Hillary Clinton is the first woman ever to get the presidential nomination from a major political party in the history of the United States. This is, of course, a historic, and long overdue, moment. For many feminists, the nomination is a pretty straightforward, unambiguous victory for women and cause for celebration. For others, however, it’s complicated.
Of course, no feminist would defend the uninterrupted male lineage of the presidency. For feminist critics of Clinton, the problem lies not in her gender but in her track record, policies and positions, many of which have had a less than liberating effect on women.
As a feminist, I find myself moved, from time to time, when I think of how hard so many people have fought over the generations to make such a nomination possible. The undeniable sexism, misogyny and double standards Clinton has faced (though not on a structural level) occasionally fill me with a sense of compassion, solidarity, “get it girl” camaraderie and pride.
Clinton’s ascent shattered not only glass ceilings but also the sexist notion that female politicians are different from male politicians on an essential level. A female politician can be just as smart, just as bold and just as visionary as a male politician. She can be and, in Clinton’s case, is, just as Machiavellian, just as ruthless, just as hawkish, just as corporate and just as neoliberal as her male counterparts.
To be fair, because some of these traits are considered natural in men and unnatural in women, the threshold for women is much lower. The same forceful behavior that can earn men the label “aggressive” often earns women the label “bitch.” The same behavior that would be viewed as conniving in a female politician may be viewed as “politics as usual” in a male.
But Clinton isn’t widely described as a hawk because of our sexist double standards, which expect that women be dovish. She’s seen as a hawk because she is a hawk (see Iraq, Libya). It’s not sexist to criticize Clinton’s coziness with governments that engage in routine human rights abuses (see: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Honduras). It’s honest. And it’s not misogyny that makes people oppose her positions (see: Trans-Pacific Partnership, fracking, immigration, welfare reform).
It was extremely demoralizing and frustrating to see how much of the media and political establishment hijacked feminism and trivialized genuine sexism as they sought to delegitimize valid criticism of Clinton. Much of what Bernie Sanders did, said or gestured was framed as a symptom of the entitlement and insensitivity endemic of straight, white men, at best, or overt misogyny, at worst. Perhaps the greatest, or most egregious, example of this was when a New York Times reporter asked Sanders, “What do you say to women that say you staying in the race is sexist?” Our concerned fellow feminists diagnosed women who dared to defend the more feminist vision of Sanders or criticize the hawkishness of Clinton as having internalized misogyny.
The truth is, some of Clinton’s ideas are not at all feminist, and the mantle of feminism is shielding some of her most sexist policies. For some feminists, one extremely powerful woman’s success is far more important than the countless women who will be, and have been, negatively impacted by Clinton’s policies.
If you’ll permit the Noam-dropping, I share some (though by no means all) of Chomsky’s points on voting for the lesser evil. My fear of the neofascist Republican may “trump” my fear of a neoliberal. But can we be “with her” if she won’t be pushed to be with “us”—the vast majority of people here and across the globe who suffer and reject mounting economic exploitation and endless war?
My Clinton-supporting friends continue to stand wholeheartedly behind their candidate. But what about the many women and feminists I have met or read about during primary season who were critical of Clinton up through the Democratic convention? I asked some of them to share their current thinking on the candidate, the convention, the nomination, whether they felt conflicted or moved by
seeing a woman accepting the nomination, Clinton’s pick for vice president (Tim Kaine), November and beyond.
LIZA FEATHERSTONE, The Nation contributor, editor of “False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton”
I totally understand being moved by her nomination, but I wasn’t. I wished I was a low-information voter because then I would have enjoyed it a lot more. I plan to vote Green unless it is close in New York, where I live, in which case I will vote for Clinton to stop Trump. I really don’t think it matters what she says or doesn’t say, because her actual record is much more important. I feel she is the lesser evil in this race, because Trump is a demagogic racist with a tendency to hold large scary rallies about it. Such a person should not be our president. But I wish Hillary would make that position a lot easier to maintain, instead of doing things like running to the right of Trump on foreign policy and picking a VP who is right wing on abortion. But Hillary’s gonna be Hillary.
I keep saying that those people who are surprised or shocked by Hillary, her team and her endorsers just don’t get her. I think her selection of Tim Kaine does show that there is no grass-roots constituency she won’t sell out, which is amazing when you consider Moe’s [Maureen Tkacik] argument—in her essay in “False Choices”—that abortion rights have been the Democrats’ major electoral selling point to women and progressives (when people say “Republican war on women” and “Supreme Court,” what they usually mean is abortion). It was great during the primary that Clinton talked so much about repealing the Hyde Amendment. If you are pro-choice but support the Hyde Amendment [which Kaine revealed he will, the day after the nomination, after suggesting he wouldn’t], you essentially believe that reproductive choice should be a luxury good, which is very different from a right. This shows what happens as soon as left pressure eases up for a minute. Bernie really challenged her to talk further left—and a lot of the wonderfully progressive plans she laid out in her convention speech were a result of Bernie’s pressure—but now that she has the nomination, we’re going to see less of that. I think she is going to face some anger over Kaine from feminists who have really supported and believed in her. It’s awful, and I’m pissed about it, but it may help mainstream feminism to mature a bit into a more critical and ultimately politically stronger force.
I hate this election so much. Any enthusiasm I might have felt for the first woman presidential nominee of a major party is totally overshadowed by genuine fear for the future. We’ve run out of time on climate change, and the lesser evil is a fracking saleswoman. Most people I know are drowning in debt, and the lesser evil is basically Goldman Sachs. Wars continue to rage across the Middle East, and the lesser evil is campaigning with neocons, who are so toxic and reactionary they’re aiming for a war with Russia.
We’re being told to choose between an unhinged demagogue and a calculating warmonger. This is not democracy. If Hillary Clinton as the first woman president is supposed to be empowering for women and girls, why do I feel so powerless?
CATHERINE LIU, writer, chair of film and media studies at University of California, Irvine, and contributor to “False Choices”
I’m not voting in the presidential elections. I won’t vote Green, Republican or Democrat. I live in California, where my vote doesn’t matter very much for the presidential elections, but I will be voting on most of the down-ticket elections. You can be sure of that.
I think our California senators have not been very progressive, and they’re both women. Diane Feinstein is married to one of the most loathsome financiers in California, Richard Blum, who is by the way, a UC regent who also invested heavily in for-profit universities before the Obama administration cracked down on them.