Defeating Donald Trump in November is existentially crucial, particularly for women. But former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is an imperfect vessel to meet this moment, to put it diplomatically. His is a clueless, paternal sort of misogyny as compared to Trump’s oeuvre of degradation, contempt, and physical violence. He is a man who says things like, "Your job is to keep the boys away from her" to the brothers of young girls, who has been known to make some women he interacts with uncomfortable, and who still has not properly apologized to Anita Hill. Biden is not the candidate feminists dreamed of as we move forward with Me Too and attempt to chip away at the male supremacist power structures imperiling our bodies and our paychecks.
But women will have to do the work of electing Biden as our president, because women have always been the ones who have to elect Democrats. Propelling progressive victories in America has always been women’s work, although it shouldn’t have to be — and it has disproportionately fallen on the shoulders of Black women, who do the heavy lifting in every election, turning out in such strong numbers that they make up for white women historically tipping Republican.
The fact of our electoral politics is that if only men were engaged, only Republicans would win. Even now, as we collectively live out the disastrous stakes of what it means to elect a racist chaos agent to the highest office in the country, if it were up to American men, they would re-elect Donald Trump decisively. Biden consistently wins in a head-to-head matchup only because women choose him by a stunning 30 points.
We will organize, persuade our friends and families, and declare our allegiance despite the hate that comes our way when we speak up on behalf of our own needs. We will go hard to elect Biden in November because the choice not to means death for too many people. We know down the other road lies Gilead. We can’t afford four more years of deadly anti-science propaganda, or any more Brett Kavanaughs on the Supreme Court, and we still need to get the babies out of cages at the border. Joe Biden is a decent man. He values people, he feels our pain, and he wants to make our country better. We can work with this.
What we should expect in return for the work we do is power over our own futures. Biden needs to recognize that he has blind spots you could drive the Hyde Amendment through. He needs to put women in power, not just as his pick for vice president, but making key decisions on his campaign, steering his transition, and seated at the table in his eventual cabinet.
Biden has said he wants to be a transitional figure — a bridge between our old way of doing politics and the new one currently being forged by women, young people, and people of color, who know the game is stacked against them and don’t wish to play by the rules. This is the role we need him to play: that of a white man who uses his power to champion those who don’t look like him and don’t possess his privileges.
There are many signs that Joe Biden listens. He authored the insanely important Violence Against Women Act as a form of atonement after fierce feminist criticism of his handling of the Clarence Thomas scandal. On the issue of reproductive freedom, last year he reversed his position from supporting denying abortion care to poor women under Medicaid to opposing it and saying “it’s a woman’s right to do that. Period.”
There are hints, particularly in his promises to choose a woman as VP and to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, that he will answer our calling. It would be worth fighting for an administration made of the powerful women who have always belonged in the top jobs, making the decisions that shape our lives with the personal knowledge of how it feels to be regulated by those who don’t care to understand our reality. We could spend the next four years watching Elizabeth Warren as Treasury Secretary, taking on the banks and demanding fair pay. We could see Kamala Harris as Attorney General, closing private prisons that profit from racism and combatting the gendered violence of cyber exploitation and sexual assault. We could see Stacey Abrams, who recently confidently expressed her desire for the job, making the VP’s office into a powerful platform for expanding our democracy: increasing ballot access, ending racist disenfranchisement practices, and providing election security.
We could get used to expert briefings from the White House that look less like the Nixon era and more like one where Shonda Rhimes and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are in charge. We can already see a State of the Union address where the president is flanked by a woman on either side of him, first and second in line for the job. The little girls will be watching, hopeful about their own futures.
It goes beyond representation, too. Biden needs to read the moment and recognize that women’s criminally overlooked importance to our economy and our country has never been more visible than it is right now. The coronavirus crisis has exposed all manner of late-stage capitalist inequalities in our system: our refusal to end gender discrimination in pay, our lack of paid sick and family leave, our absurd disregard for the time and financial expense required to raise the next generation of humans. As feminist economist Dr. Jen Cohen noted, “The economy isn’t closed, people. The economic activities we’re doing — childcare, cooking, cleaning, etc. — just aren’t considered valuable by most economists.” This work hasn’t been considered valuable by politicians either.
Biden needs women crafting an economic agenda that centers women, compensates them for the work they do, meaningfully addresses issues such as childcare and paid family leave, and works to end workplace gender discrimination. Warren probably knows a few he could call who are up for the job, and she’s already created more than one plan that would be useful to Biden on these issues. I am hopeful he intends to lean on her for a lot more than just Wednesday’s endorsement.
It’s surreal to think it was just last month that Warren dropped out of the presidential race, ending the historically diverse contest and ensuring the leader for this moment would not be a woman. It was a heartbreaking loss for many of us who had hoped that after it slipped through our fingers in 2016, voters would recognize the value of a progressive platform that prioritizes the real-life experience of more than half the population.
Here’s hoping we won’t have to mourn that reality again. To keep it alive, we need to do everything in our power to put the Dream Team in place that will help us continue to strive toward progress. We will organize, and we will brave the hate that comes our way when we speak out loud. And we will vote. But our work doesn’t end in November. We must demand a president who values the work we do, and recognizes he wouldn't be there without it.