Visible Women

The biggest feminist moments from Cynthia Nixon’s election campaign

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Moya Crockett
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From insisting on woman-friendly air-con to taking a stand on abortion rights, Cynthia Nixon has championed feminist issues throughout her run for office.

It’s now been more than five months since Cynthia Nixon announced she would be standing as a candidate for governor of New York. The gubernatorial election in November will see the actor and activist challenge Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who has been New York governor since 2011.

Nixon’s declaration that she was running for office initially raised some eyebrows, even among left-leaning commentators. (The former Sex and the City star, whose politics are more Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton, is running as a progressive Democrat.) The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington questioned whether she had “‘de-Mirandafied’ herself enough to be a viable candidate”, while The New York Times bemoaned “the age of inexperience” that had led to Donald Trump’s presidency and now, apparently, Nixon’s belief that she could be a politician. “Little on [Nixon’s] résumé is directly relevant to the big, difficult job that she nonetheless wants,” wrote columnist Frank Bruni.

But despite this scepticism, Nixon has proved herself to be a bold, fearless candidate. She has been widely credited with pushing Cuomo – a centrist who she says is corrupt – to the left on various issues including voting rights, public housing and the legalisation of marijuana. She has also shown, time and time again, that she isn’t afraid to make a stand on feminist issues.

Below, we’ve rounded up the feminist highlights of Nixon’s campaign so far. 

When she called out “notoriously sexist” air conditioning 

Nixon and Cuomo at the televised debate on 29 August 

Nixon had been pushing Cuomo to debate her publicly ever since she announced her run for office. He refused, again and again – until 13 August, when he finally agreed to a televised face-off at a Long Island university.

Just before the hotly-anticipated event took place, Nixon made the unexpected move of demanding that the temperature in the debate hall be set to 73° Fahrenheit (22.7 °C). According to The Washington Post, her campaign manager said that workspaces are “notoriously sexist when it comes to room temperatures” – and Cuomo himself has a long-standing reputation for insisting on a chilly environment at his big campaign appearances.

There is significant evidence to back up the idea that workplaces are generally heated to a temperature that suits men, not women. In 2015, researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found that most building thermostats follow a “thermal comfort model” developed in the Sixties, which was based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man.

In general, the researchers discovered, women like rooms to be heated to a temperature around 3°C higher than that preferred by men. This isn’t a case of women being picky: instead, it’s because women generally have less muscle, thicker skin and a lower metabolic rate than men, all of which make it harder for us to keep warm.

Despite this, Nixon must have known that she was making herself vulnerable to accusations of being a moaning, trivial feminist by talking about air conditioning – but she went ahead and did it anyway. In a world where women are regularly forced to accommodate men’s comfort and disregard their own, that felt like a small, powerful act. 

When she held a coat hanger aloft to protest Trump’s Supreme Court pick 

On 10 July, Nixon stood in front of a crowd at a rally in Manhattan and held a coat hanger aloft. Her mother, she said, had had an illegal termination before abortion was decriminalised across the US in 1973. In countries and eras where abortion was or is banned, wire coat hangers have been used to attempt to remove the foetus from the uterus.

“We must never, ever, ever, go back to a time when any woman feels she has to make this kind of a choice,” Nixon said. “And this is why we must fight.”

This was not the first time that Nixon had spoken about her mother’s abortion. A longtime reproductive rights activist, she told CNN in 2009 that she “would never want to face” what her mother went through – or live in a world where her “daughter… or any of her friends” had to consider getting an illegal abortion.

She also discussed her mother’s experience in a 2016 essay for Time, writing: “She never was willing to tell me any details about her abortion, except to let me know that she had one and it was awful and scary.”

Reproductive rights are currently under threat in the US thanks to Trump’s latest pick for the Supreme Court. There is justified concern that Judge Brett Kavanaugh – who has yet to be confirmed – could vote to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark case that legalised abortion across the US. Alternatively, some pro-choice activists fear that Kavanaugh could simply chip away at abortion laws, making it more difficult for women to access legal terminations. 

When she highlighted that prison is a feminist issue 

Nixon after a rally against financial institutions’ support of private prisons and immigrant detention centers

Prison reform is a key pillar of Nixon’s platform. Underneath a plan titled “Justice for All”, she has pledged to dismantle New York’s system of mass incarceration and create a fairer justice system by decriminalising marijuana and putting an end to cash bail, solitary confinement and the prosecution of children as adults.

Nixon’s prison reform plan also has a distinct feminist angle: she has promised to increase commutations and pardons for survivors of domestic violence who have been jailed for committing crimes in self-defence.

The progressive socialist magazine In These Times describes this as “a uniquely feminist measure given that women, especially women of colour, are often unable to receive help for domestic violence”. 

When she embraced her Sex and the City past

Inevitably, some people’s cynicism about Nixon’s political aspirations stems from sexist snobbery about the show that made her famous. During her time on Sex and the City, her character was frequently seen mid-coitus and talking frankly about topics from masturbation to bikini waxing. Once upon a time, having such a past would disqualify a woman from being taken seriously as a political candidate.

But rather than shying away from her association with Sex and the City and Miranda Hobbes, Nixon has owned it. She has organised fundraising events in collaboration with the cult Instagram account @everyoutfitonsatc that celebrate Miranda’s fashion, and organised campaign competitions with her SATC co-star Kristin Davis.

In June, she released a range of campaign merchandise inspired by the show, also in collaboration with @everyoutfitonsatc. The line includes hats bearing the message “I’m a Miranda” – with the word “Miranda” crossed out and replaced with “Governor” – and T-shirts reading “I’m a Miranda and I’m voting for Cynthia”.

Nixon has also praised Hobbes, the character she played for 12 years over 94 episodes and two movies. “Miranda was a hardworking, hard-charging feminist calling out misogyny at a time when that behaviour was seen as being a killjoy,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I also think Miranda’s flaws reflect the struggles we’ve seen within our real-life feminist movement.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign aims to raise the profiles of women in politics – and inspire future generations to follow their lead. See more Visible Women stories here

Images: Getty Images