Kyrsten Sinema, a traitor to the cause of women's rights, loses support of feminists

Kyrsten Sinema, a traitor to the cause of women's rights, loses support of feminists
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona speaking at the 2019 Arizona Technology Innovation Summit at The Duce in Phoenix, Gage Skidmore

When Kyrsten Sinema first ran to be the Democratic senator from Arizona, her support from Emily's List seemed to be a no-brainer. The political action committee (PAC) is one of the biggest in politics, and historically is one of the major reasons for the remarkable influx of female leaders in the Democratic Party in the past few decades. The main criteria for supporting candidates — that they be female, pro-choice and Democratic — appeared, at the time, to fit Sinema beautifully. She claimed to believe "a woman, her family, and her doctor should decide what's best for her health" and that she stands for "health clinics like Planned Parenthood and opposes efforts to let employers deny workers coverage for basic health care like birth control." Emily's List was the biggest source of funds for Sinema's 2018 campaign, raising nearly twice as much money for her as her second largest supporting PAC. It is unlikely she would have won by her razor-thin margin without their support.

But, as it turns out, Sinema's claims to feminist values were all nonsense.

Sure, unlike Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, her fellow corrupt conspirator in shutting down the Democratic agenda in the Senate, Sinema continues to claim to be pro-choice. She has even voted the right way on the issue in those rare instances that votes even happen in the Senate, all while Manchin continues to vote for right-wing interference with reproductive decision-making. But when it comes to taking actions that would actually protect not just reproductive rights, but the equality of women generally, Sinema has become a major obstacle, with her stubborn insistence on supporting the filibuster, which Republicans use to shut down pretty much all meaningful legislation from the Democratic majority — including bills to protect abortion rights and enshrine gender equality into the constitution.

On Wednesday night, Sinema — as she's dramatically promised to do — is expected to side with the Republican minority against a bill meant to shore up democracy and protect voting rights against a coordinated GOP effort to dismantle fair and free election systems. Sinema claims, quite falsely, to support the voting rights bill, but insists on letting the Republicans have veto power over it, putting an arcane and anti-democratic Senate rule ahead of democracy itself.

In response, Emily's List and NARAL promised to pull their support from Sinema. Emily's List president Laphonza Butler released a statement explaining the decision by saying, "Electing Democratic pro-choice women is not possible without free and fair elections. Protecting the right to choose is not possible without access to the ballot box." NARAL president Mini Timmaraju concurred, stating, "Without ensuring that voters have the freedom to participate in safe and accessible elections, a minority with a regressive agenda and a hostility to reproductive freedom will continue to block the will of the majority of Americans."

Butler and Timmaraju are dead right. It's not just about reproductive rights, either. Without a healthy democracy, women's rights and gender equality in general are imperiled. There's a reason 19th century feminists focused their efforts on women's suffrage, a century-long fight that few, if any, of those who started it lived to see succeed. The fight for gender equality and fight for democracy are inextricably intertwined. The fight for one is a fight for the other.

It's also not a coincidence that authoritarians like Donald Trump also happen to be giant misogynists. From the beginning, the rising fascist movement in America has been fueled not just by racism, but by toxic masculinity and male anger at women's growing equality. Trump's 2016 campaign was built on a foundation of misogynist rage — not just at Hillary Clinton for daring to think a woman can be president, but at women generally for asserting their right to be treated as equals in the home and workplace. His popularity with the GOP base was cemented when he mocked a Fox News host Megyn Kelly with menstruation insults. He secured the religious right's support for promising to ban abortion.

But the election of 2016 also illustrated how democracy can protect women's rights. After all, Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes and with a 2 point margin over Trump. It was only because of the anti-democratic electoral college system — an ongoing and retrograde leftover from the era when women and people of color weren't allowed to vote — that Trump even had a chance. And there can be no doubt that, if 2016 had been a truly democratic election, both the country and women's rights would be in much better shape right now. At bare minimum, the Supreme Court wouldn't have three Trump appointees on it, and Roe v. Wade would not be slated for a near-certain overturn in June.

Authoritarian misogyny is hardly just an American phenomenon, either.

Throughout history and in our current day, there's been a strong link between hostility to women's rights and anti-democratic attitudes. The Nazis were notoriously sexist, insisting a woman's place was in the home and strengthening bans on abortion. Romania's communist dictatorship banned abortion and contraception. China's authoritarian government has forever been opposed to reproductive rights, first by banning the right to have more than one child and now, due to low population growth, by announcing plans to restrict abortion access.

To be certain, fighting for women's equality in a healthy democracy is hardly a breeze. There's literally millennia of patriarchal oppression that needs to be overturned, and lots of ingrained sexist attitudes held by the majority of Americans. (About 7 in 10 married women, for instance, still take their husband's name, including, however reluctantly, Hillary Clinton.) As noted, suffrage for women was a long and miserable fight that took literally a century. The Equal Rights Amendment, which was almost passed in the 70s, died after anti-feminists activists successfully lobbied against it.

Still, what democracy offers feminism is the chance to make the case: To argue for gender equality, to appeal to voters, and to build — sometimes painfully slowly — public understanding of why women's rights are so important. And, as miserable as that process can be, history shows it's better than the alternatives. Polls show strong majorities of Americans support abortion rights and even more believe contraception is acceptable. Stigmas against divorce, single motherhood, and sex outside of marriage have collapsed in the public eye after decades of feminist agitation for the right of women to be treated a full adults, instead of male property. Support for LGBTQ rights also rose, as a direct result from larger feminist discussions about the evils of gendered oppression. And a woman even won the popular vote in a presidential election — and if this was a truly democratic system, she would be president.

Sinema's support for the filibuster exposes how paper-thin her claims to support feminist values always were. Biden won because of women. He got 57% of the female vote, while Trump won 53% of men. The Biden agenda that Sinema is blocking is what female voters sent not just Biden, but Sinema to Washington to accomplish. And not just on voting rights, either. By supporting the bipartisan infrastructure bill but not the Build Back Better plan, Sinema helped ensure that 90% of new job creation will go to men, instead of the more diverse pool that Biden's larger agenda would have supported.

Voting rights is the issue that gave birth to the American feminist movement. By refusing to support voting rights, Sinema isn't just turning her back on her country and her party, but on the very feminist movement that permitted someone like her, a female senator, to even exist. Sinema may play-act the fun-loving feminist, with her kitschy dresses and loud wigs that stand out from the drab masculinist attire that rules the Senate. But as long as she stands with Republicans against democracy, she is a traitor to feminism and should be regarded as such.

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