Setting aside politics, setting aside who is the better candidate, setting aside who said what when… last night’s quote from Sanders packs a punch: “You are not qualified …”
She was Secretary of State. Senator. Lawyer. Decades of experience in public service. There isn’t exactly a checklist of what qualifies one to be president but on its face, that’s a pretty impressive list. Meanwhile, everything Senator Sanders said about Secretary Clinton, except for her vote for the Iraqi War, applies to President Obama.
Who is qualified, not qualified, has the right to determine if others are qualified – it’s a loaded, complex concept. It’s one I struggle with regularly.
I know my qualifications. I know the research I’ve done, the courses I’ve taken, the content and skills I’ve mastered. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m not qualified and accepting that if I get it wrong, nothing is lost by apologizing and stepping back. I don’t think I’m alone in holding those traits. I struggle with how we respond to each other’s claims of expertise, especially when their claim would trump ours.
Last month I spoke up to correct a factual error in a text in my field of expertise. I checked a textbook on the topic – yup, the fact was wrong. I googled the fact just in case the textbook had a typo. Yup. The article was still wrong. I contacted the author and was told I wasn’t qualified to make the correction.
Granted, that particular word wasn’t used. Instead, the author pointed to speakers in the article and cited their expertise.
Here’s where qualification runs headlong into socialization and self-doubt.
Is it relevant that the avatar next to my Twitter handle makes it clear I’m a woman? Is it relevant that the author of the article, and all of the sources cited in the article, including the one that provided the wrong fact, are men? I’m currently going through my semi-annual I am so terrible at Twitter I should delete my account and never share a thought publicly again phase, which no doubt feeds into my response related to the word “unqualified.”
I don’t know. I do know I was right – and I was told I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. It’s easy enough to say, “nope. Had nothing to do with gender.” And yet… and yet..
What is the message that’s being sent when a male candidate running for office says his female opponent is “unqualified” when the list of accusations are nearly identical to the things done by a man? My hunch is that’s similar to the message that’s sent when a profession full of women says, “This *thing*? It’s not helping us do our jobs. Fix this.”