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These politicians were asked about their heroes. Their answers say a lot about sexism

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Christobel Hastings
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Wives and mothers make a good hero for a presidential candidate. A woman they’re unrelated to? Not so much.

There’s a common pattern of thought that arises in certain men, and it usually occurs after an instance of abuse or harassment. They will dip their toe into the feminist waters and say “she is someone’s sister/mother/daughter/wife, after all,” inferring that the woman in question warrants concern because she is related to a man.

This analogy is something you will hear at every level of society, from friendly get-togethers to the highest institutions of power, because sexism and misogyny are systemically ingrained in our society, and women are defined by their relationships to men, rather than considered as human beings who deserved to be respected in their own right.

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It is a response that is both so frequently used, and so outdated, that if you strain hard enough, you might well hear a collective groan from women around the world who are fervently wishing for a gender revolution.

Judging by the responses of Democratic presidential candidates who participated in a video for the New York Times about their heroes, a radical feminist awakening is yet to occur.

Take John Hickenlooper, an American politician and former Governor of Colorado. His personal hero is his mother, while his political hero is Abraham Lincoln.

Then there’s Seth Moulton, who’s currently serving as U.S. Representative for Massachusetts. He put forward his wife as his personal hero, and John F. Kennedy as his political hero.

Meanwhile Steve Bullock, who’s currently serving as Governor of Montana, nominated his wife as his personal hero, and Joe Mazurek (a former attorney general) and Theodore Roosevelt as his political heroes.

Incidentally, John Delaney, a former US Representative for Maryland, Michael Bennett, a US Senator of Colorado, Beto O’Rourke, a former US Representative of Texas, and Pete Buttigieg, who’s currently serving as mayor of South Bend in Indiana, also named Abraham Lincoln as their political heroes.

The Elizabeth Warrens and the Kamala Harrises will never be enough

Take a look at the statistics as a whole, and the gender inbalance is bleak. Out of the candidates running for presidency, nine men and one woman named their mother or their wife as their personal hero, and a man as their political hero, while four men and two men named only one male hero. Elizabeth Warren, for instance, named Theodore Roosevelt as her hero, Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders both named Martin Luther King Jr, and Eric Swalwell, who serves as a US Representative for California, named Congressman John Lewis.

Interestingly, only two candidates named two women as both their personal and political heroes. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is currently serving as US Senator for New York, named her grandmother as her personal hero, and slavery abolitionist Harriet Tubman as her political hero. US Senator for California Kamala Harris, meanwhile, named her mother as her personal hero, and Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, as her political hero.

Tim Ryan, who’s currently serving as the US Representative for Ohio, was the only person to name a man as both his personal and political heroes; Baker Mayfield, the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, and John F. Kennedy.

It beggars belief to comprehend how, in this day and age, so many prominent politicians running for President of the United States in 2020 cannot name a single inspiring woman from history as their political hero. And though many female trailblazers have been left out of the history books, there is little excuse for political figures in the public eye to flail at delivering equitable representation.

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In any case, that so many male candidates named a female loved-one as their personal hero reveals a pervasive trend even amongst the bastions of liberal thinking in America. Namely, that woman are considered guardians of the home and hearth. Women that are defined by their competency in traditional care-giving roles, but whose personal identity outside of caring for others remains maddeningly obscured from view.

That’s not to say that any of the candidates in the roundup are individually sexist, of course. But whether they realise it or not, their responses reveal a long-held bias that men run the world, while cementing the idea that women serve as stepping stones for them to achieve glory. And that’s without considering the wider repercussions of their responses. The world is watching the presidential race right now, and the words of the candidates are being processed by the future generations. Gender injustice, however colloquial, cannot be allowed a free pass. We all have a responsibility to do better. 

Image: Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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