Once Again, White Women Are One of the Greatest Threats to Progress

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Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

The attacks on Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris have already begun in earnest and they are just as grounded in racism and misogyny as we expected from the voices we expected like Donald Trump. But keep your eye on the army of Aunt Lydias lined up and ready to pounce. These are the white women operatives of the Republicans’ increasingly desperate strategy to maintain white Christian patriarchal control, and they have already swung into action to attack Sen. Harris now that she is Vice President Biden’s running mate.

As soon as President Trump launched his attacks on Sen. Harris, calling her "nasty" and boosting racist and baseless "birther" allegations, the Radical Right’s white women strategists got to work. Just look to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who took to social media to try to lend credence to his misogyny and echoed the "nasty" slur against Sen. Harris. It was an obvious attempt to double-down on the president's use of a term with overt sexist connotations before piling on more lies about Sen. Harris and her record.

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White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway joined in the next day, saying Harris was "a safe and unsurprising pick in my view," and that she would "bring the nation backward." "She’s very much part of the radical left,” said Conway, making a claim right out of the anti-choice playbook.

This is only being the beginning. These operatives know the normal optics of vice-presidential candidates going toe-to-toe will never work in this context. Mike Pence's brand of misogyny is to publicly carry out a ruse of gallantry and old-fashioned paternalism, and deploy women to take down other women, all while insidiously advancing his agenda to strip us of our fundamental freedoms. Attacks are unlikely to come directly from his corner, so he'll continue to enlist those like McDaniel and Conway who have proximate power and have used it to keep other women down.

Sure, Conway just announced she'll be leaving the White House by the end of the month, but their strategy isn't going anywhere: The Radical Right need white women to do their dirty work, to put a feminine sheen on their unpopular and regressive ideological agenda.

In the 1970s, it was Phyllis Schlafly working overtime to prop up the Radical Right’s attempt to preserve their control and fuel a movement to oppose desegregation and gender equality by fighting the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which until her intervention had been coasting to victory with bipartisan support.

As I explain in my new book, The Lie That Binds, the GOP has scrambled to maintain white women voters through whatever means necessary since the Republican party took such an avowedly anti-woman position in the late '70s. This is why loyalty from women like Shlafly is so important to the GOP.

For Trump, Conway emerged as the top woman surrogate willing to weaponize her privilege to prop up his 2016 campaign by attacking Hillary Clinton and defending him against allegations of sexual assault. Once he was elected, she continued to provide the same cover for his flagging administration.

Now, Conway is the face of an administration who separates families at the border, vows to put justices on the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade, works to restrict access to contraception, and uses derisive language towards women who get in Trump’s way. She coined the term "alternative facts" just days into her job as a Trump administration spokesperson to dismiss anyone who objected to the president’s loose grasp of the truth.

Now, four years later, Democrats are fighting an uphill battle against the white women who have supported Trump. As everyone knows, the stakes are high in 2020. But women—and especially BIPOC women—are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, and polls show that support for abortion rights is a major issue for Democratic voters. And with 77 percent of Americans backing Roe v. Wade and anti-choice extremists pushing increasingly dangerous policies that are unpopular even with their base, you can count on the Radical Right to lash out with all they've got—especially with a bold champion for reproductive freedom like Sen. Harris as the Democratic nominee for vice president.

Now the Radical Right and Republicans face a historic Democratic ticket in 2020 that includes the first woman of color—Sen. Harris is both the first Black and first Indian-American woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. That is and should be a huge advantage for Democrats, considering our country is more racially diverse than ever before, but we do still live in a society where women face a double-bind of constant judgment and criticism, and women of color even more so.

We must call out these attacks for what they are: thinly veiled attempts to divide women once again in order to maintain power for leaders who present an existential threat to our democracy and our freedoms.

That means when white women like Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) jump to take down a woman of color and advance a Radical Right agenda like she did earlier this week on Twitter, we must call it out and make clear that we will not allow these attacks on Sen. Harris to go unanswered. Those of us who are white women must call out other white women. We must have difficult and brave conversations within our own networks of friends and family if we hope to make lasting change and ensure BIPOC women aren't forced to shoulder this burden.

And we must also urge the media to reject sexist and racist tropes and stereotypes when talking about Sen. Harris, a call I've joined with other progressive leaders and organizations to make.

The bottom line is that the Republican Party has a minoritarian agenda and a troupe of extremists prepared to help them carry it out. That includes white women who carry water for misogynists and prop up the patriarchy. But we're more clear-eyed about the threats than we've ever been before and this Election Day, we can ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

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