In 2018, women candidates' campaigns have gotten more attention than ever. But in covering their races, the media has had a difficult time talking about them. Many of women who signed up to run this year are first-time, "outsider" candidates—but not all. The vast majority of them are progressive women running on the Democratic ticket, perhaps inspired by President Donald Trump's 2016 victory, or Hillary Clinton's loss—but not all. And some of them could flip critical House seats, contributing to what's expected to be a historic number of women who will sit in Congress come January—but, again, not all.
So how do we talk about the record number of women running this election cycle without trying to fit them all into a single narrative? How do we talk about a monumental sea change without glossing over the differences that make each woman candidate distinct?
And how do you talk about the "Year of the Woman" without making everything about gender?
I sat down with VICE News' Emma Fidel and Daniel Ming for a conversation on the Vice Guide to Right Now to talk about how they wrestled with these questions while writing and producing "She's Running," a four-part video series on women in politics.
The series hones in on four candidates: Morgan Zegers, a 21-year-old Republican running for state Assembly in upstate New York; Anna Eskamani, a Democrat running for Florida's state House; Pearl Kim, a Republican candidate in Pennsylvania's deeply Democratic 5th congressional district; and Deidre DeJear, the Democratic candidate for Iowa secretary of state.
"I think there's something valuable in comparing these four very different candidates," Ming said. "You really get the sense that they are in no way a monolith, and they will let you know exactly how they're different from all of the others."
Fidel and Ming found—and tried to convey in the series—that each candidate had a different attitude toward running as part of a wave of women candidates. Eskamani, whose Republican opponent sent out mailers calling her "vulgar" for using the phrase "pussy power," is the candidate who most frames her candidacy around wanting to "fuck the patriarchy" and get more women into office. DeJear portrays her gender—and race—as something matter-of-fact. Though she'd be the first Black person to be elected to statewide office, it's not necessarily the first thing she wants to talk about with voters.
"When I walk into a room, there's no way for me to hide the fact that I'm black and I'm a woman," DeJear says in the second episode of the series. "So I don't need to tell anybody."
More so than her gender, Kim emphasizes her identity as a survivor of sexual assault, running in the #MeToo era. And Zegers, the youngest of the bunch, hopes for a time when people don't feel they need to spotlight women candidates as being unique or exceptional in politics: "She said something great on a recent shoot," Ming recalled: "'I don't want to make it so that we're supreme, just that we're normal.'"
"Most of our candidates don't really lean into, 'Yes, I'm running in the Year of the Woman,' but they're honest with us about the challenges they face," Fidel said. "It's a balancing act: we don't want to essentialize all women running, but at the same time there are these important experiences [they have as women] because it is still a new phenomenon, unfortunately."
Getting to the point where gender isn't the sole focus—or even the most important focus—of women's political campaigns may still be far off. Echoing Jennifer Lawless, the director of American University's Women & Politics Institute, Fidel suggested that the true "Year of the Woman" may only come when we're no longer talking about women candidates as their own breed.
"It does get a little frustrating to have to focus on gender so much," Fidel said. "But until we have parity, 50/50 representation, it will continue to be news."