The 2020 Democratic primary will serve as a referendum on a whole host of political questions—chief among them the myth of the white male savior.
One of the assumptions stubbornly lodged in our cultural psyche is the belief in male genius, the notion of men destined for a hero’s journey. Women can be hardworking, motivated, enthusiastic—but not brilliant by nature. For children, this assumption forms as early as age 6; according to NYU psychologist Andrei Cimpian, girls rate their male classmates as better suited for activities that demand exceptional talent. This insecurity persists throughout women’s careers. Research in the journal American Psychologist found that women are less likely to apply for jobs when the description requires candidates with “a brilliant mind.” Another recent study, also by Cimpian, found that people associate terms like “genius” and “brilliance” more often with white men, not people of color.
It’s unsurprising that we find it so hard to undo our tightly held belief in white male saviors; it’s a story that gets perpetually reinforced. Harry Potter was anointed, from birth, to slay Lord Voldemort; Hermione Granger may be savvier and more hardworking, but without a messianic birthright, she remains just Harry’s sidekick. From Odysseus to Skywalker, we’ve been raised on tales of men who are reluctant to take on epic journeys but find that they were just born for it.