This morning, Americans woke up to the news that the latest (and in many cases, last-ditch) effort from Republicans to pass an Obamacare repeal had failed, with the final vote coming in 51-48. And to rub a little more salt in the wound for the GOP, one of the three “nays” from their side of the aisle came from none other than their beloved “maverick” John McCain.
People were quick to discuss how this was John McCain’s “moment.” Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of people. In fact, The Washington Post published a flashy profile about the suspenseful final moments before McCain gave his vote. McCain then gave his second impassioned statement of the week about the importance of compromise and respecting the legislative process.
But here’s some important context: While McCain is being hailed the healthcare hero, up until yesterday night, he had voted for almost all of the Republican healthcare bills proposals, and has typically voted with his party when it comes to these issues. Perhaps If he hadn’t given all of those “yay” votes on the Obamacare repeal efforts (and maybe brought along a few of his colleagues), we wouldn’t have all been watching C-SPAN at one in the morning, praying that millions of people wouldn’t lose their healthcare.
It seems some many people have forgotten that two other Republican senators voted against their party’s bill. And guess what? The two women, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, have been voting against Republican healthcare proposal after Republican healthcare proposal the entire time. And unlike their “maverick” colleague, Collins and Murkowski are facing significant backlash, and a lot of the threats are coming from their own colleagues.
Republican Texas Representative Blake Farenthold said he’d duel his female colleagues “Aaron Burr-style” if they were men over their healthcare votes. Republican Georgia Representative Buddy Carter said he’d “snatch a knot in their ass” when describing how to handle women like Murkowski not voting on party lines. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tried to threaten funding and projects in Murkowski’s state of Alaska if she didn’t fall in line with the votes. (Murkowski got the last laugh though; it turns out the she’s the chair of the Senate committee that oversees what Zinke’s department can do, and she’s now holding onto a Interior Department nominations markup that Zinke desperately wants. Oops.) Murkowski also got hate from President Donald Trump on Twitter. This doesn’t even factor in threats Collins and Murkowski have no doubt received from conservative Americans who wanted Obamacare repealed under any circumstances.
I’m not saying that Democrats should make martyrs of Collins and Murkowski; after all, they have plenty of views that aren’t in line with progressive platforms. What I am saying, though, is that credit should go where it’s due and that we need to watch the underlying sexist dynamics unfolding here that so many women have witnessed time and time again.
You’ve seen it before: Women will do all of the work and toil away at something, often while dealing with some form of criticism or backlash in the process. Then, at the most opportunistic moment, a man waltzes in at the last possible second, waves his arms in the air, acts “surprised” that others are paying attention to him and declares victory for himself, moving up the totem pole the process. You know the guy who makes sure to stand next to the boss when that deal’s signed, despite never staying late once to help craft it? I'm not saying McCain did nothing here, but he’s in the back of the line when it comes to people who deserve a parade, or another splashy profile.
This moment belongs to women, and don’t you let anyone forget it. And it’s not just Collins and Murkowski; it’s the hundreds of thousands of women who called their senators, put their bodies on the line outside of politicians’ offices and toiled away for months (and in some cases, years) to ensure that Collins and Murkowski would give this bill a big ol’ nay. While it’s easy to believe that these women were hard no’s from the start, often that’s not the case in politics. Politicians need incentive, and people (and yes, they’re largely women, not to mention women of color) provide accountability.
So, the big question becomes: What can we do when we see this casual credit-stealing sexism and double standard happening? Call it the hell out, ladies. Even if it’s just making a joke about a guy sliding in at the last minute, say something. And if you see another woman trying to make this point, back her up, then find ways to make sure she gets a boost going forward. Tackling societal issues like sexism isn’t only about grand gestures — like what female senators do when all eyes are on them — it’s what you do when no one else is paying attention.
Going back to the healthcare bill, who deserves credit? Sure, give John McCain a pat on the back for doing the right thing in the healthcare arena for once. But it took 48 Democrats and three Republicans to take down this bill. And two of those Republicans were women who put their social and cultural capital on the line to do it. Unlike their male peer, they’ll be dealing with those repercussions for months and possibly even years to come — and had they not boldly held their ground, it wouldn't have mattered what McCain did.
They are their own kind of mavericks.
Lily Herman is a New York-based writer and editor. Her work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, TIME, Newsweek, Fast Company, and Mashable. All opinions are her own.