It’s been only 24 hours since New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her candidacy for president, and already she’s facing sexism. At her campaign announcement on Wednesday morning, a reporter asked about her likability (after calling her pretty) and inquired as to whether or not that could benefit her in the race.
The Washington Post notes that the reporter then went on to compare Gillibrand to Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, whom he also called likable.
A reporter declared that “a lot of people see you as pretty likable, a nice person, given the person who we have in the White House” and asked whether that was a “selling point.” He compared her to another Democratic senator considering a run for president whom he also deemed likable — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — and asked whether voters want “someone like that now.”
Yawn. How predictable, boring, and utterly uncreative. It’s absolutely fair to ask if Gillibrand will appeal to voters—based on her policy positions, experience, and personality. But in 2019, it should not be ok to ask if she’s likable and talk about her looks. Especially since we almost never ask if male candidates are likable or talk about whether they are good-looking or not.
For the record, the current occupant of the White House is absolutely not likable or attractive (and that’s putting it mildly). So anyone asking this about Gillibrand is silly and beyond maddening. It’s also a reminder that, just as it did with Hillary Clinton, the media continues to perpetuate inequality and marginalization through its biased coverage of candidates who are not straight white males.
Gillibrand gave the right answer to the question of her likability and whether voters want someone like her. She replied, “I believe that what people want in our state and around the country is someone who will fight for them and someone who not only understands what their problems actually are but will then do what it takes to solve that problem.” She’s right. What should be important to voters is whether or not a politician is relatable, understands what’s important to them, and is willing to do what will make their lives better. But the reality is that people will continue to look at Gillibrand’s looks—as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s, and those of any other woman who enters this race. That is just the sexist world we live in.
But we don’t have to buy into it or accept it as normal. Gillibrand is as likable as any of the candidates in the race, and is certainly much more likable than Donald Trump. Who knows if she has enough appeal to win the Democratic nomination? This is a completely unpredictable time, and it will likely be an unpredictable race. But we need to get serious about choosing the right candidate, because we have an unserious clown in the White House right now who is doing irreparable harm to our democracy and to the lives of the most vulnerable people.
For those who haven’t gotten the hint, women are people, and it’s time we start regarding them as such. That includes taking Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand seriously as a candidate for president and focusing on her policy positions, and not on whether she is likable or cute. Or, to balance things out, we can just start talking about the looks of the male candidates and about how easy to like they are. It may be fun and semi-interesting to do the latter. But we don’t have the luxury of not taking this process seriously—which is exactly why we should talk seriously about the female candidates who are running, and give them the respect they deserve.