Creative Destruction

June 3, 2006

All Else Being Equal, I Vote for Women of Color

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Politics,Race and Racism — Ampersand @ 12:49 pm

Hugo posted his endorsements for various political races in California, including the Democratic Party primary race for Lt. Governor in California. Hugo endorsed John Garamendi over his two opponents, Jackie Speier and Liz Figueroa. One of Hugo’s readers, Kyle, objected in comments:

How can you call yourself a feminist and vote for Garamendi? No one in that race has done more for women than Jackie Speier. She created the Office of Women’s Health in the Department of Health Services, she authored the Contraceptive Equity Act, and even carried the resolution adopting the ERA in California. Her list of accomplishments in this area goes on and on, unlike those of her competitor.

Kyle’s criticism is over-the-top; “How can you call yourself a feminist and…” type criticisms should be reserved for serious acts of sexism or anti-feminism, and I don’t think that voting for one feminist-friendly candidate rather than another qualifies.

In a new post, Hugo replied to Kyle’s criticism like this:

Feminism makes some serious political and personal claims on my life. That’s as it should be. But I don’t think that feminists must automatically vote for female candidates when they are running against equally qualified men.

Huh? Kyle didn’t say that Hugo should vote for Speier because she’s female. Kyle said Hugo should vote for Speier because she has the best record of feminist accomplishments.

But what Kyle never said, I’ll say: When all else is equal, feminists should always vote for a female candidate over a male candidate. There, now that I’ve said it – thus saving Hugo’s argument from being a total strawman – let’s continue reading Hugo’s reply:

Yes, I recognize that men still hold most elected offices. We can and should do more to encourage women to run. But that shouldn’t mean that a progressive woman has an automatic claim on feminist support when she runs against an equally progressive male candidate.

Why not? The two candidates are equal in their policies, but the female candidate (if elected) will slightly improve the problem of too few women in elected office. That makes her the better candidate, from a feminist point of view.

If you think about it, it sure puts women of color in a difficult position! If you’re a feminist Latina, does that mean you must vote for Liz Figueroa? Once we start playing identity politics, things get nasty fast.

Again, Hugo is attacking a strawman. Kyle never said “women must vote for women candidates” or anything approximating that; to extend from Kyle’s position (which was “feminists should vote for the candidate who has done the most feminist issues”) to “people of color must vote for people of color” is completely illogical.

As for me, I don’t believe that “people of color must vote for people of color,” any more than I believe “women must vote for women.” I do think that, if the candidates are otherwise equally good, anti-racists should support a candidate of color over a white candidate. Why would we endorse a white male candidate, if we could choose someone who is just as good in every way, but who also helps solve the problem of overrepresentation of white men in elected office?

Now, if they’re not just as good in every way, then that changes things. Hugo, for instance, says that he favors John Garamendi because Garamendi is better on environmental issues. That’s fine; I’m not saying that feminists can’t support a white male candidate whose politics are better.

But I resent the hell out of the notion that feminism requires that all else being equal, one always must vote for a woman.

I get that Hugo resents it. I just don’t understand why.

I doubt Hugo would say that total sexblindness or total colorblindness makes for good public policy; in a racist and sexist society, the “blindness” approach often translates into not doing anything to fight the results of racism and sexism. So why should progressives be sexblind or colorblind in the voting booth?

In a world in which our political rulers are disproportionately white and male, supporting non-white and female candidates rather than otherwise equal white male candidates addresses a real and important problem. Shouldn’t we take that into account when we vote – not as the only factor we consider, but as one of many factors we consider?



  1. Given that most elections don’t really offer many choices, is all else being equal a scenario one can reasonably expect to encounter with any frequency?

    Comment by Brandon Berg — June 3, 2006 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

  2. I’ve several times (especially in primaries) encountered the situation where I’ve had to choose between candidates who were, if not identical, at least not different in any of their policy preferences in a way that mattered to me.

    But I admit it’s not how these things usually go. 🙂

    Comment by Ampersand — June 4, 2006 @ 12:50 am | Reply

  3. Generally, politicians attempt to conceal most of their true beliefs. Most beliefs are better at turning voters off than turning them on; it’s much safer to just endorse truisms. (“Jobs are good!”)

    Thus, we’re in the annoying predicament of being pragmatically able to judge which candidate we’d like best – if only we knew enough about him or her – and having candidates whose motivations run in exactly the opposite direction. Our interest and their interest are thus inevitably opposed.

    This is one splinter (among the million, bundled into a great log) of the extended Hayekian opposition to excessive government power. The rulers, in a democracy, are directly incentivized to try to hide things from the people. Accordingly, it is best to minimize their ability to act at all – limiting government only to the things which only it can do.

    Comment by Robert — June 4, 2006 @ 1:57 am | Reply

  4. > All Else Being Equal, I Vote for Women of Color

    But how often are “all” other things really “equal” in the real world?

    Comment by Bazzer — June 4, 2006 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

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