On Misogyny, Racism, and the Tragedy of too Many White Men in Government
A representative democracy is precisely that. It is a democracy where representatives of the population who reflect the population in their own demographic defend their electorate with law, justice, and action. This is what is envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution and what — in particular — James Madison routinely wrote about. The idea was that in particular Congress would closely resemble or have “sympathy” for the American electorate. For reference peruse the Federalist Papers (specifically “№52”).
It is clear from our laws and the exercise of our laws that many of our representatives, senators, and certainly our current President do not have “sympathy,” Madisonian or not for the American people. We could take a historical perspective and talk about how late suffrage came for so many rather large populations. We can talk about slavery and overtly racist legislation against African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and literally every group of Americans who were clearly not Anglo and Protestant. But let’s not. That’s all rather crucial and I have much to say on that, and the past absolutely informs the present, but for now let’s just focus on the present.
At present we have babies in cages at the border, latinxs forced to carry a passport or their birth certificate in case ICE grabs them off the street, women and girls afraid or unable to seek prenatal care due to cost or risk of incarceration, and innocent black people being wantonly murdered by the very police sworn to protect them. Oh, yeah, and Native Americans are just completely screwed in all those ways and more. Native Americans don’t even reliably get to vote, or expect to be protected by normal laws in the home that they were ancestrally forced to relocate to. So you know, five stars there.
Again, these are just some of the problems America is facing. There’s also climate change, lack of healthcare, lax gun regulations, lax labor regulations, bad tax code, issues in our school system just across the board, failures in medicare and social security, and a general failure to keep up with the times.
These are all fixable problems. Some of them are existential problems, but they all can be fixed. The real problem, or rather the problem which causes all these other issues is representation. Now …. if you apply some simple arithmetic to the descriptive stats listed here from the Census Bureau you’ll note some issues, but I’m going to assume they’re mostly correct. Notably, white people (not including white Hispanics) make up about 60% of the population and women make up 50.8% (seems about right because biologically females are just slightly more resilient, but socially are more likely to be murdered). So if those are the stats then our Congress should be majority female and majority white, but not by a large margin in either case.
I know. I’m terribly cute. Doing a quick back of the envelope calculation that means we should have give or take 221 women in Congress and we should have 58 African American representatives, 5 or 6 Native Americans, about 25 Asian Americans, a Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, about 12 Congresspeople who are biracial and roughly 79 Hispanics. That leaves somewhere around 255 to 264 seats for white folks. Oh, and of course all of those people I mentioned can be or not be some variation on gay. Because …. lesbians exist. And I gotta say, lesbians are really good at voting. Honestly surprised there’s not more lesbians in Congress.
But jokes aside that is not how Congress actually looks.
This Pew Research thingie I’m linking here doesn’t even mention Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders or biracial individuals. So …. I guess when they appear in Congress they don’t get a vote and people try to touch their hair? (I’m actually only joking about half that sentence. Several of our territories and DC have representatives in Congress …. who don’t get to vote. No word on their hair though.) If you go through and calculate the disparity women are owed about 120 Representatives and particularly Hispanics are owed about 36.
So you might be wondering, why does this matter? If we’re in a post-racial society why would the race and gender of a representative matter? Well, it wouldn’t. But we’re not in a post-racial society. If we were in a post-racial society our Congress would be a near perfect analog for our demographic and no one would be scrambling to the comments to tell me about the under-representation of the hetero-white male. But no, there are reddit threads dedicated to how women with dogs can’t be trusted. (Ironically, the movie they always reference when talking about that crap was directed and written by two trans women. So, that’s fun.)
The reason white men are so inept at governance is because white male privilege is utterly blinding. You just don’t know what you don’t know. And even supposedly “woke” leftist guys routinely engage in sexist and racist behavior because they believe their political beliefs excuse them from their part in the patriarchy. Yeah, I’m talking about all of you who refer to Kamala Harris as a “cop,” or a “rich woman,” but aren’t willing to use the same standards against richer white men who voted for the infamous Crime Bill and/or tried to excuse the higher rate of incarceration of African Americans by saying, “aren’t most drug dealers black?”
White men cannot govern because they do not have sympathy for those they are meant to govern.
This gets quickly into “the Personal is Political,” but American women handle the lion’s share of housework and childcare. If a child is sick it is mom who takes off of work to take them to the doctor or stay home with them. It is also mom who stops at the grocery store after work and cooks dinner and makes sure everyone has clean clothes for the next day. And she does all this with the knowledge that statistically her job and career is at risk if she takes too many days off or if she refuses to work late. American women also handle most of the eldercare including looking after their husband’s parents and grandparents. While it is no longer statistically true that marriage drives women to an early grave, women are better at single life than men and are less interested in marriage than men.
But ask a sample of white American men what they do for their families and you’ll get canned answers like, “I drop off the kids at school,” or “I do laundry and cook once a week.” They’re not mentally calculating how to balance their father’s medication with their kid’s piano lessons, gas and groceries, nor are they worried that if their daughter has another major asthma attack and they have to go get her they might lose their job. And this is before we talk about domestic violence and that most mass shooters have a history of domestic abuse, before we talk about the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment, and before we even talk about disparities in pay or lack of access to healthcare for women.
And …. I have thusfar only presented the case for white middle-class married women.
White men don’t have to deal with any of this. And so it never crosses their minds that the neighbor’s kid who you’re driving to soccer practice might have just started her period and have no idea what it is or how to deal with it. They have no sympathy when a black woman calls the police because a man threatened her with a gun and is violently arrested herself. Or when a black woman calls the police to report a burglary and is then shot and killed by police in front of her children. They have no sympathy when a little girl is grabbed by ICE on her way to school and detained for 30 hours because she’s a little girl and doesn’t understand what these scary people are asking her or why she can’t see her brother or mom. They have no sympathy when already underfunded prisons for women deny women access to tampons but then punish them for bleeding. They have no sympathy as the maternal mortality rate creeps steadily upward or as measles epidemics sweep through cities. White men don’t care, because they can afford to turn a blind eye to all of this.
Women and people of color cannot. Those who die are us or our children and we cannot just turn our suffering into an inspiring campaign story. We have to bury the dead.
We are at a cultural crossroads at the moment. We are not yet an egalitarian society. Far from it. Texas was until recently considering whether or not it will execute women for seeking reproductive healthcare and our prisons are filled with people of color many of whom have received unnecessarily cruel sentences. People of color are disproportionately targeted by voter suppression efforts and women are more likely to fall below the poverty line than men. None of this is due to any innate traits or abilities and all of it is due to institutionalized discrimination.
But as bad as it is, it’s better than it was. Congress is 23% female. So we are short about 100 Congresswomen, but historically the 116th Congress is the most diverse in history. This is especially well reflected in black representation in Congress which is just one or two Representatives short of the 12 or 13% marker which would make it nearly equal to the relative population of African-Americans in the United States. We are getting there.
But, the next hurdle we have to pass, the crossroads that confronts us is that if we don’t start having leadership that reflects our population we are not going to be able to solve the issues which confront us. We cannot ask white men to do things they are unequipped to do. White men have never been asked to consider the daily lives of others and because of their advantages they truly believe that they’ve earned their position in the world. But women and people of color are trained from birth to consider the feelings of others and work communally.
As much as progressive egalitarianism is a victim of its own success you can see white men’s incapacity for empathy in their statements about leading. Women and people of color generally have an issue that they want to solve which drives them to run for office or get into some leadership position. To them it’s about building up the community and the nation. To white men it’s about their name and legacy. White men are quite literally ego driven, and it’s what makes them such ineffectual leaders. On average, female legislators introduce and pass twice as much legislation as their male counterparts. Female leaders also tend to be more responsive and lead to economic upswings and social equality for the areas they lead or represent.
So, why should we even bother with white men in office? Well, the answer is, we shouldn’t. White men no longer represent Americans in the Madisonian sense. White men do not care about their constituents and simply do not make effective leaders. There is literally no reason besides Congressional or Senatorial seniority to keep them in office meaning there is no logical reason for any white man to run unless he is an incumbent. In fact, men are at a disadvantage relative to women in popularity and ability to fund-raise. Female politicians are more popular than male. And, this is going to increase not decrease. As more women enter politics more women are inspired to enter politics and more women — the majority of Americans — are going to vote for other women. (That last is clear even among white women. In 2012, 56% percent of white women voted for the Republican nominee but that dropped to 53% in 2016. This trend is likely to continue. And among women of other political persuasions and ethnicity, the rates tend to be higher.)
White men are certainly likely to resist all this but if one extrapolates from the census statistics I linked above white men only make up about 30% of the American population. White men do currently hold the majority of positions in upper management, the media, and of course elected positions, but this is going to change. And it should. White men have repeatedly and increasingly proved themselves unequal to the task of leadership. We now have additional options. We no longer have to tolerate the stifling ineptitude of the mediocre white man. In actual fact, our survival depends on it. If we want our democratic system of government to persist, if we want a Madisonian system where we are all created equal and where we are all equally protected and chastised by laws that we all have an equal part in creating, then white men must not hold a consistently outsized percentage of power.
If you are a white man, or are afraid for white men in general that a drop in their representation in government will result in unequal treatment for them I can unequivocally promise that women and people of color will do no worse by white men than white men have done for us. But with that said this is good for you. It means your representatives will care about you. It means your wife — if you have one — will contribute more money to the household. It will mean more vacations and better healthcare for you and your family. It will mean more social programs, less crime, and a higher quality of life. It means you can take your kids to the park without being stigmatized and you won’t be expected to be the sole provider for your family.
Be excited. We have problems, but with women and people of color in positions of power, those problems are going to dissolve.