In an interview with Time, the attorney, Trump critic and possible presidential candidate argued that the Democratic Party is weak and he insisted that only an aggressive white male can beat Trump: “‘I think it better be a white male,’ he says. He hastens to add that he wishes it weren’t so, but it’s undeniable that people listen to white men more than they do others; it’s why he’s been successful representing Daniels and immigrant mothers, he says. ‘When you have a white male making the arguments, they carry more weight,’ he says. “Should they carry more weight? Absolutely not. But do they? Yes.’”
Avenatti made it clear that he doesn’t think it’s fair that white men have all the power and he was sincere in his attempt to explain why the opinions of white men are the only opinions that matter. Despite his sincerity, he fails to recognize his opinions come from a lifetime of internalized misogyny. He truly believes he’s helping. He isn’t.
I’m a white feminist. Imagine if I were as powerful and popular as Mr. Avenatti. Imagine I was so popular that people encouraged me to run for president. Now, imagine the public reaction if I were to tell Kamala Harris to refrain from running as a presidential candidate because only a white woman can win in 2020. Imagine if I said to her, Even though it’s not your fault Sen. Harris, you’ll lose because of your skin color. I would be eviscerated and I would deserve it.
I once knew a man who told me “women over forty lose their value.” When I challenged him, he threw his hands in the air and defensively said, “I don’t make the rules!” He was correct in that certain men don’t believe mature women have value, and though he doesn’t make the rules, he was perpetuating that outdated misogynistic notion that only younger women have value. He defended himself—just as Avenatti did—by insisting he doesn’t agree with those rules but argued we all have to play by them. Those “rules” he spoke of were made by white men. Those rules are still enforced by white men, and white men aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to change them. Just look at the anger and misogynistic reactions aimed at women candidates. They do have it harder than men, but the answer isn’t to elect more white men. The answer is being open and realizing that the person who can beat Trump will do so with intelligence, strength, a solid strategy. It will be someone who understands how to play the game better than Trump does. Genitals and skin color have nothing to do with it.
Avenatti, and his over-inflated white male ego, is under the mistaken impression that since the system is controlled by white men, only another white man can change it. He’s dead wrong.
It would behoove Avenatti to revisit American history and get a refresher course on Alice Paul--the architect of some of the most outstanding political achievements on behalf of women in the 20th century. Paul was one of the main leaders and strategists of the campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment which secured women’s suffrage. White men told Paul that her efforts were a waste of time. She ignored them and because she did, women have the right to vote. She didn’t have time to listen to the discouraging words by privileged white men like Michael Avenatti, she was too busy succeeding.
Imagine Avenatti telling Rosa Parks she should stay in the back of the bus until a strong white man came to her rescue because women of color simply don’t have the power to effect real change.
Would Avenatti have the guts to tell Barack Obama that only a white man can win in 2020?
Do I believe he hates women? No. Do I believe a President Avenatti would work towards gender equality? Yes, I do. But by insisting that only a white male can beat Trump, Avenatti is keeping patriarchy alive and well. He truly believes he isn’t being a misogynist, because his blinding white male privilege tells him so.
After the Time article was released, he defended himself on Twitter by tweeting: “Let me be clear: I have consistently called on white males like me to step, take responsibility, and be a part of stoping [sic] the sexism and bigotry that other white males engage in. It is especially important for them to call out other white males. I make this pt in my speeches”
That’s a sweet little sentiment and all, but it’s simply not good enough. Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Donald Trump. Russians attacked us in 2016 and while there’s currently no proof they changed actual votes, they were successful in changing minds. Add to that the decades of right-wing smears and the media taking delight in picking Clinton apart for her laugh, her hair styles and her pantsuits. Despite the mountain of misogyny she faced, Hillary Clinton still won the popular vote. As HuffPost reported in 2016, “Clinton’s margin of victory in the popular vote is the largest in raw numbers for any candidate who has gone on to lose in the Electoral College. Her margin of victory is almost six times larger than that of Democrat Al Gore, whose popular vote win in 2000 is now the second-largest in this category.”
Until powerful white men like Avenatti pull their heads out of their own hind quarters and finally start realizing that success and value aren’t determined by gender, women will continue to experience threats of violence, sexism and fierce opposition by those who are heavily invested in protecting the patriarchy.