Just like in the mind-bending 1944 film “Gaslight,” some men like to make women think they’re crazy.
You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re imagining things. She’s just a friend from work. This is my first drink. No, of course, I didn’t blow the rent money at the racetrack.
It’s a cruel sport. Rather than take responsibility for their own misdeeds, gaslighters try to change the subject by convincing you that you’re not seeing what you’re seeing, not hearing what you’re hearing, or not experiencing what you’re experiencing.
Guess what? Elizabeth Warren is not crazy. She was present, mindful and lucid for every minute of her unsuccessful White House bid. And the Massachusetts senator believes that one thing that tripped her up—and stuck Democrats with a sad choice between two old white men, neither of whom seems as smart or as capable as Warren—was ol’ fashioned sexism.
Let me guess. You’re tired of the “-isms.” No time for racism, nativism, ethnocentrism, anti-Semitism—or, in this case, sexism?
I figured. Americans have famously short memories, and we feel like everything our society did wrong is tucked away safely in the past. We never think about the vestiges of historical injustices. We resist political correctness and mock the “woke.” Eager to let ourselves off the hook, we think that all our sins were wiped clean by the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
After Warren left the race, some people took to social media to dismiss the suggestion that sexism played a role in her electoral misfortune. After all, they said, she got elected a U.S. senator, didn’t she? Sure, that’s the same thing.
But just because you’re tired of hearing about the “-isms” doesn’t mean they no longer exist.
Sexism is alive and well. In politics, and in media, some men still treat women as if they’re inferior. Have you seen a cable news show lately, where male commentators too frequently ignore the women sitting next to them, brushing past their points as they hurry to make their own? How can so many smart people who aced social studies come up short on social skills?
Last fall, Warren was the Democratic front-runner and the media’s preferred candidate. But that was before her campaign veered into a ditch just before the Iowa caucuses.
Things really started to go sideways for Warren in mid-January, when she alleged that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had told her, essentially, that running for president against Donald Trump was man’s work. Specifically, Warren said, Sanders believed that a woman could not defeat Trump in 2020. But once the statement passed through the media meat grinder, what came out was a much broader allegation—advanced by Warren supporters—that Sanders had said that a woman could not be elected president. Ever.
The episode backfired on Warren, making her look thin-skinned and devious enough to launch a late hit on a chief rival. Ironically, it was that reaction that proved Sanders right. It is much harder for a woman to be elected president than a man, and much of that is because men make it harder than it needs to be. If the game is rigged, it was men who rigged it.
That’s why I was pleased to hear Warren—as she spoke to reporters outside her home in Cambridge, Mass., on the day she exited the race—address what she described as the impossible question.
Whenever a woman tries to break new ground but fails, someone will ask her if she thinks sexism played a role. No matter how she responds, she can’t win.
“Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman,” Warren said. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”
Say what you like about Warren, her ideas or her campaign. Maybe she wasn’t your cup of tea. She wasn’t mine.
But in this year’s Democratic primary, Warren was the spark plug. Years from now, when political historians look back on this election, they’re likely to say that, when she left the field, she took a lot of the enthusiasm with her.