More women entered the U.S. presidential race for election in 2020 than ever before, representative of the changing dynamics surrounding gender and politics in the U.S. While much of the American public seems to be taking to a more diverse candidate pool positively, Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik News seem to take a more negative tact when covering women running in 2020.
The possibility of the country’s first female president was a clear wedge issue in the 2016 election; the rhetoric used in 2020 attempts to use this issue to divide Americans further. RT and Sputnik use rhetoric to pigeon-hole the female presidential candidates into stereotypical gender narratives. By weaponizing the use of rhetoric, Russian state-sponsored media seeks to sow discord in the Democratic Party and create friction in American politics by invoking stereotypical narratives, allegations of hypocrisy in the U.S., and often bemoaning what Kremlin content refers to as “achingly PC identity-politics” within the Democratic Party at large.
For example, women in politics are central to this RT op-ed’s allegations of hypocrisy within the Democratic Party. Discussing statements made by former President Barack Obama, the article is quick to point out the alleged mistakes of several 2020 Democratic candidates, writing that “Elizabeth Warren pretended to be Native American for much of her career as a means of getting ahead” and Kamala Harris was “under fire” for her prosecutorial record. It also points to perceived flaws in other U.S. politicians, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former Congresswoman Katie Hill.
As is the case in the aforementioned RT op-ed, Russian state media also frequently pits the rest of the women in the Democratic field against Democratic candidate Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. This strategy attempts to paint Democrats as hypocritically cherry-picking female candidates to support.Another RT opinion piece argues that, since the U.S. is so concerned with identity politics, “PC hipsters and Inside the Tent self-proclaimed ‘feminists’” should be “falling over themselves to endorse Tulsi Gabbard.” Though the other four women running in the 2020 presidential election come from varying political ideologies within the Democratic Party, Gabbard tends to be praised for going against the grain. Gabbard’s stance against political correctness and her fight for free speech are championed in an RT article, since platforms like Twitter and Facebook are trying to “suppress political opinions that don’t align with establishment liberalism.” A separate RT article on impeachment describes her as “swimming against the current in her own Democratic Party,” and a Sputnik News story argues that Gabbard’s “present” vote during the impeachment inquiry is “a principled stand,” as well as “a very strong and conscientious decision to take.”
Other times, candidates are painted negatively through stereotypical narratives depicting the women as indecisive or overly emotional. Elizabeth Warren’s “rhetorical flip-flops” are cited, as well as the fact that she “can’t seem to make up her mind.” At the same time, former 2020 candidate Kamala Harris is described as having “stumbled” on certain policy issues while “half-heartedly” defending herself. A segment from a Russia Today interview focuses on Kirsten Gillibrand’s departure from former political beliefs, questioning whether or not she is sincere in her words and actions. The article’s author goes on to say, “I don’t know why she thought she should be a Senator, and I don’t know why she thinks she should be President—but it takes a big ego to think both those things, so good for her.” One Sputnik News article describes Amy Klobuchar as having “lashed out” against former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A story published on RT covering CNN’s October 2019 Equality Townhall characterizes Kamala Harris not only as stumbling, but “as if she might break into tears.”
While there is no way to stop these efforts by Russian media, recognizing these divisive tactics and being cognizant of such efforts is the best way to start addressing the problem. In the end, the American public has everything to lose by being divided, and Russia has everything to gain.