Have you noticed that Elizabeth Warren is not quite running as a feminist? Her feminism is, rather, integral to who she is.
For instance, Warren’s basic story tells of how her mother had to take a paid job for the first time after her father’s heart attack, and how she kept saying amid sobs, “We will not lose this house, we will not lose this house.” What kind of story could be more quintessentially female? Every woman in the audience gets what that’s about.
And in the narrative of her own rise, as a young mother desperate to attend law school, all that stands between Warren and her dream is decent day care and toilet training:
Finally, finally, less than one week before classes were starting, I found a place that seemed nice. Cheerful teachers, a good playground, it smelled good. That thing matters, you know. There was only one problem: They only took children who were “dependably potty trained.” Man, I filled out that application, I said “Sure. Dependably potty trained. Got it! We are so on this.” And I left there knowing I had five days to turn my not-quite-two-year-old into a ready-to-go, dependably potty-trained partner. And I just want to say that I’m here today courtesy of three bags of M&Ms and a cooperative two-year-old who loved chocolate. That’s my story!
Now again, is there any working mother who cannot relate to this? Conversely, can you imagine a man telling that story?
Warren works the need for quality child care into her speeches, not as a policy thing, but as a deeply personal human need. She doesn’t have to point out the special resonance for women, because it is so heartfelt and palpable.
Warren was the single toughest critic of the big banks, helped by a few other brave women such as Sheila Bair, Sarah Bloom Raskin, and Brooksley Born, up against an old boys’ club who let the reform moment pass, and left Wall Street stronger than ever. She did it as one nervy woman. She doesn’t wear the gender piece on her sleeve, either. It speaks for itself.
The contrast with Hillary Clinton is stark, and also complicated. For many women I’ve spoken with, the takeaway from 2016 is brutal: Let’s not nominate a woman this time, because America is so misogynist that America will never elect a woman.
The rise of Warren suggests a different conclusion. Hillary Clinton was disappointing and somewhat scattered on the issues. She was cozy with Wall Street. So she put all her eggs in the feminism basket: “This Is Our Fight Song,” played ad nauseam. I’m with her.
She’d lose the male vote, but she’d make it up by winning overwhelmingly among women. Remember?
Well, it didn’t work. Clinton was an odd feminist icon to begin with, as the faithful wife of a womanizer. She did lose the male vote, by more than three-to-one, but she also lost a majority of white women—and to Donald Trump, no less.
Warren is a whole other creature. She’s a self-made woman. Her issues are deeply and integrally feminist, but she doesn’t advertise them—or herself—as Feminist with a capital F.
My sense is that this will wear well. It will be yet another part of her pattern of slowly and steadily becoming the Democratic nominee. As for men, the fact that she is not an in-your-face feminist but a champion of pocketbook populism will also wear well.
I don’t even think this is a deliberate tactic. It’s simply who Warren is. It’s another facet of what makes her such an effective leader.
One day, in the not too far distant future, it will become increasingly evident to the skeptics that Warren is not only female, but feminist in the most powerful sense. And then get ready for one big bandwagon and a huge surge of turnout.