Commentary: Women should not be held to answer for the behavior of men

(MSNBC's "Morning Joe" via AP) This video screenshot from MSNBC's "Morning Joe" shows Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaking to co-host Mika Brzezinski, Friday, May 1, 2020.

Over the last few weeks, Mormon Women for Ethical Government has received many requests from individuals asking for our organizational response to the recent allegations of sexual assault made against Joe Biden.

Those requests have come from individuals on both sides of the political spectrum and often demand that our statement contain absolutes or declare political allegiance. Only rarely have they been sincere and respectful. Many reveal the inherent disrespect our inquisitors hold for women’s complex and informed opinions, demanding instead that we amplify theirs.

This experience is not unique to us, but has been replayed countless times in the media and online as conversations about sexual assault and misbehavior have risen to the center of the national political conversation. Each time, women are asked to answer for the actions of men. We are forced to narrow our complex political and social realities into politically expedient certainties.

As women, we are required to perfectly calibrate our responses, show absolute ethical consistency, respond without nuance and represent what it means to live with exceptional morality. We are asked to cast our votes demonstrating pure integrity, while too often the men asking for our vote act with none.

As an organization that is comprised entirely and completely of women, it should go without saying that we abhor any form of sexual assault or violence. Sexual assault is a profound abuse of power, and men who exhibit a pattern of abuse will most certainly abuse other forms of power when granted the opportunity. We should be very wary of any politician who does not demonstrate a respect for the restraint of power and authority in any form.

But, as an organization with many members who have survived sexual assault or violence, we also understand that survivorship is personal and complex.

Our MWEG community is a uniquely female space that privileges civil communication. Over recent days that space has held many important conversations about this issue that have been respectful and nuanced. Women have made space for survivors, have come to understand that allegations such as these are experienced very differently in communities of color and have weighed evidence and possible political outcomes. We have worked to understand the insidious ways that sexual assault violates our private and civic spaces. This is the model our nation must follow if we hope to move beyond the politicization of sexual violence.

Perhaps most importantly, these conversations have allowed our members to respond to this issue while remaining true to their personal and familial hierarchy of needs. When allegations of assault surface, countless American citizens are forced to revisit painful personal experiences and again face the ways in which our society undervalues women and their welfare. We are frustrated that once again the women of our nation may be asked to choose between protecting their own emotional health and value systems, or the health and well-being of the nation as a whole.

Yet, when faced with a failing government, a pandemic and deep financial, racial and social inequities, very few American women have the luxury of voting in response to a single issue. We plead with those women who do, to be cautious about using that privilege in ways that expose the more vulnerable among us.

We encourage politicians of any party to reflect. If you cannot learn and demonstrate respect for the emotional and physical autonomy of women, step out of public life. If you have misbehaved in the past and have sincere regrets about this, apologize. If you are falsely accused, demonstrate grace and understanding, modeling the capacity to empathize with the half of the population that lives with the fear or memory of assault.

Any representative who cannot meet these basic thresholds doesn’t deserve to represent us or our children. They do not deserve our vote.

One hundred years after the 19th Amendment passed, women have the opportunity to use that vote to determine the course of the nation. We encourage every American woman to prepare to vote in the election this fall. Do not abdicate this responsibility. Register yourself and help register others. Volunteer to ensure the security of the election. Inform yourself and be prepared to grapple with the ethical complexities of citizenship.

We must claim authentic political equality. We encourage every woman in the United States to celebrate suffrage by using their political power and allegiance to rebuild a nation more equitably in their image. Support leaders who demonstrate profound and consistent respect for women, their unique opinions and their bodily autonomy.

Better yet, become those leaders, enriching our nation with the benefits of your complex experiences and ideas.

Jennifer Walker Thomas is the director of nonpartisanship for Mormon Women for Ethical Government

McKenna Johnson is the women’s rights specialist for Mormon Women for Ethical Government

Jennifer Walker Thomas is the director of nonpartisanship and McKenna Johnson is the women’s rights specialist for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

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