Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor in the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication at Hofstra University, writes about women and social media. She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Some Californians are thinking about making a misogynist their next governor. The Republican frontrunner in the upcoming recall election – the man who could well unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom – is Larry Elder, who has said that “women exaggerate the problem of sexism” and domestic violence.
He has written that women “know less than men” about the issues voters face and that when women become mothers they are less valuable workers, lacking an “all-hands-on-deck commitment” to their jobs.
In January 2017, he deleted a tweet that implied women taking part in the Women’s March were too unattractive to be sexually assaulted, according to the Los Angeles Times. And on his show he mocked women at the march as “obese.”
There’s more, but you get the idea.
And this week the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that it was investigating domestic violence accusations made by Elder’s former fiancée, Alexandra Dating, who told CNN in an interview earlier this month (before informing police of the accusations) that in 2015 “Larry Elder brandished a weapon in conversation with me during our breakup. He checked to see if his gun was loaded.” Elder denied the allegations, tweeting earlier this month: “I am not going to dignify this with a response – it’s beneath me.”
Those women (and men) who support Elder in his bid for governor should take a clear-eyed look at his record. There couldn’t be a worse time for California voters (or voters anywhere) to elect someone who can’t be counted on to fight for women – much less comprehend the challenges they face.
The state’s women face challenges on many fronts. In California, women earned 89 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2019. The average cost of infant childcare in the state was $16,452 in 2020, but a woman earning the state minimum wage of $14 per hour for companies with at least 26 employees would earn just $29,120 before taxes, so childcare would wipe out most of her income. A woman earning minimum wage at a smaller company would earn even less. (Elder had choice words here as well, in a 1996 ad for his show: “Glass ceiling? Ha! What glass ceiling?”)
What’s more, the state has a shortage of 3.5 million homes, and women of color in particular struggle to find and afford housing.
Things have gotten even harder for the state’s women because of the pandemic. There, as in states across the country, children under age 12 aren’t eligible to be vaccinated at a time when Covid-19 cases are rising significantly, children are getting sicker from the virus and school is starting.
California’s public health officer said earlier this month that the state is “currently experiencing the fastest increase in Covid-19 cases during the entire pandemic.”
Moms are, of course, shouldering the majority of the burden – in California and basically everywhere. As Jessica Grose put it in the New York Times, we’re “in crisis.” Nearly 70% of us say our health has been damaged by pandemic-related stress and worry. We’re more likely than dads to cut back on work to deal with childcare emergencies; the pandemic has caused so many moms to leave their jobs that only 56% of women are now employed – the lowest number since 1986, when I was a young child. In other words, the pandemic has wiped out an entire generation’s worth of gains.
What women across the nation need more than anything is politicians who will fight for us with smart policies that help us afford childcare and housing, earn equal pay, hang on to our jobs even when we need breaks and keep our kids safe at school – not men like Elder who deny that we face any struggle at all.
If Elder is elected, things could be even worse for the women who work for the state. Of course, practicing pregnancy discrimination (which he has endorsed) is illegal, and if Elder behaves this way in the governor’s mansion – based on his own words – he would create a toxic environment for women and expose the state to serious legal liability.
It’s also hard to imagine that qualified, successful women will be flocking to work for a man who seems to hold women in such low regard. That is, there is the very real possibility that, should Californians elect Elder, women who would advocate for policies supporting the state’s women would likely find their voices drowned out in his administration.
What’s more, as a practical matter, Californians could well face mismanagement and chaos if they elect Elder. Why? It’s clear that Elder rejects plain truths when they don’t suit his political brand – like the fact that women contend with sexism and other forms of discrimination. Should he win, it’s hard to see why he would be deterred from rejecting other facts that are inconvenient for him as well but highly consequential for women.
Recent history provides us with a good example of another misogynistic politician who rejected truths that were inconvenient for him: Donald Trump. For just one salient example, Trump downplayed the dangers of the coronavirus, which is the very reason so many women are now in crisis. It’s a warning of the potential dangers Californians could face if they elect Elder.
So many women – and especially mothers – in this country are faring horribly. It would have been hard to imagine how things could get worse. But, for Californians, if Elder is elected, they almost certainly will.