It’s not sexist to question Amy Klobuchar’s management style | Jessa Crispin
The Minnesota senator and presidential candidate has been criticized for the way she treats her staff. She deserves our scrutiny, not our loyalty
Presidential candidate and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar has been in the news a lot recently. We learned she once ate her salad with a comb when an aide forgot to bring a fork on a trip. So what? Weve all gone the undignified route of using our hands or whatever is nearby to shove food in our faces when were starving and forkless. Whats more serious, however, are allegations of abuse, mistreatment and humiliation of her staff.
Klobuchar apparently yells at her staff quite a bit. She throws things. She berates and humiliates. She puts in place parental leave policies that are much more punishing than what she publicly supports for employers. Her staff turnover rate is among the highest in the Senate.
Many are defending Klobuchar on the grounds that it is sexist to question her management style. In the original Buzzfeed investigation, Asal Sayas, a former staffer, suggested that sexism was to blame for the scrutiny of Klobuchars management style. Many feminist op-ed contributors, like Laura McGann at Vox, agreed. She asks, Would a male candidate in the same position take the same heat?
Its the same language used all over social media by women who identify as feminists. Its a double standard, and its only because of sexism that were concerned about Klobuchars management style. In a small way, theyre right. America loves tough bosses, as long as they are men. Weve sainted Steve Jobs, who was abusive and cocky and emotionally erratic, all in the pursuit of creating a slightly more aesthetically pleasing and much more expensive phone than his competitors. He is still routinely written about as a role model, despite being an obviously despicable person.
But president of the United States is a different job than CEO of a large company. The stakes are just a little different. Blow a meeting because youre fuming that your aide used staples instead of paper clips on your morning briefing (an incident that could send Klobuchar into a frenzy, its reported) as a CEO, maybe your stock price wobbles. Do it as president, the world economy could tremble or a precarious geopolitical situation might deteriorate.
Of course there is a media double standard when it comes to female candidates. We saw it throughout the 2016 election with the comments made about Hillary Clintons smile, laugh, hair, pantsuits, demeanor. We saw it in the way she was questioned relentlessly about relatively trivial matters like an email server while Trump was treated like harmless buffoon. We see it now in the coverage of Elizabeth Warrens DNA test, or the story about Kamala Harriss music choices. But to claim a double standard every time a woman is questioned or challenged particularly with so many women in the Democratic presidential race is counterproductive.
We cant correct the injustices in the past by demanding special treatment now. It is right and good to question the character and temperament of someone whose job isnt simply passing legislation, but handling diplomatic interpersonal relationships and negotiating our countrys place in the world. Someone who abuses their power now, and has a long history of doing so, is not likely to blossom morally when given more power.
There is much about Klobuchar to admire, its true. In an age where Facebook is allowed to collect crazy amounts of data on its users unchecked, she has fought for privacy protections. She is one of the few politicians willing to fight the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism and publicly critique the ruling powers of Israel and its creation of an apartheid state.
But questioning female candidates on a substantive issue, like the long-term mistreatment of employees and underlings, is not harassment, it is not abuse, and it is not misogyny. The election season is never-ending and demoralizing, but the process of sussing out hidden agendas and determining how a person performs under pressure is vital, particularly in a world changing dangerously quickly.
There seems to be a vocal segment of feminism that is fighting for the right to treat other people as badly as they have been treated. Its psychologically understandable, to desire retribution, but its not great policy. We see it every day on a small scale and on a macro one, how the abused becomes the abuser when given the opportunity. To argue that women should be allowed to unquestioningly abuse their staffers just because men have the same impunity is not a great ethical viewpoint. Vengeance does not make great policy.
What we need is not symbolic progress like the election of one woman as head of state, no matter what the cost to the country but real progress for all women. Someone who will take seriously, and not just rhetorically, issues like paid parental leave, healthcare reform, educational reform, subsidized childcare, the civil rights of trans men and women, and decriminalizing sex work. These conversations keep getting drowned out in our rush to defend women like Klobuchar. But women like Klobuchar dont deserve our loyalty; the disadvantaged women of America do.
Jessa Crispin is the author of Why I am not a Feminist