Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the legendary feminist trailblazer, will be the very first woman in United States history to lie in state in the Capitol on Friday—a stark reminder of how far the nation has yet to come in terms of representational equality for women. Her dying wish was that she not be replaced "until a new president is installed," knowing full well that the current president is a virulently misogynist man who’s been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women.
Trump, to no one's surprise, intends to ignore Ginsburg’s final plea and will announce his nominee this weekend. And in a grotesque perversion of the feminist values RBG espoused, he has promised to replace her with "a woman." (He announced this on Saturday while making a curved gesture with his hands as if the idea of a female Supreme Court nominee naturally conjures the image of a woman’s butt.)
Trump's front-runner appears to be Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a devout Catholic right-wing activist judge who is eager to overturn Roe v. Wade. She reportedly belonged to a religious community called People of Praise that referred to its female leaders as "handmaids" up until 2018—a detail that is almost too on the nose. Barrett is the absolute antithesis of Ginsburg, which seems to be Trump's exact point.
On the surface, perhaps, Trump vowing to choose a woman who would undoubtedly dismantle women's rights and unravel Ginsburg’s legacy is a genius blow to the kind of "identity politics" for which the Democratic Party is often criticized. When Vice President Joe Biden promised in April to choose a woman as his running mate, Trump said men would be "insulted" by that move and that Biden had misguidedly "roped himself into a particular group of people." On the left, though, the move was met with praise (and some eye-rolls from critics, including me, who argued that the announcement made the media treat the Veepstakes like a catfight). So, if women were thrilled by the idea of a woman in the White House, one might ask, where are the cheers for Trump advocating for another woman to sit on the Supreme Court?
Of course, representation at all levels of government does matter. The country has been run mostly by white men for far too long. It's shameful that we’ve never had a woman in the White House; it should be embarrassing to everyone that RBG was only the second woman to become a Supreme Court Justice, and that she is the only woman in 200 years to lie in state, when women are, ahem, *half the population*. Having women (and people of color, disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, Native people, low-income people, and other marginalized people) at the table making decisions ensures that those groups have a voice, that someone is advocating for their particular interests. It makes no sense to have a room exclusively full of men making decisions about birth control and maternity coverage, for instance.
But women are not a monolith, and not just any woman will do. If one purpose of having more women in government is to make women's lives better, it's counterproductive to install women who are only acceptable to the men in power because they have internalized misogyny so deeply that they are comfortable openly plotting to make women's lives worse. The patriarchy is not a group of men, but a system that benefits men, and women like Barrett are squarely a part of it.
No one is fooled by Trump's blatantly insincere attempt to throw a bone to angry women in the wake of RBG's death just before the election. He has laid bare the ugly flip-side of so-called "identity politics," including the powerful harm they wield when employed superficially. And that should serve as a reminder to everyone that women are not simply political props, qualified for a particular office by their reproductive organs alone. If the goal is the advancement of women, then elect women who are going to fight for other women, and eject the ones who see themselves as handmaids.
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