In a stunning segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, commentator Donny Deutsch argued that sexism wasn’t a factor in how voters were evaluating Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy — while simultaneously making a series of sexist statements about her.
“Is it a woman or is it her?” he asked. “There’s a certain stridentness to her that, do we want to invite her into our bedrooms and our living rooms every day for four years?”
Deutsch’s critique about Warren came amid a conversation about electability, and a debate that’s emerged about whether a woman can beat President Trump in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. It’s a question that rests on the faulty assumption that Clinton’s gender was the central factor in her defeat — and that it would be the deciding factor, once again, in the candidacy of any other woman that comes after her.
Deutsch, however, took the conversation in an entirely different direction that also managed to play up several sexist tropes.
“She has the same issue Bernie had,” Deutsch said. “I don’t think it’s a gender issue — I think it’s a likability issue.”
Donny Deutsch’s Elizabeth Warren comments on Morning Joe made me question, as I do again & again,how he has the platform to continue to spew such nonsense. As if a man who said a viable woman candidate must be sexy can be trusted to tell us the role sexism is playing in the elect https://t.co/6RCUZoq1v4— Ida Bae Wells (@nhannahjones) February 7, 2020
Deutsch’s framing of his statements ignores the obvious subtext: Comments about a candidate’s “strident” behavior and “likability” have long predominately been used in attacks against women candidates.
“Strident,” for one, much like the terms “shrill” and “abrasive,” is a word that’s developed a gendered connotation — and more often than not is levied in ways to criticize women on a personal level, suggesting that they’re difficult to be around. As one linguist and tech entrepreneur found in a 2014 study of workplace reviews, an overwhelming number of women received critical feedback on their personality including similar terms, while very few men garnered such comments.
Likability, too, is a litmus test that’s predominantly applied to women. According to research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, people are less likely to vote for women they do not like, though they’ll still back a man they don’t like as long as they think he’s qualified. Deutsch’s comments are the latest to hold women to a different standard than their male counterparts, while promoting troubling stereotypes about how women in power can be perceived.
If all that wasn’t enough, Deutsch rounded out his commentary by making a statement about Warren that’s so comically overused it’s the subject of a cutting McSweeney’s parody.
“I think an amazing woman would be a great anecdote ... a different definition of strength, if you will,” he said. “Strength to strength but a different way. But I don’t think Elizabeth Warren’s problem has been she’s a woman.”
Effectively, Deutsch said: I’d support a woman — just not that woman. It’s a statement we’ve all heard before.
Deutsch’s comments capture the biases that women are still up against — and the bind it puts them in
Deutsch’s comments illustrate, in a nutshell, the constant sexism that women candidates deal with — and how it puts them in an impossible bind. If a candidate acknowledges sexism, for example, it can feel like they’re opening the door to critics arguing that sexism will hurt and doom their campaign.
It’s a fine line to tread, philosopher Kate Manne told Vox’s Sean Illing last year.
“We have to acknowledge that the biases really make this tough for women, but not impossible, and that there may be female candidates who are really worth fighting for, and then we have to go out and do that work,” she said. “I don’t think it works to just live in denial about the biases.”
Deutsch appears to deny the role that sexism continues to play, while contributing to its pernicious effects himself.