Note to the Reader: The views expressed in this column represent those of the writer at the time of publication and do not reflect views held by any elected official or candidate for public office.
In one of my dresser drawers, there’s this boxy t-shirt that says “human woman” in bold, sans-serif, lower-case letters. It’s the vendor’s attempt to sell political outrage and chic, minimalist style to political hobbyists on chic, minimalist budgets.
Got me right in the crosshairs.
But here’s the thing I want to know about the universe of my t-shirt and the universe at large: is the emphasis here supposed to be on “woman?” Because I can’t stop thinking about the word “human.”
No doubt, there’s a strong focus on gender and identity in America and–maybe especially–in American politics. Every person reading this column has, at some point or another, been reduced in the political realm to a stereotype. Race, gender, place of birth, socioeconomic status—those are just some of the factors politicians and pundits use to predict how the public will behave (or more to the point maybe, vote).
But the biggest problem with the whole identity politics thing isn’t that it eclipses individuality (it does) or that it undermines autonomy (does that too), it’s that it’s inherently bigoted. It presumes to know who you are and how you will behave based on “what” you are or what you appear to be.
Identity politics is at best unfortunate and at worst dangerous. Think about instances in history or even in the modern era of degradation, oppression, and genocide. So much of the ugliness in the world boils down to emphasizing identity at the cost of humanity.
But let’s move away from the bird’s eye view. What does identity politics mean for say … a 30-year-old woman living in Washington and working in politics? (Spoiler alert: I’m talking about me, guys.) What does it mean for any woman working or hoping to work in any male-dominated field?
Well, for starters, it means that the media gets to decide how it will define [read: limit] her role.
During the presidential primaries, for instance, ABC News ran a story under the headline “How Carly Fiorina Deals with Being the ‘Other Woman’ in the Presidential Race.” The article compares Carly Fiorina to Hillary Clinton based on their respective views about “women’s issues” and reads in part “And while Fiorina is quick to tell voters she is not asking for their support on the basis of her gender but her qualifications, her gender identity serves as a contrast with the only other woman in the race.”
Setting aside the awful, sexualized headline, a couple of things stand out. For starters, ABC is so focused in this article on the fact that two Presidential contenders are women that it more or less neglects what those women have accomplished and what they might accomplish as … oh, I don’t know … leader of the free world.
The piece emphasizes the “women’s issues” contest between the candidates and entirely neglects to mention where they stand on issues like economic growth, national security, infrastructure development, and renewable energy. My best guess is that the author reserves those issues for men because, even in the 21st century, women just don’t take them seriously. Super just kidding, guys. Those issues impact everyone, and women who have given them serious thought should be given serious treatment in the media.
Still, what’s most trying about the article–and scores of articles just like it–is that it acknowledges that the candidates want to and should be considered on the basis of their qualifications and then ignores that standard entirely.
Why? Because according to identity politics, gender outranks equality and identity outranks ability.
Equally damning is the tendency of identity politics and, in this case, the women’s movement to elevate certain issues at the exclusion of others and to berate and banish women who don’t adhere to leftist orthodoxy.
An example of the sort of thing I’m talking about reared its ugly head in January at the Women’s March on Washington when the pro-life group New Wave Feminists had their partnership status yanked because their decidedly life-loving views threatened to cause dissension among the ranks.
That, if anything, is a display of identity politics’ weakness. It is absolutely unable to recognize the originality, variety, and complexity that is the hallmark of human existence. It’s a paper doll world that relegates women and minorities to the tiny spaces it creates for them.
The thing I don’t have to tell you is that gender- and other identity-based oppression still exists, and it’s terrible. But you know what? It doesn’t exist because the oppressor is focusing too much on the oppressed’s humanity. It exists because the oppressor is focusing on the oppressed’s identity at the cost of her humanity. It exists because it is doing the exact same thing identity politics tells us to do: divide and conquer.
We have to demand more, for ourselves and for each other. We have to move past identity politics, respect each other as equals under the law, and stand on the courage of our own convictions with confidence. We have to stop allowing limits to be set for us by movements and organizations and media and other people. It’s time for us to stop being led and start being leaders.
Why? Because we’re human women.