Why Must a Woman be Perfect?

By Susan Estrich

March 7, 2020 5 min read

Elizabeth Warren checked every box. Brilliant. Tough. Prepared. A Harvard Law professor who didn't go to a fancy private law school. Married young, followed her husband, made it to the United States Senate by dint of hard work, determination and courage.

Bernie Sanders checks no boxes. A socialist without a plan. An old man who had a heart attack and refuses to release his medical records. A campaign rife with so much nastiness and sexism that Hillary Clinton has yet to get over it. A Vermonter who was in search of a Soviet sister city even as then-President Ronald Reagan was demanding that the Berlin Wall come down. The man with whom Democrats were publicly and privately terrified to run.

How come Bernie is still in and Warren is out?

How did Bernie and the Bros beat the woman with the selfie line and the pinky promises who told little girls they could be president?

Warren was not a perfect candidate. There was the Pocahontas piece, which she didn't need. Refusing to hire a pollster is a one-day story (the "unpolitician") that hurts you every day of the campaign. Understanding where voters are coming from is not a bad thing.

She was too far left for some. But we're talking Democratic primary and caucus voters, the ideological base of the party. And Bernie is a self-proclaimed socialist, for goodness's sake, a designation two-thirds of Americans start out not liking.

Electability? Democrats have publicly and privately voiced terror at the prospect of running on the same ticket with Sanders. The prospect of losing the White House, the Senate and the House loomed large over Super Tuesday. It should have hurt Sanders, not Warren.

She was known for her plans, but plans are also targets. Sanders got away with not explaining how he would pay for his promises. Warren got attacked because she made the same promises but actually tried to explain how she would pay for them. She was attacked for not having a plan and then attacked on the details when she offered one. Sanders is still skating.

Different standards?

Are women judged differently? I read hundreds of comments about what went wrong for Warren. There was all this talk about how she was too tough on Mike Bloomberg and too tough on Bernie and really not very nice, and I thought I was back in 1984 with Geraldine Ferraro.

Warren gave the only answer she could: Women who point to sexism are dismissed as whiners; women who don't see it at all sound to most of us like they are living on another planet.

But what was stunning about the Bernie vs. Warren setup was that it wasn't just men doing the judging. When we think of unconscious bias, the easiest example is the tendency we all share in judging the most qualified person to be a younger version of ourselves. Mini-me, in effect, becomes a problem of bias when those in power happen to be white men unconsciously looking to duplicate themselves.

That's what happens in corporate America every day. But voting should be different; voting is one of the few realms where women outnumber men. If men were to vote for men and women were to vote for women, women would win.

Women did not support Warren in her home state. She finished third, behind two old white men. You can't just blame men for that. And a label doesn't solve it.

We've all seen it and heard it: It's not because she's a woman; it's just that she is too self-righteous, too tough, has that nasty edge. It's not because she's a woman; I just don't like her. Likability has become code for "It's not that she's a woman, but ..." She is that woman, and that woman is never the right one.

So long as a woman must be perfect, we shouldn't be surprised that no woman will do.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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