Recent remarks by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright which have been reduced to ‘the boys are with Bernie and you’re a bad feminist if you are too’ made me desperate to know whether or not this divide between the Democratic candidates is a fair one. And what would a supporter of each candidate have to say about it? After scouring the internet for robust writing by women about the election, particularly about their candidate preferences, and coming up relatively empty, I decided to call upon some brilliant women I know for their thoughts. This roundtable was primarily inspired by recent talk around the overly simplistic “sexist Bernie Bros” vs. “Hillary feminists” as well as an article from Monday declaring that single women are the most powerful voting block. I wanted to find out what women think of how the media is portraying them as supporters of each candidate (or not), as well as their rationale for choosing one over the other.
Below is a conversation that occurred from Wednesday February 17-February 21 between myself (a supporter of both candidates), a Bernie supporter, and a Hillary supporter.
MH: Hey all! I wanted to begin with the source material: Weekend of February 5-7 at a rally for Hillary supporters, Madeleine Albright said, “A lot of you younger women think it’s been done. It’s not done! You have to help! Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Subsequently, Gloria Steinem made an offhand remark Friday February 5 in her interview on Real Time with Bill Maher, “Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.” To be fair, she followed it up in the “Overtime” section of the show with, “We’re not voting for Sarah Palin, excuse me! We’re voting for a woman who represents the majority of women and men. Of course we’re not voting for [her just because she’s a woman]… Most of us are raised by women. Whether women or men. Because we are mostly raised by women, we associate female authority with childhood, emotionality, irrationality… I really don’t think we will be able to recognize human talent in all of its forms when men are raising children as much as women are and women are in the public forum as much as men are.”
I found these comments and the backlash against Albright and Steinem really fascinating because it encroaches upon this territory of feminism that is still quite uncertain: would a female president be a different kind of president? Is it inherently meaningful that the leader of the free world is a woman? If so, how?
What is your general reaction to the divide among women voters that Albright and Steinem establish above, that “good feminists are with Hillary // Bad feminists and bros are with Bernie”?
AD: I just want to start by saying that the comments made by those so-called “feminist” women really grate!! They are so patronizing to younger women, as if we AREN’T making informed political decisions. And, at least in the super-progressive liberal circles I run in, women *don’t* think the battle for equality is “over,” rather they are attuned to the many other facets of feminism, i.e. intersectional feminism that cares for poor, immigrant or women of color, among others.
Also, it would be one thing if the two candidates running had roughly the same politics–in that case the “you’re sexist//you don’t understand women’s struggles” accusation might stick better–but Bernie and Hillary really have fundamentally different politics, and to me that makes all the difference. In my view, Sanders’ strong aversion to war, his fight for a $15 minimum wage, and his proposals for universal healthcare and free public college education will significantly impact women who are most at-risk—that is minority, poor, non-American women—in addition to the policies he shares with Clinton (Planned Parenthood support, LGBTQ rights, minimizing the gender pay gap), are what earn him my young feminist support. His stubborn hatred of the big banks also makes my anti-capitalist heart skip a beat.
That said, I do think having a woman president would be great, if only to break the (largely white) male leader streak. I just don’t think that a victory for one woman is a victory for all women. I’m also not sure that I see an essential “difference” in the way a woman would lead…women are for sure not a monolith…is that the question? Interested in getting into this more.
MH: I definitely agree that the patronizing tone of Steinem and Albright was disturbing (Steinem later apologized and on that very same episode said young women are more radically feminist than we [her generation] ever were) though I tend to expect this kind of hypocrisy from white feminists, and especially white feminists in their 70s and 80s. But I disagree that Bernie and Hillary have fundamentally different politics currently. I think I would agree that their track records demonstrate some differences, but I cannot imagine Clinton being against the markers of Sanders’s platform you mention “fundamentally.” I think they are actually fundamentally the same politically (they believe in equality of wages, fair immigration regulation, some kind of racial justice) but they have different approaches and/or strategies. Maybe I misunderstand the difference between politics and strategies? I’m really interested to hear from Sophie on this front.
In terms of the very essentialist-leaning question I posed, What difference would a female president make? I think the answer is interestingly twofold: on the one hand, a female president would make no difference and on the other hand it would make all of the difference. That is to say, I don’t think it would make a difference to the day-to-day job of President, but it would make a substantial symbolic difference. Not only will a whole generation of young American women grow up thinking that femininity and the presidency (and, by extension, a stereotypically subservient gender marker and authority) are no longer mutually exclusive, but also the country will take on a different global symbol. As seductive as these historic and symbolic changes are, I support Sanders (for now) because I prefer someone whose ideals hope to generate “real” change rather than the mere visual appearance of change. Some of the celebrity endorsements of Hillary have backfired for me in this way, namely http://www.people.com/article/lena-dunham-hillary-clinton-campaign-video-celebrities. Though I know that’s not necessarily a fair assessment of reasons to support Hillary.
I want to add that it does not matter so much to me whether or not Sanders achieves the changes he pronounces, but rather the mere fact that he says them out loud. The word “fearless” has been attributed to Sanders and many feminist Clinton supporters have claimed that Hillary cannot perform in such an aggressive way because she would be, as Nicki Minaj would say, a “bitch” whereas Bernie is a “boss.” What do y’all think of this inequality in how Bernie and Hillary are judged? Is it real or imagined? Should it sway our votes? Or, feel free to respond to any and all of the random statements I’ve made above.
ST: Maya, I agree that Bernie and Hillary don’t have fundamentally different politics. I do think Bernie speaks more to and for the working class, which I like, but I don’t think Hillary is in any way a corporate shill. I’ve read a couple good pieces dismantling that lately (here—though the first couple paragraphs seem no longer true, Bernie definitely has a shot at pulling the nomination). I think, for the most part, the distinction you draw between politics and strategies is correct. There are places where their political views differ—I agree with Bernie on the death penalty (he is squarely against, whereas Clinton is an “in the rarest of cases only” person), but Clinton on gun control. Bernie is far from a gun nut and it makes a difference that he’s from a rural area, but having grown up in DC, I am for the strictest gun control possible. When it comes to the strategy for implementing the politics they basically agree on, Hillary’s strategies just make more sense to me. For example, when it comes to college tuition — I don’t think making public colleges free for everyone is feasible or necessary. I am very lucky in that I was able to go college without going into debt. I did not need and therefore did not deserve to have public resources go towards making college free for me. Clinton’s plan — detailed here — seems like a much more feasible way to make college free by significantly reducing tuition, making community college free, and replacing loans with grants.
I also agree, Maya, that having a female president would make a difference in an important symbolic way. A generation of women and men will grow up without seeing a distinction between femininity and presidential authority. Of course identity doesn’t trump politics; Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson would both be nightmares. But, I would love to see my niece and others in her generation grow up and hit voting age without having yet lived through a white male presidency, where gravitas and authority weren’t associated with white men (I imagine that were Clinton to become president, she would face some of the same ridiculous shit Obama has faced. As much as the GOP tends towards partisanship in general, I cannot imagine the same level of obstructionism with a white male president).
It feels to me like Albright was more patronizing than Steinem; the rest of everything Steinem said in that interview (notably, the interview was with Bill Maher, who is kind of the worst) was complimentary towards young women’s activism and involvement in politics. That she’s in her 80s and has been working towards this for most of her life doesn’t justify the dumb part of what she said, but I think it does make some sense of it.
I think from both Hillary and Bernie camps, although as far as I have seen, more from Bernie camps, there have been a lot of patronizing assumptions made about women: that women only vote for Bernie because of “the boys,” that women are only voting her Hillary because she has a vagina, etc.
Aldona—to call people sexist *simply* for supporting Bernie over Hillary is absurd and offensive and unfair, and absolutely a thing some people do. But, a lot of the criticism leveled at her is sexist and/or misinformed. Maya’s Nicki Minaj analogy seems apt. The thing that has bothered me most are the memes that have nothing to do with their politics.
AD: Okay, I definitely have to elaborate on what I mean by “fundamental” because I stand by it. I was not clear in my original comment, and definitely like the policies/strategies distinction. There are two aspects of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and by extension what I believe his presidency will look like, that stand out to be as fundamentally different than Clinton’s, regardless of similarities in their positions on key issues. They are (1) he is unwilling to take campaign donation money from large special-interest groups, and (2) he doesn’t talk about trying to work with Republicans. Those are the fundamental differences I see, although I do also like how he goes further than Clinton on the issues they dis/agree on (he wants a $15 min. wage, she only wants it raised, for example).
I’ll for sure vote for Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination, but speculations about who can better work with Republicans seem absurd to me. I don’t see the GOP as rational, responsible, or caring lawmakers at all and am pretty sure they’ll stubbornly oppose any Democrat in office. I am positive Obama’s blackness has fueled their hatred, but am also fairly positive that the Republican party is so fucked up and antagonistic at this point that even though a white male president might not meet the same level of obstructionism, obstructionism would still make things unworkable, and conceding to the GOP’s increasing extremism on any level would be harmful. The only solution I see is to vote them out of office and get special interest lobbyists out of the government process completely, not to try to work within our already-messed-up framework.
Thankfully, I have not really been witness to the “Bernie bros” that I see everyone talking about, nor do I watch cable news, so I haven’t seen much of the sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton that you mention. (Although my roommate did tell me how much she “hates Hillary’s voice”…cringe) I really want to push back against the “bitch/boss” thing though. The moments I can remember in which the nation really loved Hillary Clinton are also times when she was, or appeared, unapologetically in charge (I’m thinking “Texts From Hillary” http://textsfromhillaryclinton.tumblr.com/, and the Benghazi hearings specifically). The criticisms of Hillary Clinton I’ve seen from my FB vantage point have been how she doesn’t go far enough with her progressive politics. I have yet to see evidence that sexism is the reason for this hesitation but keep on seeing writers insisting on it. It’s worth considering the myriad privileges she has as a rich, cis, straight white woman who has many long-standing powerful political connections. I find it hard to believe such a woman would structure her politics around “bitch” accusations…I could be wrong, but I have yet to see anything more than conjecture to bolster that claim.
As for seeing a woman in the White House, I have no doubt it will happen within our children’s lifetime. It could even happen in 2016, which would be great, but I’m too excited about Sanders, his democratic socialism, and his larger critiques of the political system to not vote for him in the primary.
ST: I agree with your assessment of the GOP; very much not a fan (have either of you seen the document circulating the internet right now that’s taken from something Mitch McConnell wrote in law school? He states very clearly that the senate should not take a SCOTUS nominee’s political philosophy into account. The hypocrisy is incredible). But I think it is inevitable that we will have to work with them. They control Congress right now; even if they don’t hold onto congressional control this election, midterm elections with a democratic president in office tend to result in GOP congresses.
Something I’ve seen circulating facebook a lot that has struck me as, at least, as somewhat sexist are those memes with questions about random things (music, etc) and made-up answers marking Bernie as “cool” and Hillary as not. Which is maybe some of what Steinem was getting at in her “where the boys are” statement—not that young men are making their political decisions thoughtfully and young women are just following them, but that everyone is gravitating towards the “cool” candidate, and “cool” is often synonymous with “guy stuff.” (This does, of course, still imply that young voters don’t really know what they’re doing. Plenty of them probably don’t—there are people who research and think and decide to support Bernie for lots of real reasons and there are people who support him because it seems like the cool thing to do; there are people who support Hillary just because it seems like the thing to do for them, too).
A note that doesn’t directly have to do with this conversation: more than getting special interest lobbyists out of government (overturning Citizens United is super important, but would leave a lot to be desired), we need major, major redistricting. That is the best way to get congress to actually represent the interests of the country.
I also don’t think Bernie is quite as radical as he advertises, which isn’t surprising from a politician (which he is). That’s not to say he isn’t progressive or wouldn’t *largely* act in what I think are all of our shared interest. But Dolores Huerta just endorsed Hillary, citing their respective records on immigration:
“My question for Bernie is, where the heck was he for the last 25 years? Where was he on immigration reform? On indefinite detentions? On vigilante justice against undocumented workers? He was nowhere. That’s where.
Perhaps he’s had a change of heart, in which case, great. But why is he speaking as though we, the advocates and community members working for years to keep families together and push for immigration reform, haven’t been trying to make any progress until now? Specifically, why is he pretending like Hillary Clinton hasn’t been on the right side of this while he was on the wrong side? She’s got the track record to prove that she was in the fight with our community, Ted Kennedy, and President Obama. Bernie certainly doesn’t.”
And, while Sanders certainly gets points for voting against the Iraq War, his record also isn’t exactly that of a pacifist. He has made deals with Lockheed Martin, and seems to support military technology development when it benefits Vermont’s economy:
During his 2012 reelection campaign, Sanders ran against a Republican who opposed the F-35 as a waste of resources. Sanders was all for it. In a 2012 statement, Sanders made the point that the F-35 would have to be located somewhere, whether in Florida or South Carolina or Vermont. “I would rather it be here,” he said.
So I will stick by my view that politically, there is no fundamental difference. Both of them are progressive. Both of them have also voted and acted, at times, in ways that do not mean the highest progressive standards—standards we should continue to hold, while also knowing that in part *because* we live in a democracy (sort of), and not everyone shares those standards, they won’t always be met (again, redistricting will help get more accurate representation of the country’s interest, as will getting rid of racist and utterly unnecessary voter-ID laws). And, because I think that they are on pretty even footing in terms of their values —both the values they hold and their commitment to those values —because I find Hillary’s plans more specific and more feasible, because I think Hillary would be better at the sort of politics necessary to battle obstructionism, and, yes, because she is a woman with all of the above qualities, she is getting my vote (if Sanders wins the nomination, though, I will not only vote for him but volunteer for him, as I will do for Clinton if she wins).
MH: As often happens when you begin to talk about any two things that the media has made out to be diametrically opposed like Sanders and Clinton, the truth behind such opposition is much more ambivalent and complicated. Are some Bernie supporters sexist? Probably. But is it automatically anti-feminist to not support Hillary? Hell, no. Would a woman in the White House change the world? Nah. Would this particular woman in the White House make a significant impact on the trajectory of the country? This is where the true disagreement between supporters of each candidate lies. The only silver lining that I can see resulting from the heated divide that the media draws between this false marker “Bernie Bro” and “Hillary feminist” is that it has spurred us to talk about the very real facts of misogyny, ageism, anti-semitism, and economic (dis)advantage in this country. So whoever wins the nomination, at the very least, we as a general public have thought an awful lot about their identities and hopefully this, directly or indirectly, makes their presidencies that much richer and capacious.