It has become an almost tragic joke. Another marathon television event with hours of talk about healthcare, but no mention of abortion, birth control, Title X, or President Donald Trump’s crusade against Planned Parenthood. Last night, ABC News held the third 2020 debate Houston. It was also the third presidential debate ever to include more than one token “woman” on stage, which was good and historic, but you might not have known it from the conversation.
At the end of what felt like four thousand hours of discussion about guns, war, Medicare For All, and immigration, I counted zero questions about not just abortion, but paid leave, child care, or the lethal misogyny that has become its own national crisis in America. The moderators did ask (more than once) about health care, but no candidates used those opportunities to talk about abortion, such a common procedure that more than one in four women have one at some point in their lifetimes.
Instead, we had health care debates that focus on prescription drugs, but didn’t mention a prescription drug that millions of women take daily—the pill. While the candidates made their disdain for our current president clear, none mentioned the fact that he once suggested women should be punished for having abortions, has been accused of sexual assault over a dozen times, or cheated on his third wife with an adult film star whom he then disparaged and paid off. In short, to claim that the President of the United States is a misogynist seems almost unfair to misogynists. He’s at war with 51 percent of the population, some of whom, sure, vote for him. But his relentless crusade against women’s rights is treated as basically a political ploy and not an actual ideology with deadly consequences.
Or at least, that’s how it’s treated now that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is out of the race. In her campaign and at debates, Gillibrand repeatedly raised “women’s issues.” But she dropped out of the race a few weeks ago, because she couldn’t qualify for last night’s debate and also because a lot of people still blame her for kneecapping former Senator Al Franken for (of course!) his alleged mistreatment of women.
To be honest, I was never a Gillibrand fan. From the start, there were other candidates I liked better. But I also can admit I found her “grating” and even a little “unlikable,” which, sure, could be the internalized sexism talking. Regardless, last night, it occurred to me that the only person who had even tried to center Me Too, women’s healthcare, sexual assault, paid leave, and those other denigrated “women’s issues” in their campaign was Kirsten Gillibrand. Gillibrand was for women what Washington Governor Jay Inslee was for climate, taking an under-discussed, but urgent issue and making it the center of her campaign. She and he have both since dropped out of the race (even as lesser candidates like Marianne Williamson and Mayor Bill De Blasio remain). But while Inslee’s proposals on climate have been praised across the board and Elizabeth Warren liked them so much she adopted his entire plan, Gillibrand’s platform has been more or less erased. It’s as if what candidates learned from Gillibrand’s run is…not to talk about women at all.