The 2016 election was predicted to be an unprecedented victory for women in this country. Ultimately it was, though not in the way that women expected or perhaps wanted. The defeat of a woman by a man who openly makes misogynistic and derogatory comments to women served to emphasize the necessity to women running for office. And women are answering the call: in 2017, Emily’s List reported that sixteen thousand women had reached out about running for office.
The 2016 election taught women that America will not change unless they change it, a lesson that came in the form of electing a president who has been repeatedly accused of sexual assault. But along with the setback that was President Trump, the year 2016 saw the birth of the #MeToo movement, which was a reckoning for those who have sexually harassed or abused others. Although concentrated in Hollywood, the American public watched previously infallible men be toppled from positions of power once their victims came forward. This was a moment of raw and painful exposure, for the victims who were forced to publicly relive their trauma, for the people who learned that their loved ones are predators, and for the perpetrators who finally faced the consequences of their actions.
Yet, two years later, not all Americans are convinced that this country has an issue with misogyny. he national psyche is in a state of cognitive dissonance: while some men suffer the consequences of their sexual crimes, others rise despite them. The most obvious example of this is Brett Kavanaugh, who is set to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court. While this country allegedly underwent a massive, revelatory feminist transformation, our representatives approved a man accused by four women of sexual assault for one of the most exalted positions in this nation. When Dr. Kathleen Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s first accuser, stood in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and calmly offered her testimony, the news media were set ablaze, comparing her words to Kavanaugh’s fiery ones and examining the underlying gender dynamics.
This tension between the #MeToo movement and its critiques sets up an interesting battleground for women as we move towards the 2020 election. More women are running for office than ever before—which demonstrates general empowerment—but the old misogyny is still a force in play. Like Hillary Clinton, women hoping to be president must deal with the fact that America does not like a “power-hungry” woman. The female candidates anticipated to run in 2020 must navigate this complex landscape.
Elected to serve California in 2016, half-black half-Indian Senator Kamala Harris is the first Indian American woman and the second African American woman to be in the Senate. She is a rising star in the Democratic Party who stands up to Republican conventions. She was featured in headlines in 2017 when she was continuously interrupted and scolded by her male colleagues during Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. Democrats rallied around her, with Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeting out “Keeping fighting, Kamala!” Two years later, Harris’s seat was not up for grabs during the midterms, but she was on the campaign trail raising money for other Democrats and testing the waters for 2020. Harris raised over $1 million for her fellow Democrats. As a woman of color in the Senate who is unafraid to stand up to Republicans—usually older white men—Harris has been viewed as a beacon for the #MeToo movement and its supporters, galvanizing the Democrats to get behind her.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been a Senator for New York for ten years, after serving as Representative for two years. Known as the “the Senator from the State of #MeToo,” Gillibrand has one of the longest track records in the government in fighting against sexual harassment and assault. She has been targeted by Trump in several tweets—likely because she has the most anti-Trump voting record of any Senator. But Gillibrand’s wealth of experience might not benefit her:over her years in government, she has repeatedly been called an opportunist. When she was elected, Gillibrand, who is from upstate New York, had an “A” rating by the NRA, dropping to an “F” a year later when she realized a pro-gun approach was becoming unpopular in New York. A decidedly anti-immigrant Blue Dog Democrat at the beginning of her career, Senator Gillibrand has had to spend much of her time answering for her past. Senator Gillibrand, who kept her seat in the midterms, promised during her campaign that she will serve the entire term and therefore would not run for president in 2020. Regardless of her campaign promises, the “#MeToo Senator” will have an uphill battle if she runs for president.
Finally, there is Senator Elizabeth Warren. Elected to serve Massachusetts in 2012, Warren’s platform has always been liberal. She has been a consistent advocate for women’s rights since she was elected. Like Senator Harris, Senator Warren has drawn criticism from Trump for her support of the #MeToo movement. At a rally in July, the President both mocked the #MeToo movement and Senator Warren, calling her “Pocahontas,” as Warren claims to have Native American ancestry. Warren also kept her seat during the midterms. However, unlike Senator Gillibrand, Warren promised during the campaign to take a “hard look” at the 2020 race when the midterms were over and will likely be a top contender for the Democratic nomination.
These three women are frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2020 election. As a response to the Trump administration, the Democrats are allegedly ready for a woman to take the wheel. Each of these three senators will face a fight if they choose to run, and it is unclear if America is ready. A Democratic woman running for president will mean that Americans will be forced to make a choice: support the anti-#MeToo rhetoric of Trump and the Republican Party, or be lead by an unapologetically accomplished and outspoken woman.
The 2018 midterms were not necessarily the overwhelming “blue wave” that Democrats wanted to see, but were still decisively a victory for the party. Looking ahead to 2020, it is possible that Trump’s supporters will remain galvanized enough to offset the Democrats’ newfound momentum. But if the Senators Warren, Harris, and Gillibrand choose to run, though it will be an unprecedented, difficult fight, they have proven that they are up to the task. Fueled by the frustration and anger of women in this country galvanizing American progressives, one of these women could become President in 2020.
The image featured in this article is in the public domain and is not subject to copyright law.
Lucy Ritzmann is a first year prospective Political Science major interested in political media and law. Last summer, she interned at the Manhattan Borough President's Office. For winter quarter, she is a Fellow's Ambassador at the IOP. In her free time, she enjoys being with her friends and zumba.