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Why Are Female Candidates Apologizing For Caring?

Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar both asked for forgiveness at the Democratic primary debate

At the sixth Democratic primary debate on Thursday (December 19), moderator Judy Woodruff offered a final question in the spirit of the holiday season. Candidates could either ask forgiveness from one of their peers on stage, or offer a gift to them. Both Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren went for the former option. They were the only two to do so.

Warren went first, noting that she knows she gets “a little worked up” and “a little hot” about the issues she cares about. But she attributed such passion to the tens of thousands of selfies she’s taken with people at her events across the country and the stories she’s heard from the people she met. In particular, she talked about meeting a veteran with diabetes, who rations his insulin so that his sister and daughter can also access the life-saving medicine, which many people cannot live without — and fewer and fewer can afford.

Klobuchar echoed the sentiment. “I'd ask for forgiveness any time any of you get mad at me. I can be blunt,” she said. “But I think it's important to pick the right candidate here. I do.” The comment came after she and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg in particular regularly went at each other for details in their rhetoric, policies, and political experience; the senator also spent much of the night issuing zingers and getting a word in edgewise when other candidates yelled at each other.

While some people commended Sens. Warren and Klobuchar for their humility — and not, say, plugging a book — others immediately registered the disparity between their answers, and the answers issued by the male candidates.

They weren’t the only people to suggest they might be wrong about how they approached any given topic that night: Bernie Sanders owned up to his vote on the war in Afghanistan, noting that Rep. Barbara Lee (CA), the only Democrat who voted against the war, was right at the time and he was wrong. But taken in isolation, asking forgiveness, or apologizing more generally, is something women, in particular, are often more culturally primed to do than their male peers.

Women are more frequently reprimanded for being “aggressive” at work, while men are often rewarded for that instinct. Women are perceived as being “more emotional” than men are, when the fact of the matter is, people of all gender identities feel any range of emotions — it’s just that cisgender men are often taught and conditioned to not express those emotions, often to their own detriment. And things are even worse for minority women and particularly Black women, who are sometimes forced to navigate harmful microaggressions and racist stereotypes in addition to performing the jobs for which they were hired.

That there still exists an expectation that women temper themselves and their ambitions, and that it is still a fulcrum of the presidential race, is depressing. But caring about something isn’t something to apologize for, and more and more people are standing their ground on that point. In fact, when First Lady Melania Trump seemingly boasted that she didn’t care when she wore a certain Zara jacket en route to the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018, plenty of brands responded with merch that avowed just how much they do.