In a recent interview, Stacey Abrams didn’t skip a beat when affirming her qualifications to be presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s running mate: “I would be an excellent running mate.”
I, I, I. In speaking about herself – her achievements, her talents – in the first person, Abrams did something apparently revolutionary. She challenged the gendered norms that have long plagued women’s (especially black women’s) political ambitions – the notion that they can seek power as long as they don’t exhibit an earnest desire for it.
“I know that my résumé … is usually reduced to ‘She didn’t become the governor of Georgia.’ But it is important to understand all the things I did to prepare for that contest,” Abrams said of her controversial, wafer-thin loss to Republican Brian Kemp. “That campaign was not a whim. It was the outcome of decades of deliberate work building my capacity to serve as many people as I could, in the most effective way possible.”
(Since her defeat, she’s held onto that conviction, having launched Fair Fight 2020, a national voter protection initiative, in 2019.)
This narrative reclamation matters. It nods to the fact that, because women – among others who diverge from the traditional straight white male model of the American politician – aren’t promoted on their “potential” as much as men are, they must champion themselves.
Read more from Brandon Tensley:
Indeed, instead of distancing herself from the things that even tacit campaigning requires but are uniquely looked down on when women do them – the many iterations of self-advocacy and swaggering – Abrams did the exact opposite: She elevated them. All the things I did to prepare. Not a whim. Decades of deliberate work. (Earlier this year, she also spared the self-effacement, saying that she believes that she’ll be elected president by 2040.)
Abrams trusts that, if chosen to be Biden’s lieutenant, she’ll get things done; she is, according to her own testimony and a record to back it up, excellent. And she wants you to trust her, too.
Of course, this isn’t to gloss over the very real perils that tend to result when a woman dares to strive in politics or in some way shakes up the prevailing state of things. Recall Elizabeth Warren’s presidential bid.
No, the Massachusetts senator didn’t run a perfect campaign. But save for a moment atop the polls early last fall, she – like some of her predecessors who similarly refused to tamp down their aims – was pilloried in a manner that was difficult to meaningfully separate from the well-documented cultural impulse to punish power-pursuing women.
In this light, Abrams’ check-my-credentials comments weren’t merely a flex. They were a subtle rebuke of a country that still doesn’t know what to make of women who are competent – and who have no problem demonstrating just how competent they are.