What We're Really Doing When We Accuse Women Of "Playing The Woman Card"
Last December, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of "playing the woman card" — that is, using her gender to advance her political career. Many women have heard this phrase themselves when they tried to talk about the very real ways gender impacts their lives. In my opinion, this is one of the most harmful phrases you can use toward women. With two simple words, it furthers multiple forms of sexism and myriad other types of oppression.
After Trump said on Fox News that Clinton was "playing that woman’s card left and right" in her campaign and then reiterated in a tweet that she was "playing the women's card on me," feminists sought to reclaim the phrase as a way to say someone cares about women's issues. Clinton herself, for example, said in a speech, "If fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the 'woman card,' then deal me in." Additionally, Zach and Zebby Wahls created literal cards celebrating women to show that calling attention to women is a good thing.
When it's used the way Trump uses it, though, "woman card" has some very negative connotations. Here are some of the worst effects of using it.
It Implies That Women Are Privileged
Playing a card is something you do to try to get ahead in a game, but in what universe is being a woman an advantage? Unfortunately, due to negative stereotypes associated with femininity, reminding people that you're a woman can usually only hurt — which is why many women in politics and other male-dominated areas feel pressure to act masculine and avoid talking about gender. If gender were a type of card in a game, it would only gain men points.
It Mansplains Sexism
By arguing that women are not in fact oppressed and that therefore any attempt at discussing oppression is just "playing the woman card," people (most often men) are implying that they know more about sexism than women, which is an insidious form of mansplaining.
It Gaslights Women
When they claim that women aren't actually oppressed, people are also telling women that they may think they've experienced sexism, but they're just seeing things all wrong. That's a form of gaslighting — making someone doubt that their very valid perceptions and feelings are based on reality. Women who notice sexism are observing a real phenomenon, and implying that they're making it up is insulting.
It Paints Feminists As Conniving Opportunists
Saying a woman is "playing the woman card" implies that she's requesting special treatment due to her gender, when she's likely just seeking equality. Feminists aren't strategically bringing up gender equality in order to get a leg up. They're trying to get on equal footing. And by implying otherwise, we're painting an entire movement of people as Machiavellian and opportunistic rather than simply reasonable.
It's Used To Undermine Other Oppressed Groups
Clinton's not the first politician to be accused of playing a card. Obama's been accused multiple times of "playing the race card." And that has all the same effects as "woman card." No matter what your marginalized identity, people might accuse you of playing a card when you speak out about it. And the ultimate effect of this is to silence people who talk about oppression — which is incredibly dangerous during a political moment when oppression is rampant.
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