Tim Kaine: Feminism Has a Southern, White Male Face

American feminism can look and sound like a soft-spoken, Caucasian, devoutly Catholic male.
Source: scoopnest.com
Source: scoopnest.com

Back in late July, before DNC 2016, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton announced that she’d chosen Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. Like most of America, my first reaction was “Who now?” That bewilderment quickly gave way to a second, more world weary train of thought: “Oh goody. Another middle-aged white man. Way to bust the status quo Hills!”

It’s now abundantly clear that I and others who placed Kaine in the category of benign, unthreatening or more of the same had it all wrong. Because although the Senator poses no menace in the traditional, physical or emotionally aggressive sense, he is nonetheless kind of revolutionary. And a real thorn in the side of the Trump/Pence ticket.

The country has gotten to know Tim Kaine better over the last few months. Though the sole VP debate remains a shrill blight on the candidate’s otherwise appealing canvas (in interruptus style, if not policy and factual substance), liberals and moderates mostly like what they see. His approval rating is above 50 percent in his home state, notable in a land that leans red (as of the 2014 midterm elections). Nationally, there’s a little something for every voter demographic: devout Christian faith and missionary work, fluent Spanish-language skills that connect directly with 52.6 million native and second-language speakers (a population larger than Spain) and a stable legislative record largely devoid of flip flops. There’s also – pleasant surprise of all surprises for this pundit – a strong, defiant feminist streak.

Yes. I don’t have to state the obvious, though that’s just what I’m about to do. Misogyny: thy virulent name is 2016, especially when it comes to the Republican presidential ticket. Of course Donald Trump is a sexually assaulting pig and threat to independent, respectable womanhood everywhere, but let’s not let Indiana Governor Mike Pence out of the hot seat. As Vox writer Emily Crockett correctly observes:

“Pence has one of the most extreme records on women’s health and rights in the Republican Party. And he doesn’t just hold extreme views; he’s also been very effective at making them a political reality. Trump’s boorishness threatens to make Pence’s radical attacks on women’s health seem moderate and reasonable by comparison. And that’s dangerous.”

Tim Kaine, a steadfast Catholic who negates the GOP VP hopeful’s religious high ground stake, seems very much aware that one of America’s most important governing principles is the separation of church and state. Millions of women cheered Kaine during that aforementioned, mostly nauseating debate when he broke down a simple truth. Personal faith doesn’t extend to control of the female body. He shut down Pence and uplifted beleaguered womanhood with the following:

“We can encourage people to support life, of course we can…But why doesn’t Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves? That’s what we ought to be doing in public life: living our lives of faith or motivation with enthusiasm and excitement, convincing each other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day. But on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.”

One of Tim Kaine’s most business-as-usual-upending assets is his consistency. And as the candidate has traveled the 2016 campaign trail, he’s demonstrated that his feminism is not the produced dialogue of speech writers. Rather it’s a deeply felt – and lived – conviction.

This week, Kaine appeared on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show for an in-depth interview that covered a wide range of topics. Naturally the conversation spun toward the ultimate glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton is poised to break as the nation’s first female POTUS. Stating rather simply, “strong men should support strong women,” he clarified the obvious. A qualified female leader of the Free World is no threat to masculinity and is in fact, an exciting opportunity. At the same time, he cut off the objections of those who hide fearful misogyny under a cloak of custom:

“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too…There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”

In part because of Kaine’s 2016 campaign trail performance, stale stereotypes are experiencing an evolution. The feminist boilerplate is not a bra burning, man-hating, angry, outlying rebel. Feminism can look and sound like a soft-spoken, Caucasian, devoutly Catholic male. What better way to counter the boorish, oppressive, rote image of female domination presented by the Republican ticket?

Trump has brought the misogynist assholes boldly out of the woodwork, but this pain is accompanied by a national benefit. His hate speech – and his running mate’s quieter but no less dangerous rhetoric – has beckoned men, from all corners of the country, to come forward to say, “Nope, this doesn’t represent me.” Men like Tim Kaine.

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at beckysarwate.com.
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