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Liz Cheney, Elise Stefanik, and the GOP's ruthless violation of the woman code

Sophia A. Nelson, journalist and author of "The Woman Code," says gunning for another woman’s job when she is unfairly being attacked hurts all of us.
From left to right: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Elise Stefanik, (R-NY)
From left to right: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Rep. Elise Stefanik, (R-NY)Samuel Corum / Getty Images; Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

Let's face it. It's 2021, and women still need to stick together and stand up for each other. To know our own value, we must celebrate, defend, and respect the value of other women. Every woman who walks this Earth, no matter her race, religion or politics, has value. We must fight for each other, not with each other. This is the woman code that we all ought to live by.

The Republican women of Congress, however, are not honoring that code.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., a staunch conservative hawk who is the third ranking Republican in the House, was supplanted by Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York on Wednesday, all because Cheney refused to endorse the GOP’s Big Lie; that former President Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election and was the victim of mass voter fraud.

This coup against the last honest Republican woman in Congress was engineered by several powerful men (among them Trump, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise). But it was endorsed and enabled by dozens of compliant women.

Stefanik is clearly ambitious. And there is nothing wrong with that. But ambition should never take precedence over integrity.

Meanwhile, Cheney’s courage in calling out her party’s dangerous mendacity has made her a target of her colleagues and former friends.

The allure of Trump is powerful. Not one Republican woman in Congress (aside from Sen. Joni Ernst, who offered a tepid defense of Cheney on Monday) has come to Cheney’s defense publicly. Not one. This is not a lesson we should be teaching young women and girls.

Of course, there is a lot more to this story then gender. And implying that someone’s gender identity alone determines their personal or political decisions is a reductive and two-dimensional thought exercise that demands innumerable equally illogical and extreme outcomes.

But women are still bound together. There is a reason the Me Too movement sparked worldwide solidarity. When we can, we should help each other. When we can, we must lift others as we climb. Together, we rise.

Ironically, Rep. Elise Stefanik has worked for years to recruit and support Republican women running for office. And now we see her kicking another woman when she’s down; attacking the lone female voice in the leadership caucus, for not kowtowing to this Republican Party’s twisted, nonexistent election fraud claims.

As a sisterhood of women, we need to uphold shared principles of community, honesty and success. Gunning for another woman’s job when she is unfairly being attacked hurts all of us. We cannot live in the past when predominantly white male gatekeepers only allowed one woman to succeed at the firm, the company or at the university. There is plenty of room for all powerful women to succeed. But we have to have one another’s backs.

Here’s what we can do to help all of us succeed, together:

Be a woman other women can trust. Don't participate in mean girl tribunals or the public and professional pummeling of other women.

Lift other women as you climb. Success is great. But success if even greater when you leave a lasting legacy of mentorship, sponsorship and sisterhood behind.

Build a bench of younger women. Men are good at keeping the boys’ club full. Women must do the same. We have to make sure that many more follow the first woman to break the glass ceiling.

Don’t think or act like a man. The old rule used to be “act like one of the guys and you will fit in.” But why would you ever want to act like a man? You are a woman, phenomenally, as Maya Angelou once said. Walk in that proudly.

Never cut what you can untie. You won't like every woman, and she will not like you, but we all have value and worth. Don't slam doors shut. Leave room to re-open the doors of sisterhood and friendship another day.