Rebecca Traister on Women in Politics

Rebecca Traister writes about women in politics, media, and entertainment from a feminist perspective for New York Magazine and The Cut. She is also the author of Good and Mad, All the Single Ladies, and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Katie Couric: Why is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being so vilified? Why is she so polarizing?

Rebecca Traister: Because she’s so threatening! She unseated a long-serving and powerful man, and immediately became a widely-broadcast voice (with new and disruptive ideas), all of which makes her powerful. She’s unapologetic about her drive and ambition, which makes people uncomfortable in women, especially in young women. She behaves in ways that women have not historically been encouraged to behave or have been celebrated for behaving and she doesn’t seem to care, and that scares people. And as soon as a woman is powerful, threatening, and seemingly unafraid of public censure, she gets vilified.

Women delivered the House for democrats in the midterms, so why is the expectation from some dems that it will take a white man to deliver the White House in 2020?

Because we have no model for a woman winning the White House, so it remains unimaginable for a lot of people. I would add that while there were many more models of women winning House seats, the idea that so many of those women were going to win in 2018 was also unimaginable — I was told all the time last year that most of those women were going to lose their races! This is part of what makes it so hard to change biased patterns: without past examples, we can’t conceive of a different future. But if we allowed the limitations of imagination rooted in the past to determine our future outcomes, we’d never be able to change or expand our democracy and representation.

Do you feel like the Bs are getting the lion’s share of attention? (That’s Biden, Bernie, Beto and Buttigieg)

Rebecca: They’re getting the lion’s share of the money! And yes, to some degree, more attention. In part because they’re familiar to the media—sometimes literally, as with Biden and Bernie; they’ve covered them before. Sometimes because (again) it’s easy to compare them to past models—Beto and Buttigieg have both been compared to Obama. But the women in the race are determined and tough and many of them are very smart, so they know what they’re up against.

Knock Down the House’ profiles four candidates, and three of them lost. Is there something important about seeing women lose too?

Absolutely. Actual representational democracy would mean having women winning and losing, women to root for and against, women competing against each other just as men have since the start.