In Season 4 of the compelling but deeply misogynistic The West Wing, lead characters Jed Bartlet, Leo McGarry, and Josh Lyman lament, “We have a woman problem.” The line strings through several episodes of the season, as the white, liberal-bro men in charge scurry to tack right to placate insistent constituencies without pissing off the women’s groups who are creating strong lobbies and insisting on recasting “women’s issues” as something far broader. Just as these men underestimate the brain-power of the women in their families (thoracic surgeons; general practitioners; lawyers; school teachers), they undervalue the contributions and strategies of the women who work alongside them in Washington. Anna Deveare Smith appears occasionally as Dr. Nancy McNally, the brilliant, no-nonsense NSA Director, but, besides this character, women of color are mostly absent from the show.
I would assert that the “woman problem” mapped on the fictional The West Wing is not that the women characters, drawn through the lens of Aaron Sorkin’s fear of the vagina dentata, will take good men down, but rather that powerful men will take for granted the support of women, and, as we know all too clearly from the 2016 presidential election, especially of women of color. This The West Wing season, shot way back in the early aughts, presages much of what we have seen over the past two years, and specifically over the past week.
In fact, I started writing this post several days ago, before Lindsey Graham asserted that the GOP has to address “the suburban woman problem” (cited here in Politico). On this NBC News clip, Graham states, “I think the Kavanaugh effect was real. […] I’ve never seen anything in my life bring the Republican Party together more than the, uh, Kavanaugh hearing.” Of course, he adds, that the “conservative judicial train will keep running.” Let’s pause for a moment here. Although most of us are not surprised, we should take an extra moment to absorb Graham’s statement (so contradictory to his worry about Trump’s appropriateness as a presidential candidate way back in 2016). How do you translate this statement in plain-speak?: “We Republicans support rape and rapists so that we can own the Judiciary. Why, of course we do. We count on rapists and rape to push our agenda down the throats of those who elected us, and those who didn’t.” The metaphors represent a frightening reality of GOP control.
(The only levity I can introduce here is the striking resemblance between Lindsey Graham (in the NBC video) and Gumby. How the hell has Gumby gained so much power?)
(Do you see it?)
What Graham, and his fictional predecessors, ignore at their own peril is that “the woman problem” now reaches far beyond just white women.
“The woman problem” reflects a bigger blue wave than most dudishly interrupting pundits could conceive of this past Tuesday night. “The woman problem,” encapsulated in the reality of living with a Groping Old President, should now be seen as a woman-Muslim-Latina/o/x-LGBTQIA-Black Lives Matter-Native American-decent men big-ass wave of dissent against the white supremacist who occupies the White House and his fawning, spineless, power-hungry, weak-ass, and selfish lackeys. We can look at the “me” of #MeToo in a broad, inclusive, representative way. Just look at all the people who want and need to say, “Me Too.” (*See Michelle Goldberg’s “Women’s Revolt” piece in The New York Times; see also Jill Filopovic’s “Women’s Wave” piece in The New York Times.)
You think you’ll support “both sides” in Charlottesville?
You steal votes from any person or demographic who in body alone challenges white male supremacy?
You withdraw from the Paris Accord?
You actually believe scary-ass liar-rapist Brett Kavanaugh?
You dog-whistle violence against Black and Jewish citizens?
You commit the ultimate fascist act of separating families?
You attempt to gaslight a nation?
If so, then get ready for more than “just” a “woman problem.” The results in the House tell us that we want and need elected officials who understand and represent the many ways in which these United States are changing, the very changes so deeply feared by the white men who chanted on August 11 and 12, 2017, “You…will not…replace us.”
Most news outlets (e.g. NPR; USA Today; CNN) have reported by now that the United States has now elected more than 100 women to seats in the House of Representatives. This historic group includes Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Latina and the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first Native American women elected to Congress, Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman from Massachusetts to be elected to Congress, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, the first Texas Latinas to be elected to Congress. This is fantastic news! In addition, several states have elected women governors for the first time (Iowa, Maine, South Dakota), and we are still waiting to hear what will happen with Stacey Abrams’ outstanding run for Governor of Georgia, against the astonishingly corrupt Brian Kemp. Fingers crossed for justice to be served in the final recounts in Arizona and Florida senate races.
In my own district in Virginia, the deeply red hues have molted with the amazing candidacy of Jennifer Lewis and her historic run against Ben Cline, the sort-of-but-not-quite bro-dude tapped by the elusive Bob Goodlatte to take over Virginia’s 6th District’s post in the House. Cline has a clear “woman problem,” and this will become only more evident as he attempts to push Handmaid’s Tale agendas through a now blue House.
Jared Polis’ victory for the governorship of Colorado marks the first time an openly gay man will move into a governor’s mansion. There is much to celebrate, including the declaration in this The New York Times piece that, “The shift to the left in the House in the 2018 Midterm elections went well beyond the districts Democrats flipped” (see their linked article, “Sizing Up the 2018 Blue Wave,” which examines more closely the 222-196 Democratic victory in the House and states that “the overwhelming trend on Tuesday was a blue shift: 317 districts swung to the left”).
In 2019, even with what the Brookings Institute has dubbed “Another ‘Year of the Woman,’” women will still represent less than one-fourth of Congress, even though women are over 51% of our nation. Nevertheless, at the very least, when we think about women and how they/we have worked to undo a fascist regime bent on cruelty and violence, we can think more broadly—not just white and not just cis—as we expand our understanding of humans, collaboration, and representation.
Bring it. Freaking bring it.