TWIF: Vol. 28 (Iowa Caucus Edition) / On the Importance of IRL Interaction

Feb 04, 2016
This Week in Feminism

 Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes


Our Insta may have given it away, but hello, it’s me; I have traveled to Iowa and back, and I’m here to tell the tale. Who knew that driving around the midwest during one of the craziest political seasons in American politics could be so much fun??

My own, growing feminism is mostly responsible for my excitement about the chance to participate in and observe the Iowa caucusing process--and, as many feminisms have, it began with Gloria Steinem. After reading her book My Life on the Road, chatting with her IRL on her couch, and generally existing in a permanent state of G Steinem fan-girl, my personal understanding of and approach to feminism has shifted entirely. Gloria advocates for the kind of the feminism that you can’t read about online or in an academic paper; she is living proof of the power of meeting people face to face and listening to what they have to say. She acknowledges and embraces the ways in which academia can be divisive and exclusionary, particularly to poorer women who have more pressing things to worry about like putting food on the table than Betty Friedan’s opinion of women who mop. She recognizes that the best way to be an inclusive feminist is to dismantle these hierarchies of Knowledge with a capital “K” and to speak to real women face-to-face. IRL, if you will.

Her book is, as the title would suggest, about her time traveling--shuffling from speaking event to speaking event, at times ruggedly wandering U.S. roads in search of new ideas and voices of the people. She mapped her feminism, activism, organizing, and ultimately her impact as a cultural phenomenon by way of plopping herself in front of the real women and the real people she was trying to help, and banishing a fear or embarrassment of seeking answers. This kind of activism cloaked in what appears up front to just be general curiosity is extremely appealing to me--’cause like, the thesis papers and articles and textbooks are fascinating and essential for any budding feminist, but at some point it becomes more meaningful to hear real voices coming out of faces in front of your own; voices unmediated by the spin of a journalist in the business of attention-grabbing, a politician in the business of winning, or an activist with a political agenda. The only way to get to know the people is to talk to them. Makes sense to me. This is why I went to Iowa.

Ok, yes I know that not just everyone can pick up and go to a new state just to ~talk~ to people; I get it, people have jobs. Luckily, this is my job. (And my school has been sending a group of students to the caucuses since the 80s, so like get it, Emerson College!) The opportunity to hit the road with a group of fellow students seemed an obvious choice for me, as someone who is constantly trying to improve her feminism for my readers, A.K.A. all of y’all. *air kisses*

This election is one of the most intense and polarized in all of U.S. history. Feminist advocates have a tremendous amount to gain and lose depending on its outcome, but we all basically know that. Ted Cruz or Donald Trump wins and we have a president that will obliterate reproductive rights and hurt low-income folks, immigrants, etc. Bernie Sanders wins and we have the first areligious/Democratic Socialist ever in office who would bring with him the desire to fundamentally change the way our politics interacts with money. Hillary Clinton wins and we have our first ever female president (a huge deal no matter what your politics may be!!!), champion of reproductive rights, grandma (aww), and more in office. Yada yada yada. With all this at stake, nothing seemed more important to me than meeting the real people and potential voters of Iowa to see what issues matter most to them.

I met SO many surprising characters in the state of Iowa. In case you had the idea like I did that Iowa is basically a conservative state full of people with similar, conservative views, I’m telling you now that you are way off. As a political geek, the sheer array of political identities in Iowa was thrilling. I talked to people driving Ubers, I talked to people in town hall meetings and rallies, at Iowa State frat parties, at their doors, in lines, in elevators, and at the actual caucuses themselves. Here are some stories:



While waiting in a multiple-blocks-long line with some friends to get into a Bernie Sanders benefit headlined by Vampire Weekend in the wet and the snow, we introduced ourselves to the young woman and man behind us in line. They had driven into Iowa City from Chicago for the event, but she grew up in Florida as a Guayanian immigrant, and moved to Virginia with her sons and her boyfriend who works in aerospace tech. She herself was a working mother, and the young man next to her who looked like he could have been her younger brother was the younger of her two sons. He’s in high school in Chicago which he thinks is boring, but his favorite subject is history. When we asked her what issues were most important for her, she immediately highlighted the need to raise the minimum wage and increase workers’ benefits for poor women. She highlighted the faults in our welfare system and talked about the poor women who suffer most from a system that denies them care and support enough to really make any difference, immediate or long-term. She told me that she knows women who are refused from welfare if they have a boyfriend or husband in the house (man = work, therefore you should not need welfare, because...logic? *massive eye roll*) which contributes to a culture of infidelity and alienation for young mothers in these communities who are just trying to get by. She highlighted the impact that the next president could have on women of color by adjusting this system so that the benefits would extend to those women, who are so often left out of politics.

We didn’t get into the event that night, but speaking with that mother and son was worth every minute in the cold and wet.

Fem-rating: A-

Many of the policies for which Bernie advocates would indeed benefit women, in particular low-income women. As a supporter and advocate of closing the wage gap, raising minimum wages to a universal $15, making all public colleges and universities tuition-free, and paid family leave, Bernie is a strong ally for women. He also supports a woman’s right to choose, and has made efforts toward ending campus sexual assault.



One of the most rewarding ways to get involved in politics is canvassing for a favorite candidate. Because I live by the phrase ‘IDK, my BFF Hill?’ (there are other reasons, too - and fyi, I've said this before, but Team THINX is pretty split and this is my opinion) I hit the streets replete with Clinton literature and pride. Also, shoutout to the random suburban mother and local college counselor who drove us from Hillary HQ to our canvassing location for no reason other than to support the political efforts of three young women. You are a gem of a human.

So, clipboard in hand, we went door to door to all houses whose residents are registered as Hillary supporters, informing them of their caucus locations and urging them to come out and vote for our lady. Of course, I didn’t do all of the talking. While out, I met a young woman who had just moved to Iowa from Texas to teach at a local university. With her adorable cat in hand, she stood on her porch and explained to us that her biggest issues are the need for education reform and emphasizing college affordability, as well as protecting voter rights. She spoke about education at length, and highlighted how she sees students falling through the cracks all the time; but then she mentioned her time in Texas, where her voting rights were often held over her head. With a Hispanic-sounding last name, she was targeted by Texan officials and put through *extra* BS when she went to vote--which, she made a point of saying, she does for every election open to her. She wants a president who will protect and support education and enfranchisement.

At the next house, I met a mother of three who said she couldn’t go to the caucuses because she couldn’t afford childcare. There ya go.

So many people told us they wouldn’t be able to go caucus because they had to work during the political process. There ya go.

Hill yeah, I was fired up for these women.


Fem-rating: A

A brilliant woman with liberal, progressive policies, Hillary is an advocate for women. She receives an A rating for being a champion, not just a supporter, of reproductive justice (endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, as well as an advocate of repealing the Hyde Amendment) as well as common-sense gun control, and is just as adamant as her opponent about closing the wage gap (endorsed by the Lilly Ledbetter campaign for fair pay), raising minimum wages (however, her plan would raise wages to $12 universally, with room to grow), providing paid family leave for workers, and making college education affordable by refinancing existing student loans and making institutions provide debt-free tuition.  


I met an Iowa State student at a Martin O’Malley event just before he dropped out of the race (R.I.P. to a great dad’s campaign, he is #toopure for this race) who talked about her passion for the environment, and the unique opportunities for growth in Iowan renewable energy resources and production of environmentally-friendly jobs. Just a sophomore, she had already interned in Belgium working for a global environmental justice initiative, and her political activism is just now beginning. 

Fem-rating: B+

He’s not specifically an advocate for women, but he shared many of the same policies with his opponents-- for example, he supports women’s right to choose, supports closing the wage gap, supports equal pay, wants to raise minimum wage, and has a better racial justice platform than other candidates.



I talked to a really sweet and enthusiastic Louisianan (lol is that a thing?) teenager who was sharing the front row of a Ted Cruz rally with me. I asked him what his big issues are, and after staring up at the ceiling for a couple dozen seconds, he looked me in the eyes and cracked a smile. “I just want lower taxes” he said. From there, he asked me about my political opinions (I think he could tell I was suuuuuper uncomfy being a part of the Ted Cruz™ experience) and decided that he actually didn’t disagree with me on issues of reproductive rights and education affordability. He was a real nice guy with an open mind. Enjoy your gap year, buddy. You’re doing great things.

Fem-rating: D-

He's by far the most religious candidate, which would be fine, if it didn't influence his stance on women's reproductive rights (what we're saying is, he actively does not support the right to choose and would actively roll back reproductive justice and healthcare laws if elected).



While sitting in on one of the actual Republican caucuses, I heard a brave young woman speak to the crowd about the importance of the environment in this election. She stressed how important agriculture is to the state of Iowa, and called for a president who acknowledges climate change and will commit to helping Iowan farmers maintain their businesses. Frick yeah, girlfriend! But theeeennnnnn, she finished her spiel with a plea for people to vote for Ben Carson. So, that was a bit of a YIKES moment. But before that, she def had a point!

Fem-rating: D-

Ben Carson doesn't support a woman's right to choose, doesn't believe climate change is a significant threat to the world (derp) and doesn't really seem to want to bother speaking about progressive issues like raising wages or closing gaps. Womp.




And finally, while partying it up at Iowa State (like any good political junkie), I spoke to a couple drunken Trump supporters (white dudes in white t shirts and jeans, with classically good, blond looks) who explained to me that their top priorities are national security and protecting smaller farms and local jobs from being overtaken by the growing “illegal immigrant” (I prefer the term undocumented, but for the sake of the story, we’ll leave it as is) population in Iowa. I debated them on these issues for a while until I decided it was best to cut my losses and get outta there before someone yakked on me in the name of The Donald. Dodged a bullet there, TBH.

Fem-rating: F

Not gonna bother with full sentences here: 

-misogynistic comments and personality

-actively hates women

-does not support right to choose

-claims to be an advocate for women, is the worst


Over my short four days under the Iowan sun, I managed to conduct a bunch of varied conversations with very different political supporters, many with immensely different priorities than the others. Traveling into Iowa, I expected more encounters in the spirit of the Trump and Cruz arguments; I’d attribute this to the way the state is often sold to the rest of the country as a singularly red state instead of the richly purple and swirly-blued land that it can be when you get to know it better. Though I’ve always known why I’d be voting for Hillary Clinton in this election, Gloria inspired me to get out into the world and learn from others all about their needs and wishes for the country and for themselves. Sure, I got some incredible selfies with high-powered presidential candidates, including the winners from both sides of the caucuses (not to mention, my personal shero), and Martin O’Malley sang happy birthday with me in a video for my mom--but the real highlights of my trip were the opportunities I had to get to know the people of Iowa. The academic arm of feminism is an important arm to support and engage with, but if that’s the only approach to feminism that we ever embrace, what good are we really doing for women? Get out there and talk to someone. They might be the next president of the United States. (Or just really cool).


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