Commentary — PRO: Sexism didn’t defeat Elizabeth Warren — but it sure tried

Is Elizabeth Warren a victim of sexism?

By Toni Van Pelt

Soon after dropping out of the presidential race, Elizabeth Warren answered for the hundred millionth time whether sexism played a role in the race.

“Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says ‘whiner,’” Warren said. “And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

The media likes to ask the women candidates about sexism. But it hasn’t been willing to look inward about how the media is one of the roots of sexism in politics.

While our candidates are no longer all white and male, many of the newsrooms making editorial decisions still are. Mastheads and production rooms still severely underrepresent reporters and editors who bring to the newsroom similar lived experiences of the candidates and voters, in terms of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The result is that male candidates were said to be an explaining an issue while the women described as “lecturing” us on an issue. The men were passionately talking while the women were being mean and combative. The men were someone you wanted to have a beer with while the women were trying too hard to be relatable.

These stories needed to be rejected by editors and replaced with actual stories about how the candidates will govern, make judgment calls, listen to their constituents, and fill their administration. And TV anchors need to be called out by their producers for the disparate treatment of female candidates versus males.

Media outlets were also responsible for debate questions and failed to provide voters with meaningful conversations. Moderators always framed their questions as asking about issues important to Americans —health care, climate change, immigration and gun violence. But in practice, the questions always revolved around the amorphous concept of “electability,” and how candidates would achieve these policy goals. This allows candidates to pivot to electability —an inherently racist and sexist concept when this country has elected 43 white presidents, one black president and zero women.

Despite all that, nevertheless, Elizabeth Warren persisted —until Super Tuesday. And once again, our dream of a woman in the White House is still more of a promise than a certainty.

But speaking of promises —thanks to Elizabeth Warren, girls who met her on selfie lines now know that running for president is something that women do, because they made a “pinky promise” on it. A new generation is approaching voting age determined to elect a woman president and new feminist majorities in Congress and in the states. They reject the “electability” argument and saw Hillary Clinton win the popular vote by 3 million votes.

I’ll remember those pinky promises, and the determined faces on the little girls who made them. I have every confidence that these are promises we can keep.

And while that day will come, it’s unfortunately not this year.

But perhaps, in 2021, we can witness Speaker Nancy Pelosi send progressive, feminist legislation to Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Warren. And they can sit alongside a female vice president at a Democratic president’s signing ceremonies. That can be a historic moment, too, even if it’s not the ultimate one of a woman signing those bills.

Even in this hypothetical, it’s bittersweet that we continue to rely on women to do the on-the-ground work of writing and passing bills, but don’t yet trust them to be the president. But there are still other ceilings we can shatter before women —and especially women of color —come back in 2024 to do what they do best: Roll up their sleeves and mobilize.

In 2018, Elizabeth Warren helped more than 160 congressional candidates and nearly 20 candidates for governor. If she’s not on the ticket herself this fall, she’s sure to be on the front lines of the most consequential election in our lifetime

Whoever ends up as the nominee of the Democratic Party, women will mobilize to turn out a higher share of the electorate than ever before. Women will show Donald Trump the door.

And when women march in record numbers to the polls to defeat Donald Trump and flip the Senate, Elizabeth Warren —and Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand —will have led the way.

Toni Van Pelt is the president of the National Organization for Women. She wrote this for