Welcome to Day 1 of Elizabeth Warren Not Becoming President.
After running what most have considered an exemplar of a campaign – full of smarts and policy ideas and brio and humor and virtually no stumbles (plus a dog who steals burritos) – Warren proved to voters and women many, many things about what it means for a woman to run for president.
Especially that she can dot every “I” and cross every “T” and still get stuck in the starting gate.
There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth going on over this, and I admit, I’ve beat my own chest on this topic. I mean, just look at her competition, from the empty smiles of Joe Biden to the fire and fury of Bernie Sanders. Even when they act progressively, they still feel like throwbacks. How did she lose to that?
And then, of course, there’s the ultimate competitor: The person currently occupying the seat of the White House. Who made it in there despite nothing but off-the-cuff quips and put-downs and impossible policies, like a Student Council president who poked fun at the administration and promised everyone ice cream for lunch. Who might think about crossing his “I”s and dotting his “Ts” but probably isn’t sure how to do it.
Moment of silence for how we’re not getting a debate between Warren and 45, at least not any time soon.
My point is this: Ladies, what if we’ve been going about this all wrong?
Now, I don’t mean wrong in some kind of moral sense. Or even in some sort of Adults in the Room Who Have Values and Character to Uphold sense. I mean – for hundreds of years, the game has been male-run. Male dominated. Male-shaped and carved and organized and processed. But women stepping up to the fore, making a serious, focused bid a the biggest seat in the land – I can’t help but have the feeling we’re playing soccer on a basketball court.
‘Cause let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how good a soccer player you are. You kick that thing around on parquet in the middle of a b-ball matchup, you will lose. No question. You’re not even aiming for the right net.
This comes to mind because I’m currently writing an article for a newspaper in which I’m asking various women who work behind the scenes in television about what it’s like. Why men still get the lion’s share of jobs. And one quote has stood out to me: “This is a wildly generalized observation, but I think women on the whole bullshit less. I think men bullshit their way through a lot of situations. They don’t [always] understand what the hell they’re doing and sometimes get away with it.”
Yeah, here’s the thing: For eternity, women have been bringing a soccer ball to a basketball game. Certainly: there are many, many mitigating factors here, most of which have been out of women’s control. But the one thing women have always had precise control over is what game they’re ready to play. And it’s time to get into the bullshit.
We’ve all faked it a little. Commonly, if someone asks me something I will look for an answer rather than admit I don’t know – but I usually undercut that know-nothing answer by saying, “Of course, I’m making that up; I really don’t know.”
But I get the sense that blustering your way through – faking it until you make it – is still an alien mindset to women. We need to know that we did everything perfectly so no one can shift blame our way. After all, we’ve been informed again and again of all of the reasons we fail at something — the latest being that gosh, women, you can’t trust them to win so we won’t even let them try — which leads us to overcompensate, to ensure everything is just so before taking a leap.
I think if we’re going to really win this, we have to play the game that’s on the field — and, later, find ways to make it a new game. We don’t have to like the game, but we are going to have to play it for a time. And by play it, I don’t mean play nice.
We’ve been patching holes in our ships before even discovering if they’re seaworthy. And you know what? Elizabeth Warren’s ship was airtight. She had her ship together.
It sank anyway.
What if she’d just kicked off from shore on a raft and built it as she went? What if you damn all of the rules and the letters of the alphabet that need extra attention and just know what you’re talking about – and feel free to riff or make shit up when you don’t? What if we stop wasting time by reading the rule book before getting onto the field? What if we stop nitpicking and looking for all of the weak points and reminding people that it’s not a good idea to mix metaphors (like those about ships and games) – and do it anyway?
Is that messier? Hell, yeah. But I can’t think of a campaign that was messier than the one that 45 ran in 2016. I mean, total chaos. That’s how the last four years have been, too – an unending, giant, mess. And yet, nothing sticks. It all bounces off him. Meanwhile, someone can run a spotless campaign full of all the things we claim we want in our leaders – and still find out she’s been playing the wrong game, sailing the wrong ship, and gone right off the cliff with both.
I don’t know if there’s a coherent answer in here. What I do think is that women need to stop being so nice. Stop being so planned out. Stop being so pre-thought-out. Stop being so goddamned placating. Throw your own party. Buy your own house. Get your own life. Help others along the way. And stop looking for everyone’s approval before choosing to act.
Embrace the chaos. Own it. Live it. Because if you don’t, the chaos is going to suffocate you first.
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