22 months away from the 2020 presidential election, but candidates are already gearing up for the race. Just thinking about 22 months of speculation and party in-fighting makes me exhausted in my bones, but there’s an exciting element to this year’s batch of early candidates that–at least for now–might make it all worth it: the unprecedented number of women entering the race.

Four prominent female Democrats–Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and, sure, also Tulsi Gabbard–have announced their candidacy so far (or their exploratory committees prior to an official announcement), and Amy Klobuchar is predicted to follow suit soon.

Those Democratic primary debate stages are going to look very different than ever before, and as Bee notes, “now that there are so many ladies running, maybe we can stop talking about the tone and volume of their voice, their outfits, or their marriages, and instead judge them based on their ideas and experience.”

Just kidding, of course. No, “It’s gonna be a total nightmare.”

Already, we’re getting 2016 flashbacks with thinkpieces about these women’s “likability.” Almost immediately following Warren’s announcement, Politico ran an article titled “Warren Battles the Ghosts of Hillary,” saying that “Washington Democrats have complained privately” about her image. Gillibrand, too, apparently has Democratic donors criticizing her privately. And it’s not that this is definitively untrue, or that this wouldn’t be an issue later on, once the field of candidates is thinned a bit.

But for now, these mainstream media outlets are the ones creating, or at least heavily enforcing, the narrative that these candidates have a “likability” issue. These sites are running articles asking if these women can overcome a perception of them most people probably wouldn’t have if those articles didn’t exist. It’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy of misogyny.

Conservative and otherwise sexist pundits are, of course, eager to point out that men have also been called unlikable on occasion. Tucker Carlson, especially, repeatedly reminds his audience that he is incredibly unlikable. (No lie detected.)

But of course, that label isn’t applied equally across the board. Women are often deemed “unlikable” for just existing–for having women’s voices and women’s bodies that exist in what many view (even unconsciously) as spaces belonging to men.

For men to be unlikable, you have to be Tucker Carlson. And even then, we still manage to talk about the things he says and does, not just the unlikable way in which he says and does them. Women often don’t even get that far.

As Bee puts it,

When we frame women candidates like this right off the bat, it becomes impossible to actually discuss them with nuance down the line. Everything’s either ‘Yass, queen, you woke up flawless!’ or ‘BURN WITCH.’

This is a real fucking problem and it’s not that women are too sensitive or that they don’t want the same tough treatment that male candidates get. The same treatment is exactly what we want. Don’t talk about women’s voices, hair, children, husbands, volume, or so-called ‘likability.’

She points out that there are valid questions and criticisms to be pressed regarding every single one of these women, and none of them have anything to do with the tone of their voice, they way they drink a beer, or their stance on Al Franken.

(image: YouTube)

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Author
Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.