Songs for the Struggling Artist

Owning Our Expertise: One Way Zephyr Teachout Is Inspiring Me

There are dozens of reasons I want Zephyr Teachout to be the next Attorney General of New York (see her endorsements in the New York Times or New York Daily News for some of those reasons.) I have admired her for years and am thrilled to be able to vote for her for a job she is so right for. I’ve never been very interested in political mechanics but I canvased for the first time ever to help get her elected. She could be running against all the great fictional lawyers of all time combined into one person and I’d still be zealously in support of Teachout’s campaign. (Vote on Thursday if you live in New York state!)

But aside from things like refusing to take corporate donations and campaigning while pregnant, one thing I keep being impressed by, every time I hear her speak, is how she talks about her expertise. She specializes in corruption law. She wrote a book about corruption in America. She teaches the subject at a law school. She is legitimately an expert in the field. And she does not hesitate to claim it. I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to hear a woman say “I am an expert in…” without the slightest hint of apology or hesitation. To hear a woman, who is about my age, declare her proficiency and prowess inspires me tremendously. Every time I hear her say, “This is my area of expertise –“ I get a little shock. I am also impressed by how often she says it and I get that little shock every time.

I recognize that there are those in the world who will get that shock in a less pleasurable way than I do. I imagine that there are many who hear a woman unapologetically declare she is an expert and take an instant visceral dislike to such a person. I suspect that such people exist because of all the misogyny that’s wriggled its way to the surface these last few years. I also know such people exist because this sort of language from a woman is so unusual. I know many women who are, in fact, experts in many things but would never dare to say so. Many of us have learned to downplay our accomplishments, to soft pedal our expertise or diminish our achievements. Women who don’t soften their proficiency are often vilified. So to hear Teachout own her own skill and expertise in such a powerful way has been one of the great thrills of election season for me.

I’m going to try to claim my own expertise more and I hope to hear other women follow Zephyr Teachout’s lead in declaring theirs.

Please, please, please, if you’re in New York, please vote in the Democratic Primary on Thursday, September 13th. I would love to see Zephyr Teachout in office, as well as Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams. All of them are running their campaigns without any corporate money and they need all the support they can get – especially when real estate companies are pouring money into their opponents’ campaigns.

But whomever you vote for – the more people vote, the more voice we’ll all have in New York’s democracy. The state has been rife with corruption. (The way real estate interests have played a role in our state politics probably has a lot to do with how we ended up with Donny Twimp on a national level.) Participation is key for making changes. And here in New York – most of the real decisions happen at the primary level. This is also where turnout is the smallest. Doing my small bit of canvassing, I saw just how small the primary voter numbers can be. So if you want to make the most difference – turn up on Thursday. Help us get more expert women (and those who support expert women) into office. Please and thank you.

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