That's Not What Sexism Is, Kyrsten Sinema
The Senate voted on Friday to reject Bernie Sanders's proposal to include a $15 minimum wage in the COVID relief package. A lot of people (myself included!) were extremely disappointed in this, considering that eight Democrats voted against it.
Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, however, drew some attention to the way she voted against it — with an exaggerated, jaunty thumbs down and curtsy, which many found just a tad unseemly given the subject matter. Even if one opposes raising the minimum wage, it seems fairly obvious that this is not a frivolous subject. It feels a little "cartoon villain" to be so jazzed about people working full time and not making a living wage.
When writing up the incident, The Huffington Post reached out to Sinema for comment. Her spokesperson, Hannah Hurley, responded to this request by suggesting that writing about the gesture was sexist, stating, "Commentary about a female senator's body language, clothing, or physical demeanor does not belong in a serious media outlet."
Look. I'm a feminist, been a feminist my whole life. Known all kinds of other feminists from different schools of feminist thought. And I cannot think of any way in which it could possibly be considered sexist to report on something as incongruous as a Democratic senator excitedly and dramatically doing a thumb's down gesture to vote down a minimum wage hike. If she were a male senator, it would also be news.
This is the kind of shit we are used to seeing from Republicans, who like to try to pretend that criticizing conservative women for their stances, votes, statements, or anything else is "sexism." We don't need it on our side.
Feminism doesn't mean that women are immune from criticism. In fact, I would argue that not criticizing someone's actions or demeanor because that person happens to be a woman would be sexist. It would be patronizing. It's also one thing to criticize a woman's fashion choices in a way one would not criticize a man's, but demeanor is totally up for discussion, man or woman. I would in fact argue that you can absolutely criticize a woman's fashion choices if said choices are relevant to the discussion.
For instance, if a woman is carrying a lululemon bag — lululemon being generally considered a symbol of wealth and Ayn Rand-iness — to vote against a minimum wage bill, or if a man wore an Hermes pocket square, that is something people will often feel some kind of way about. In Sinema's defense, judging by Poshmark, the particular bag she was carrying would have cost $200 at most if she paid retail. But frankly I think people would have felt the way they did even if she were carrying one of the tote bags they give away for free when you buy something.
It is very understandable why she and her people might think this is a smart way to go. She just voted against something that is not only very popular, but which also kind of makes her look like a jerk who doesn't care about the fact that so many people are not making enough to live on in this country. And she did so in a way that really hammered that home. It is better for her, PR-wise, to switch the discussion to the kinds of things that cannot actually be legislated. Turning the conversation to some bullshit #GirlBoss feminism and away from the minimum wage increase can only benefit her.
But that's not really what feminism is supposed to be for, is it? If I act like an asshole, it would be cowardly of me to retreat to, "Oh you can't call me an asshole! That's sexist!" instead of either apologizing or standing behind my own actions. Sinema wants to have it both ways. She wants to not vote for the minimum wage increase, but not have anyone act like she voted against the minimum wage increase.
As she said in a statement posted to Twitter.
I understand what it is like to face tough choices while working to meet your family's most basic needs. I also know the difference better wages can make, which is why I helped lead Arizona's effort to pass an indexed minimum wage in 2006, and strongly supported the voter approved state minimum wage increase in 2016. No person who works full time should live in poverty. Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill. I will keep working with colleagues in both parties to ensure Americans can access good-paying jobs, quality education and skills training to build more economically secure lives for themselves and their families.
Oh yeah, Republicans are just dying to increase the minimum wage.
By the way — the argument that a minimum wage increase should be legislated separately from the COVID relief bill would have been a whole lot more believable if there were not other entirely unrelated things being shoved into this and other COVID relief bills. It's hardly as if bans on mailing vaping products to adult consumers and racehorse doping have anything at all to do with COVID relief, but those sure were in the last bill. And as much as I support the right of the Tibetan people to choose a successor to the Dalai Lama, that doesn't have much to do with COVID relief either. At least the minimum wage increase would have had something to do with helping people — particularly the vast majority of those who were designated "essential workers" at the beginning of the pandemic.
While I'd actually prefer she just straight up say that she doesn't want to raise the minimum wage instead of doing this "No, not that way" nonsense, Kyrsten Sinema is free to believe whatever she wants and vote however she wants. She is also free to act however she wants. But she's a senator, and when you're a senator, people are going to criticize practically everything you do and it's not always going to be "because sexism." Feminism is not a shield to protect anyone from legitimate criticism. If people make fun of her looks or her outfits in ways that bear no relation to her actions as a senator, I will be with her and I will defend her. This? Not so much.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse