The sixth Democratic debate held in December 2019 wasn’t quite filled with surprises, but it did have a few good zingers—one of which was delivered to us by none other than Andrew Yang, the sole person of color in attendance and perhaps the unlikeliest candidate on stage. (He just missed the cut-off for tonight’s debate in Iowa.)
“If you get too many men alone and leave us alone for a while, we kind of become morons,” Yang said.
For much of the 2020 race, Yang was a virtual unknown in a crowded field; he’s never held an elected position and the position he talks about with the most passion isn’t health care or student debt, but Universal Basic Income—which, he would maintain, could help deal with problems like health care and student debt.
Yang believes that advancements in AI will eliminate entire swaths of the American workforce. To cope with the destabilization, he wants to put a little cash in people’s pockets each month—no strings attached. Yang is an optimist about human nature and a realist about the issues we all face. Hence, the “men can be morons” quip.
Sure, the line shouldn’t be that impressive. But in the context of a presidential debate, the admission that groups of men left alone in rooms can and do wreak havoc on the world (and the women) around them felt momentous.
A few weeks later, I called Yang to talk about it as he was driving around rural South Carolina and I was heading from Palm Springs to Los Angeles. We chatted about feminism, tech, child care, reproductive health care, and, as Yang put it, a lot of “bullshit, frankly.”
Molly Jong-Fast: How did you get here? How did your views on sexism evolve?
Andrew Yang: I’ve been working in the startup world for a number of years. And it doesn’t take anyone that savvy to figure out pretty quickly that the startup world is highly male-dominated and chauvinistic. I saw dozens of aspiring female entrepreneurs who would interact with potential advisors or investors who were men and the men were more interested in hitting on them than helping them.
You see that and you think, Wow. Any thought that the startup ecosystem is somehow a meritocracy of ideas and [the process is fair] is completely farcical.
My husband is a [venture capitalist] so we talk about this a lot—women in tech and how women in tech are treated.
I’m sure he sees a lot of the same. Bullshit, frankly. I mean, just the level of bullshit that women have to put up with is staggering. So that was one input.
Another was seeing so many incredibly talented women that I went to school with end up running into all these headwinds when they were in various corporate environments. The companies seemed to alienate women in ways big and small. I saw so many women friends eventually just say, “Is this worth it? I have to armor myself up when I go into the workplace every day.”
On top of that, many of them also have families and all of their responsibilities were just multiplied 10 times over, 20 times over, a 100 times over. I saw it with my wife’s experience even when she was pregnant and had our boys.
Is that how you realized that paid leave was such a big problem?
You have to ask yourself, “How the heck is the United States nearly alone on a global list of countries that doesn’t recognize something as basic as a need for moms to take time off when they have kids?” It’s because we’re pathologically anti-woman, anti-family, and we treat everyone like their [only value is] their economic output.