The sixth Democratic debate held in December 2019 wasn’t quite filled with surprises, but it did have a few good zingers—one of which was delivered to us by none other than Andrew Yang, the sole person of color in attendance and perhaps the unlikeliest candidate on stage. (He just missed the cutoff for tonight’s debate in Iowa.)
“If you get too many men alone and leave us alone for a while, we kind of become morons,” Yang said.
For much of the 2020 race, Yang was a virtual unknown in a crowded field; he’s never held an elected position, and the position he talks about with the most passion isn’t health care or student debt, but universal basic income—which, he maintains, could help deal with problems like health care and student debt.
Yang believes that advancements in AI will eliminate entire swaths of the American workforce. To cope with the destabilization, he wants to put a little cash in people’s pockets each month—no strings attached. Yang is an optimist about human nature and a realist about the issues we all face. Hence, the “men can be morons” quip.
Sure, the line shouldn’t be that impressive. But in the context of a presidential debate, the admission that groups of men left alone in rooms can and do wreak havoc on the world (and the women) around them felt momentous.
A few weeks later, I called Yang to talk about it as he was driving around rural South Carolina and I was heading from Palm Springs to Los Angeles. We chatted about feminism, tech, child care, reproductive health care, and, as Yang put it, a lot of “bullshit, frankly.”
Molly Jong-Fast: How did you get here? How did your views on sexism evolve?
Andrew Yang: I’ve been working in the startup world for a number of years. And it doesn’t take anyone that savvy to figure out pretty quickly that the startup world is highly male dominated and chauvinistic. I saw dozens of aspiring female entrepreneurs who would interact with potential advisors or investors who were men, and the men were more interested in hitting on them than helping them.
You see that and you think, Wow. Any thought that the startup ecosystem is somehow a meritocracy of ideas and [the process is fair] is completely farcical.
My husband is a [venture capitalist] so we talk about this a lot—women in tech and how women in tech are treated.
I’m sure he sees a lot of the same. Bullshit, frankly. I mean, just the level of bullshit that women have to put up with is staggering. So that was one input.
Another was seeing so many incredibly talented women that I went to school with end up running into all these headwinds when they were in various corporate environments. The companies seemed to alienate women in ways big and small. I saw so many women friends eventually just say, “Is this worth it? I have to armor myself up when I go into the workplace every day.”
On top of that, many of them also have families and all of their responsibilities were just multiplied 10 times over, 20 times over, a 100 times over. I saw it with my wife’s experience even when she was pregnant and had our boys.
Is that how you realized that paid leave was such a big problem?
You have to ask yourself, “How the heck is the United States nearly alone on a global list of countries that doesn’t recognize something as basic as a need for moms to take time off when they have kids?” It’s because we’re pathologically anti-woman, anti-family, and we treat everyone like their [only value is] their economic output.
As you see it, what role will women play in the future—especially at work?
To me, the ideal economy of the 21st century would be one that helps make people stronger and healthier and mentally healthier instead of [competing in] this race against the machines that we’re bound to lose. If those are the goals, then the ideal version of the 21st-century economy is one in which women lead to a much, much higher degree than they do right now.
I’m pleased that in the last debate people recognized some of these stances that I’ve taken. But I’ve thought about them and believed them for years. It’s one reason why I’m so passionate about universal basic income, because I believe it will help rewrite the rules of work and what we work for.
And what about reproductive health? What role does that play?
A group of women recently asked me about women’s reproductive rights. I said that I think men should leave the room and let women decide for themselves what to do. I have a feeling I know what they’re going to decide. But to me, it’s embarrassing that a male legislator would even show up [in that conversation].
But then a woman took me aside after I said that and said, “Hey, Andrew, I understand the spirit of what you’re saying. But the fact is, we need you to fight for our freedom.” She understood that what I meant was we should get out of the way and let women decide. She said, “That’s beautiful in spirit, but that’s not reality. The reality is that you have to get in there and fight for our rights.”
And I heard that and said, “She’s right.” I mean, like it or not, we need more men to get on board and I want to be someone who can lead in that direction.
Molly Jong-Fast is an editor-at-large at The Daily Beast. Follow her on Twitter @mollyjongfast.
Originally Appeared on Glamour