Sanders and Warren voters seemed to be divided on a macro level as well. According to Washington Post reporting on Super Tuesday exit polls, while both men and women were more likely to vote for Sanders than for Warren, Sanders consistently received a greater share of his votes from men than Warren did. (Warren consistently got more votes from women.) Such a pattern is not visible among Biden voters. These numbers can’t prove that men avoided Warren because she was a woman, and my friends’ husbands insisted they preferred Sanders for substantive policy reasons. My husband, I had thought, understood without me having to explain that Warren not only represented the promise of the country’s first female president, but also had a plan for all the issues that mattered to us, such as gun control and universal child care. When he voted for Sanders, even though he told me he still thought Warren would make the best president, I felt an irrational sense of abandonment. I wondered whether he and voters like him had cost Warren the nomination.
Read: The sexism is getting sneakier
On Thursday, at the news conference when she announced she was dropping out, Warren said, “Gender in this race, you know, that is the trap question for every woman. If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’ And if you say, ‘No, there was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, What planet do you live on?”
Patricia Fancher was a Sanders voter in 2016, but voted for Warren on Super Tuesday. “I didn’t vote for her because she’s a woman, but I think her leadership style does include feminist values: collaborations, intersectional agendas, she listens and works with communities,” she told me in an email. Fancher’s husband, though, was a Sanders supporter through and through. Fancher said her husband recognized what Warren faced. “He knows on an intellectual level that sexism is real and it hurts women,” she wrote. “But I was never able to convince him that acting in solidarity with a woman candidate with a strong feminist agenda could be a vital way to resist the sexism that informs so much of our lives.” Fancher said that divide felt personal.
During the 2016 primaries, I, too, loved Sanders’s plan for free health care and college tuition more than I loved the symbolism of voting for a woman. But in Warren’s 2020 bid, I saw that choice collapse. I wouldn’t just be voting for a woman, but a woman who had radical ideas and a practical plan for how to carry them out. Not just a female candidate, but one whose campaign platform also felt feminist to me. Atima Omara, a political strategist who trains and consults with women candidates, saw Warren’s campaign centering women. “She still had all the progressive agenda items around the economy—but it was filtered through the lived experiences of gender and race,” Omara told me. “That was reflected in plans around paid family leave, race, affordable housing, how redlining affected African American communities.”