After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used a rule dating back to the time when discussing abolition was forbidden on the floor of the Senate to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a number of senators, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, got up and read the same letter that got Ms. Warren banished from speaking. Why weren’t they silenced? Because they are men.
Institutional misogyny is so ingrained in the fiber of American culture that people of every stripe often fail to see in such attacks on women leaders the particular markers of that disease. But in our hearts, women know. Elizabeth Warren was effectively told, in the words of Politico’s Seung Min Kim, to “sit down—and shut up.” Any domestic violence expert will tell you that those are the sort of words that often precede the connection of a male fist to a female face.
Never mind that Warren wasn’t reading the King letter to comment on Sessions’s motives or conduct in his role as U.S. senator; she was speaking against his nomination to one of the most important jobs in the executive branch—a job that is, among other things, charged with enforcement of the citizens’ franchise of the vote. Never mind that King’s letter spoke directly to that concern. Never mind that over the course of the last two years, as The New York Times reports, both Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas appear to have violated the rule according to its true intent, without having it invoked against them. Cruz’s 2015 impugning of a fellow senator’s conduct motives was a critique of McConnell himself, described by Cruz as a liar. They’re men, and white men at that (and Republican).
Senate Republicans may not all love Donald Trump, but a significant aspect of their agenda dovetails nicely with Trump’s base-stoking, and that is the revival of a white male patriarchy that sees itself as threatened by a multicultural population and the changing roles of women in society. Trump’s courtship of the religious right speaks to this, as does his chief strategist’s courtship of white nationalists and supremacists, whose ideological misogyny is often overlooked.
Make no mistake: McConnell’s bullying of Elizabeth Warren for reading the words of Coretta Scott King was intended to convey to women—white, black, and of every other color and identity—just who’s boss.
I am very glad that Senate Democrats rose to fill in for Ms. Warren, and perhaps if there wasn’t institutional misogyny in American politics no one would have noticed what she read on the floor of the Senate except for the watchers of C-SPAN. But in doing so, one might hope that shining this glaring light on the He-Man Woman-Haters Club might actually do some good.