Pramila Jayapal’s Latest Mailer Is Just, You Guys, No. (Plus some musings on why her feminism is bullshit.)

Settle in, this is a long one! Here’s what the Pramila-backing Vote Women PAC sent out this week:

First of all, this feels like inconsistent branding. We’ve got white and soft green, bright pink, and then — like a bolt of lightning crashing over a vampire’s castle in jarring black and red— Brady Walkinshaw, The Enemy of Women! MWA-AH-AH-AH.

Second, a recent editorial by a Jayapal supporter alleged that it’s othering to use a woman of color’s image in an ad stating (factually) that she cannot vote in the district she wants to represent. So I think it’s time for a Who Wore It Better of 7th CD Race Negative Advertising:

On the right: dog-whistling racism. On the left: feminism you guys!!!

I mean, tell me if you’re seeing what I’m seeing. The anti-Pramila ad makes her look more or less like herself, whereas Brady looks like a sweaty weirdo eyeing the next woman he’s gonna lure into his van. What filter did they use, Guy Banned From Coming Within 200 Feet of an Elementary School?

But don’t worry! It’s definitely NOT racist to portray Walkinshaw, a Latino, in this way. Why isn’t it? Because, ummm …

I’m assuming Lawrence is a Professor of Latino-Spotting or something.

I have one bigger problem, though.

One bigger problem

Let’s take it back to me for a second. My parents, both Latinos, left the Southwest to attend Harvard. They raised me to believe I could be as good as or better than anybody else — but not overnight. It’d take work and struggle and, most importantly, humility: the capacity to admit when you’re wrong or can improve.

Fast-forward to Brady’s ad.

I have been told over the past week that challenging Pramila Jayapal’s legislative accomplishments is an insult to all women. But here’s why I disagree:

  • This is a race where both candidates are qualified and have made worthy contributions to the cause of justice. At that point, I think it’s relevant to bring up issues like who has passed more bills.
  • Some Jayapal supporters say it’s not fair to compare Walkinshaw to Jayapal re: legislative effectiveness for reasons ranging from “he’s in the Dem-majority House and she’s in the Rep-majority Senate” to “the effectiveness ranking favors seniority” to “Democratic state senators are all pretty close to each other in terms of effectiveness.” To which I would say: you have to get bills through both chambers before they become laws, and how does any of that explain that Jayapal is at the very, verrrrry bottom of the list, behind 5 other Democratic state senators elected from 2013 on? (Reuven Carlyle does not appear to be listed in Fiscal Note, the independent organization that compiled the ranking.) There are only 23 Democratic state senators, so 6 who’ve only been in office since 2013 isn’t a bad sample size.
  • If Walkinshaw had maligned Jayapal’s activism, or her founding role in One America? Hell yes, I’d be mad, because doing that would be inaccurate. But not only are these effectiveness charges accurate, they’ve led to The Stranger reporting that Jayapal’s measures of her own success are sometimes eccentric, to say the least:
At other times, like at this campaign event and in this Reddit AMA, Jayapal said the increased reimbursement rates for long-acting contraceptives benefited “millions” of women. But there are not millions of women on Medicaid in Washington, and estimates from people close to the contraception coverage expansion process put the number of women affected by that policy change at somewhere between 7,000 and 30,000.

Hey Pramila, stop feeding into the myth that women are bad at math!!

  • Then there’s her attendance to consider. On the one hand, Jayapal missed about 10% of her votes, considered by some supporters to be totes okay. On the other hand:
In comparison to the other 155 legislators that are members of the minority party in their house, only four have missed a higher percentage of their votes. For reference, Representative Walkinshaw, having missed 34 of his own votes, has skipped 2.9 percent of his total roll calls, while 28 minority-party legislators have perfect attendance.

No wonder Jayapal doesn’t want to talk about her record as a legislator. It’s not awful, but it ain’t great, especially compared to her opponent’s. But how, specifically, does gender come into this? Does she really mean to say that if you do good things as a woman, nobody is allowed to point to your weaknesses?

That’s not how my parents raised this little scoop of Mexican Vanilla. They taught me to respect myself enough to hold myself to high standards — the same standards as anybody else.

But okay, I do also have one more problem.

One more problem I have

Did you know Jayapal put out an ad comparing Brady to Donald Trump???

IT’S TRUE. And did you catch whose gorgeous face ALSO appears in this ad?

The author, stating a bad fact while sporting bad hair.

I’ve written on Publicola about how terrible it felt, as a Latina, to be used in an ad that juxtaposes Donald Trump’s face with mine and with that of a Latino candidate I admire. But my main objection is not really about feelings; it’s about ideology.

You ever hear this quote?

It’s a good one. It means that feminism that doesn’t acknowledge the many different ways to be female — poor, nonbinary, disabled, AAPI, Native, queer— is inadequate. It is also implicit acknowledgement that gender is not always the most important factor. In some conversations, gender must take a backseat to race; in others, gender and gender identity are inextricable from each other. That’s how we become good feminists: by supporting our sistren even when we don’t get to come first.

Now back to this Trump ad.

In the week following the ad’s release, I typed my fingers numb trying to get white women to understand how plain, straight-up wrong it is to compare a progressive Latino to Donald Trump, and to implicate a random Latina supporter in that comparison. I even wrote in to Seattlish. (They were happy to report on Lorena Gonzalez unendorsing and whitewashing Walkinshaw, but declined to cover the WOC leaders in Washington state who rebutted her.) When these women replied to me at all, it was to link me to studies about implicit bias against women, or to tell me, “This is not about you.” They really seemed to believe that my woman-ness ought to rank ahead of my Latina-ness.

Clearly, Jayapal’s campaign agrees. Here’s all the mailers I received from her campaign last week, while my male Democrat friends reported getting none:

Pictured: an awesome ’80s tracksuit, but not much intersectionality.

You don’t get to have your identity politics and eat it too. If it’s wrong to question a woman’s legislative record, how much more wrong must it be to align a progressive gay Latino with a misogynistic and xenophobic demagogue — one whose rhetoric the Southern Poverty Law Center links to an increase in bias-related bullying. Has Walkinshaw’s ad caused bullying in schools? Has it made women feel unsafe and even triggered due to its graphically violent nature? The fact that he’s a Latino who has fought hard for the rights of farm workers (overwhelmingly Latin@s as well) is just hyperbole icing on a cake made of sadness.

When Jayapal expects us to ignore the enormity of the gulf between Trump and Walkinshaw, and the problematic nature of making such a comparison, she is implicitly arguing that being a woman is more important than being Latino. If being Latino were equally important, presumably she wouldn’t treat one in the exact way that she believes to be so troubling. If you are truly an intersectional feminist, you stay intersectional even when the going gets tough. You don’t make exceptions to your deeply held principles because somebody microaggressed you. And you know what? Sorry, white ladies, but that Trump comparison was about me. It was about me, and my family, and Brady and his family, because in this political moment, we cannot be separated from what Trump wants to do to us.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with a quote from a badass activist, on what intersectionality means:

I’m a mom. I’m a woman. I say that actually I am not a woman on Monday, a mother on Tuesday, a worker on Wednesday, and immigrant on Thursday. I’m all of those things all of the time.
— Pramila Jayapal