Inviting a man, specifically a man who has been as dismissive of women’s issues as Sanders, to speak at a Women’s Convention, seems on the surface a rather baffling choice. But upon further reflection, it’s not a huge surprise. We continuously allow men to be the arbiters of policy, make political decisions, and support them because they’ve had more experience. But they gain more experience by being louder, by talking over us, and by changing plans without consulting us.
Bernie Sanders is not the first man to tell women that their reproductive rights are not as important as other issues, that we must just sit back and wait until some other Important Problem is solved. This includes trans women as well- access to empathetic healthcare is critical to trans health. Women of color have been told throughout history that their rights come secondary to everyone else’s, even other women’s. In fact, other women are often the ones to tell women of color, trans women, and non-binary femmes that they are next on the list, just as soon as the smallest of first steps is accomplished.
It is important that we as women do not fall into the trap of defending men who do this, or of giving them space that women should be occupying. The response from the Women’s Convention organizers was to state that they tried to find someone else, that Sanders was a “champion” of women’s rights throughout his career. But what we’ve seen in the past couple of years has been Sanders’ continued insistence that we must first address economic issues before moving on to identity politics, a term he uses with clear disdain.
I saw a lot of arguments online about how Sanders is one of the most “popular” politicians among millennials, and that he would be a draw for the convention. But politics shouldn’t be a popularity contest, and women are smart enough to discern between what is popular and what is beneficial to them. But Sanders himself seems to treat politics as a popularity contest. He should never have accepted the invitation, and there were several ways he could have declined respectfully. Stating that he would prefer women’s voices be centered at their own convention would have been a good start. Instead, he waited until people were upset, then decided to go to Puerto Rico to…do his actual job as a Senator. Thankfully, a woman took his place.
The silver lining in all of this is that women have been using our voices more.
We’ve been speaking up more in solidarity, as a collective. We are slowly but surely affecting change. It starts with us continuing to carve out a place, to maintain our spaces when men attempt to intrude, to continue to use our voices against the men who would silence us. When it’s all of us together, we have a chance.