No Country for (Old) White Men

That didn’t last long.

We just saw a record number of white women, women of color and young people run and win in the 2018 midterm elections, which was decided, in part by the largest gender gap in decades. Headlines heralded “The Year of the Woman,” and photo-ops captured the heady enthusiasm of women voters and women victors. But before the ink had even dried on our freshly printed Woman Cards, a parade of old white men commenced—each one testing the waters for a presidential run.

Now, I do like a parade. But unless you’re going to put an Easter bonnet on one of the guys, I’m going to take a hard pass here.

Goofy Uncle Joe assures us he’s “the most qualified person to be President.” Grumpy Grandpa Bernie combs his hair and says he’ll run if he determines he’s the one who can beat Trump. (Spoiler Alert: He thinks he is.) Geriatric wingman John Kerry thinks he would “be best” because he’s “the guy who picked Barack Obama to give the keynote” at 2004 convention. And gravely everyman Sherrod Brown might stumble into the ring just because he can.

Lest you think me ageist, let me be clear that I’ve got no problem with lots of old women running. Give me the wisdom and fire and diligence of a Maxine Waters or an Elizabeth Warren over the presumption and arrogance of a Joe Biden or a Bernie Sanders any day. It’s not that these men don’t have something to add to the conversation—it’s just that they’ve had the megaphone for so long that they don’t even recognize that they are holding on to it for dear life.

Old men are deemed distinguished and venerable, holding forth—think Chris Matthews and the largely still male, still old, still white punditocracy—and spawning progeny—looking at you Mick Jagger!—while old women are mocked as hags and nags, dismissed from jobs and rendered largely invisible in public life.

Remember, whatever you think of Nancy Pelosi, she had to fight hard to get where she is and to stay there. Mitch McConnell? He only had to fight the better angels of his nature, not the whole history of male dominion and prerogative.

Old men are venerated while old women are put out to pasture. Old women have never gotten our chance. Old men have squandered theirs. But no matter, old white men still think the world is their oyster. What signs are they not seeing?

My memo to these men? It’s time to pull the manplugs out of your ears and listen up. First, pay attention to the hashtags.

#TimesUp might be the apt one here, as in your time is really, really up. Bestsellers and the average woman on the street are telling you that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore—and that we is women and people of color, Broadway Network reboot be damned. (For the record, #MeToo doesn’t refer to your effortless conviction that power is something that is simply yours as a kind of gender birthright. Perhaps we need to spell it out for you clearly.)

#BelieveWomen means listen to us when we tell you it is time for something and someone new—not just a bright new face, although my pulse does quicken with the thought of the Presidential dream team of Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, but a fundamental shift in who’s calling the shots and who’s at the table. It is long past time for it to be our table.

How is it possible that old white men—who have governed, led, benefited and profited for all of our collective years—think we need more of the same? When headlines declare “the year of the man” they can pipe up again, but for now perhaps it is best for men of good faith and ethical commitments to read the feminist tea-leaves and consider that their leadership is precisely not what the increasingly vulnerable world needs.

Women—young and old; white, black and Latina—have been leading the resistance, from The Women’s March to Black Lives Matter. Octogenarian and forever notorious Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cracked a few ribs and kept on keeping on, while our septuagenarian President couldn’t even walk across the street to pay his respects to the Bush family or walk in the rain on the Champs-Elysees to honor slain soldiers. The message of the midterms was a resounding goodbye to all that, propelling a younger, more female and more racially and ethnically diverse group to the center of American politics.

Our very democracy—and indeed, our planet—is in peril. Why would we entrust the old white men who made the problem to clean it up?

Opinions expressed here are the author’s own. Ms. is published by Feminist Majority Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization, and does not endorse candidates.


Suzanna Danuta Walters is a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University. She is the editor-in-chief of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society.