In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle has to remind the good American people that just being a woman doesn’t mean you necessarily espouse policies that are good for women. Carly Fiorina is living proof.
Do you remember how, ages and ages hence, in the Long Long Ago, I said something about how someone being a woman didn’t mean that you had to vote for them? Well today I get to add to that statement. Not only does being a woman not mean that you have to vote for them, someone being a woman doesn’t mean that their political stances are good for women. I’ll go even further than that, and say that the fact that two women are simultaneously competing in a presidential election doesn’t negate the general war on women.
Mind blown yet? Carly Fiorina’s is.
As some of you may not know, Carly Fiorina is the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, a failed 2010 senatorial candidate, and a Person Who is Very Bad at Obtaining Domain Names Before They Run for President. That last one is especially important, because hey, what do you know, Carly Fiorina is running for president!
Now, there are a lot of things that we could say about Carly Fiorina. We could talk about the fact that her claim to “fame” as CEO of HP was to buy Compaq in a disastrous deal, to have a board of directors so dysfunctional that they had to propose a redistribution of power (which I think is like the Vote of No Confidence in one of the Star Wars movies that Must Not Be Named), and laying off so many workers her nickname became “chain-saw Carly.” Currently the website bearing her name has an emoticon frown-y face for every person she laid off at HP (now imagine the Sesame Street Count’s voice as you realize that number is 30,000! 30,000 laid off employee frowny faces.) Fiorina claimed indirectly that she was laid off from HP due to sexism, but based on the evidence I think this may be another case of “criticized while being a woman” instead of “criticized for being a woman.” (I could be wrong though—I obviously wasn’t inside the head of the HP board members that fired her.)
However, Fiorina isn’t going to let little things like “complete lack of political experience,” “a history as a failed political candidate and business executive” or “the fact that she’s done basically nothing with her life since she lost the senate race” stop her from running for President. You can do anything you want to in this country, as long as you’re rich and white, and Fiorina fits both of those categories! God bless America.
Carly Fiorina fits one other category that she is very excited about—she’s a woman. And in her mind, that makes a whole lot of Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric obsolete. Alice Olstein reports that the following words actually left Fiorina’s mouth:
“If Hillary Clinton were to face a female nominee, there are a whole set of things that she won’t be able to talk about,” Fiorina told reporters mid-April. “She won’t be able to talk about being the first woman president. She won’t be able to talk about a war on women without being challenged. She won’t be able to play the gender card.”
She later told Bloomberg that her candidacy “renders the Democratic ‘war on women’ baloney sort of neutral. It will be definitely harder for her to run against a woman. … because the political rhetoric that she talks about will be far more difficult for her to make credible.”
Now, while you try to stop laughing, I’ll give you some backstory. This isn’t the first time Fiorina has attacked the idea of the “war on women.” In 2014, she called the war on women “shameless, baseless propaganda.” Which she then backed up by reading a fortune cookie out loud… like you do. (Personally I prefer to end political statements with a Bazooka Joe joke, but not everyone shares my rhetorical skills or bubblegum addiction.) So to really put Fiorina’s latest statements into context, you have to think about the multiple levels on which she is wrong.
First, we have the idea that because Fiorina is a woman, Clinton will somehow not be able to talk about women’s issues, or about being the first woman president, or playing the “gender card.” That’s… not how it works. Having two women in a predominantly male field doesn’t mean that someone stands up and shouts “The genders are now equal! Everyone is an androgynous, amorphous blob! We need never again discuss women’s issues!”
Women’s issues are still important. Clinton can still “play the gender card,” if by that you mean “talk about women’s issues while simultaneously being a woman.” And whether Clinton or Fiorina wins (the latter scenario I’m officially going to stop pretending is a possibility after this sentence) one of them will still be the first woman president. Having two women in the contest doesn’t mean that Clinton is suddenly incapable of talking about most of the same things. She is unable to say exactly one (1) thing—that she is the only woman in the race. That’s it. That’s the only restriction. It’s almost like female candidates are very much like male candidates and we should judge them on the issues.
Speaking of the issues, I finally stopped laughing at the idea that there isn’t a war on women. I don’t know what plane of existence Fiorina has spent the last few years hanging out in, but it wasn’t the same one I’ve been forced to accept. In the first three months of 2015, 332 pieces of anti-abortion legislation were introduced in state legislatures. Twenty-five were introduced in Texas alone. A bill that was intended to help the victims of human trafficking has been held up because last-minute anti-abortion language was added by a conservative Republican. The House just passed a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks. Colorado recently stopped what had been one of the most effective anti-teen pregnancy programs in the nation, because conservative lawmakers aren’t happy until we’re just telling teen girls to keep an aspirin between their knees and think of Jesus. Last I checked, we still haven’t passed the Equal Rights Amendment, and it’s going to take us 70 years to reach pay equity. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m feeling fairly “warred upon.“
And that’s just on the large scale (and mostly about reproductive rights, because that’s most of what shows up when you Google “war on women”). Fiorina herself has espoused plenty of opinions that don’t exactly jive with an image of “Carly Fiorina, protectress of women.” Fiorina has opposed passing the Paycheck Fairness Act because there are “laws on the books” that supposedly cover that issue, and blames “unions, government bureaucracies” and the Democratic Party for the existence of the gender pay gap. She opposes an increase in the minimum wage, even though two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and 80% of women support a raise in the minimum wage. She opposes the Affordable Care Act, which has provided affordable insurance for thousands of women (including yours truly). She downplays the effects of restriction women’s access to contraception, and supports restricting access to abortion. I’m pretty sure if she and Hillary Clinton debate each other, there is going to be plenty of the war on women “baloney” for them to talk about.
On the most basic level, one can suppose that it can be qualified as a “good” thing that Fiorina is in the race. The first step to equality is to increase representation, and Fiorina’s participation does increase the representation of women in the presidential race. That doesn’t mean that it will be a good thing for Fiorina to become president.
Being a woman doesn’t automatically make you good for women, and Fiorina has made it abundantly clear that her policies and beliefs aren’t going to improve women’s reproductive rights, economic capabilities, or access to healthcare. The war on women exists, and Fiorina is fighting on the wrong side of it.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week in Tomorrow. When she’s not desperately trying not to rage-quit reading the news, she studies gender in popular culture.