Nina Turner on the Recent Reports of Workplace Harassment: "I'm Surprised That We're Surprised"
The president of Our Revolution on the disrespect women in this country face and why feminism needs men too.
By: Hannah Smothers
Throughout her career in local government and as an Ohio state senator, Nina Turner was asked plenty of times if she could "handle" being a wife, a mother, and a public servant all at the same time. Now as the president of Our Revolution, an organization that supports the election of progressives, she's encouraging women who feel they have something to give to their community, state, or country to feel the same sense of belonging that she says men feel when they wake up in the morning and decide they want to run for president.
Ahead of giving remarks at the opening night of the Women's Convention, a Women's March-organized conference held in Detroit, Michigan, Turner spoke to Cosmoplitan.com about channeling your "inner man" to run for office and why she thinks it's important to incorporate men in the fight against institutionalized sexism.
You've said before that Our Revolution is more interested in endorsing candidates based on beliefs, rather than endorsing along party lines. Does that mean Our Revolution could endorse a Republican?
Our grassroots affiliate organizations nominate [candidates] up. I can give you real examples — they have nominated Green Party members and we have endorsed Green Party members. But, for the sake of argument, if there is a progressive Republican out there that seeks their endorsement [from] Our Revolution, and they go through the local affiliate, there is a strong possibility that they could be endorsed.
Dr. Bernice King gave a speech earlier this year to the DNC. She said that, today, people are not looking for people just based on whether they're Democrat or Republican — they're looking for people who will stand up for humanity. I embrace that personally, and Our Revolution embraces that, too. Any candidate from any walk of life, any background, they have a chance of being endorsed by Our Revolution. We are not just going to dismiss them because of some party affiliation.
But it hasn't happened yet that you've endorsed a Republican?
Not yet. But listen, any day now. It could happen.
A recent survey Cosmopolitan ran found that even more women felt less likely to run for office after the election than felt inspired to run. What advice would you give to women who are feeling discouraged to run or are feeling disillusioned by the election results?
It's alright to feel disappointed and discouraged. We all have moments like that. But [don't] let that cripple you and your desire and your drive to run for office, because that is probably the very person that we need to run for office.
I would encourage any young woman who has the desire to run, if they feel like they can do something better, if they feel obligated to help and lift their community, if they have something to give, then don't let this small blip on the screen – and it is small, it seems enormous right now, in the moment, but it is, in fact, a blip on the screen – to deter them from getting out there to use that passion and drive and determination that they have to make their community, their state, and this country, a better place.
There are studies — even before Mr. Trump ascended to the presidency — that showed that women need to be asked several times to run. It's just the way that women have been unfortunately socialized in this society. But I want women to know that they can shake and shape the world, and that we need more women to get out there and shake the world and to be that change, and not to be paralyzed. There is a shift coming, and women need to be within that shift. Women need to be pushing that shift.
You must've had moments like this when you were starting your career.
Oh my god, many times. I remember, when I was running for city council in 2005, being asked by a man if I could handle being a wife, a mother, and a councilwoman. And that's just crazy — 21st century, you're still being asked those questions. Even today, that's still there. Can women handle it? Are they mentally capable of handling it? Yes, we are. Because we are the best multitaskers this world has ever seen. Women can handle it.
Women can be uniquely who they are – they don't have to try to be a man. They should be exactly who they are in this space. As a black woman in particular, it's not just my gender that makes people question whether or not I can complete a task. Oftentimes it's also my race. So for women like me, it is a double-edged sword. But I am living proof, and so have been other women that have come before me, that we can surmount those challenges and prove to the world that we are more than capable of being great public servants, and mothers if we are mothers, and married if we are married.
We can do it all and have it all. That's what I want young women to know. Make their own music. If nobody's making music for them, make your own. Do what you are passionate about and don't let anybody or anything stop you or convince you that you are not worthy. Most men that run for office wake up in the morning and say, I am worthy to be the president of the United States of America. I want women to channel their inner man and say, Oh yeah, I am worthy.
One of the other things women have to face, and this has been a big conversation the past few weeks, is what women in state legislatures have called a pervasive culture of sexual harassment. When you see these reports, are you surprised? Is this something you knew was happening?
I'm surprised that we're surprised. Just like racism, sexism is as old as the founding of this country. Since day zero.
We're always reminded that we have more work to do in these areas, so whether it's pushing back against racism – and I'm not talking about just one individual not liking somebody that's African American, Hispanic, or a person of color. I'm talking about institutional racism. It's the same with sexism. It's not just one man saying something to a woman, it is embedded in the institution that is America.
When I was a state senator — I'll never forget — I was in the judiciary committee and I was jousting back and forth with the chairman of the committee, and getting the best of him, I might say, and it pissed him off so much that he hammered his gavel. Shut up, Senator, he said something like that. And I was just happy that he said the word senator behind telling me to shut up in committee. So I know what it's like. And even in that moment, I didn't know if that was happening because I was a woman or because I was black, or was it a combination of things.
I know that might be mild compared to what some other women are talking about, but it's the building of all of that level of disrespect for women in this country that we must confront. I am proud that women are speaking their truth and that we are creating an environment in this moment where women feel confident enough to speak their truth. I just hope that it lasts. Is it just a blip on the screen and then it's going to go away, and women are going to suppress it again, and then something else happens that shakes our consciousness, and then women have to start it all over again? I am hoping that this outpouring of women, giving their testimony about the sexism that they have had to endure, is something that they will always feel comfortable about coming forward [with]. That will require both men and women, whether it's in the private sector or in the public sector, to create that kind of space.
There was a pretty significant backlash to the Women's Convention when Bernie Sanders was announced as one of the opening speakers. What did you think of that backlash?
Unfortunate. I respect the women who feel as though Senator Sanders should not have been invited. I get it, because I try to put myself in somebody else's shoes, but I disagree. Because I also respect the women of the Women's March who decided that they wanted to invite Senator Sanders to speak and the other gentlemen – there were only two men at the time, but that has changed — who were invited to speak. It was only one man that triggered the outreach by some women. Not all.
To flip that, there were some women — not just me, I guess it was obvious how I was going to feel — who thought it was good for Senator Sanders to be invited to speak. You know, the most popular active politician in the country to be invited to speak. And in the truest sense of feminism. Feminism is not anti-man, it's pro-humanity. For all the advancements that we hope to have as a society, we need partners of the male persuasion too.
Although I respect those women to be able to have that opinion, I disagree with the opinion. I thought that the backlash, that kind of public backlash, was unnecessary. We are coming together in a true sense of sisterhood, and while we might not agree on every issue, we are coming here to talk about to talk about how do we advance, how do we reclaim our time.