Have You Heard the One About the "Nice, Young Girl" Running for Office in Missouri?

 
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In the wake of Hillary Clinton becoming the presumptive Democratic nominee and the first woman nominee of any major party in U.S. history, there have been an awful lot of think pieces about women in politics, the particular challenges of running for office while female, and the possibility of a "Clinton effect" impacting local women candidates and ambitious little girls everywhere. But lest we beat the drums of feminist conquest too loudly, there's always a sexist dude somewhere to bring us back to earth.

In particular, let's talk about Bob Sweere.

Mr. Sweere is a late-comer to the race for Missouri's 132nd House district—and at this point, I can hear a chorus of voices yelling at me, "But Jacqui, why the f*ck do we care about a state house race in Missouri of all places?!!"

Well, in part because state house races matter a lot more than most of us want to admit. (Care about education? Healthcare access? Police brutality, prison overcrowding and privatization, or public transportation? These things are influenced far more by your state legislature than by Congress.)

But also, because I have a thesis: State house races in Missouri are a far better reflection of the kind of environment most women live in than anything that happens within the Beltway. If a smart, talented, experienced young woman in Missouri is assaulted by sexist remarks in her quest for a state house seat, that probably tells us more about Women in America™ than columns in the national media ever will.

So back to Bob Sweere.

Mr. Sweere is running in the Democratic primary against Crystal Quade, a 30-year-old social worker with ties to the current Democratic representative from the district. Ms. Quade used to work as a healthcare caseworker in a Missouri Senate office and even spent time working in the house office for which she is now running.

Mr. Sweere, on the other hand, is a sexagenarian attorney who is well-known in Springfield for a witty sign posted outside his office.

So naturally, Mr. Sweere, when he officially launched his campaign on June 1, invited a speaker to introduce him who referred to Ms. Quade as "a nice, young girl who just had a baby, and she wants to be state rep." (Said baby is two years old.)

(Also, as a "nice, young girl" myself, please never refer to a woman in public as a "nice, young girl.")

(Also also, isn't it so confusing when women "want to be state rep"? Who put that idea in their pretty little heads?)

The speaker's solution to this Democratic primary nonsense?

My proposal is let her follow in Bob’s footsteps for eight years, see how she does. I would like for you all to think about sending the experienced voice to Jeff[erson] City and let this girl who’s his primary opposition candidate—she’s got great ideas, she really does, nice young girl—let’s let her tutor under Bob [...].

You can watch a video of the speaker's whole statement here.

I don't want to blow this all out of proportion—no, one state house race in Missouri does not a political trend make. And no, the candidate himself didn't make these remarks. And no, these aren't the most sexist things to have ever been said about a woman running for office.

But when we live in a country with fewer female elected officials than Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and El Salvador, when women with political opinions face harassment and threats online, and research continues to demonstrate that female candidates face an uphill battle—then male candidates who stand by and do nothing about sexist remarks coming from their own campaigns matter, no matter how small the campaign or where they live.

These remarks out of the Sweere campaign seem to have drawn no broader condemnation or blowback at all, and that bothers me. Unless we start naming blatant sexism for what it is, it's hard to imagine things ever changing.

So here it is: Mr. Sweere, we see you. Cut it out. Run on the merit of your own ideas, or drop out and let the "nice, young girl" get to work.


Jacqui is a terrible dinner party guest—she only knows how to talk about politics and religion. On a typical Friday night, she can be found binge-watching her current Netflix show of choice, playing Civilization: The Board Game and drinking <$8 bottles of champagne.