Playing the Victim Card, Hillary Clinton Betrays Women

Alexa Sue Amore

By Alexa Sue Amore

    Young women listen to Hillary Clinton in Portsmouth, N.H., in early February. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

February has been a tumultuous month for feminism. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright damned young women who prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem dismissively attributed what she perceives as an irrational preference for Sanders among young women to their raging hormones. The following day she apologized “for what’s been misrepresented as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics” but failed to acknowledge the blatant sexism of her remarks, sinking her reputation as a feminist in the minds of many. Albright eventually published her own mea culpa in The New York Times.

Meanwhile, the popular trivialization of Sanders’ supporters as “Bernie bros” and “Bernie-splainers” perpetuates Steinem’s misrepresentation of Sanders’ supporters as “boys” followed by brainless female groupies. Both Albright and Steinem accuse young women of treachery and abandonment for having their own political opinions, encouraging them to reverse their position out of a sense of shame and guilt.

Little surprise: The recent eruption of comments belittling young women’s mental faculties emanates directly from Clinton herself.

Whenever Sanders confronts her about her record, Clinton casts herself as the victim of a sexist brand of male condescension. Her defensive, faux-feminist tone derails meaningful conversation about the factual political differences between the two candidates, undercutting young women’s ability to meaningfully participate in the political process.

During the Feb. 4 MSNBC debate in New Hampshire, Clinton claimed that Sanders’ criticism of her taking Wall Street money was, “by innuendo, by insinuation,” “a very artful smear”; she framed his perfectly sound criticism as a personal, rather than political, attack. Clinton bets that female viewers will find Sanders condescending if she reacts to him as if he were being condescending to her—even though he is not. In response to Sanders’ point that she claims to be a progressive on some days and a moderate on others, she characterized Sanders as “the self-proclaimed gatekeeper of progressivism” and “the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment.”

By cultivating an underdog persona, Clinton sends a harmful message that women in politics are too weak to participate in meaningful debate, and that female viewers will be too caught up in the glorious prospect of a female president to notice her reluctance to discuss the objectionable parts of her record.

As the self-proclaimed victim of a smear campaign, she wallows in, rather than overcomes, the male-dominated political establishment, insensitively invoking women’s shared experiences of sexism to avoid talking about issues.

Clinton and her supporters frequently downplay Sanders’ progressive agenda as too idealistic, while touting the conviction that the symbolic act of electing a female president will substantially improve women’s lives across the country. Many young women simply aren’t buying into this propaganda.

Far from signaling women’s triumph over a patriarchal establishment, Clinton’s election to the presidency would symbolize that a woman can only win the general election by compromising her integrity in compliance with a rigged campaign finance system that serves the same corrupt political forces that have subordinated women and people of color for generations.

Perhaps women and society in general are skeptical of the glass-ceiling argument for electing Clinton because we have seen how that worked out with the first African-American president. The election of Barack Obama did not magically elevate the status of blacks in this country. It did not result in better education in black neighborhoods or end mass incarceration or keep the lead out of the water in Flint, Mich. The appeal of symbolic victories just does not hold up against reality.

By supporting Sanders, many young women are seizing an opportunity to dismantle a racist, sexist, classist political establishment that until recently may have seemed unalterable. These radical, independent-minded young women want to reclaim their ability to bring about real change through the democratic process. They refuse to have their voices drowned out by so-called political pragmatism, passivity—and shaming by rich and powerful women.

Young, female progressives are perfectly aware that while Clinton paints herself as the target of a smear campaign, we are in fact the ones being patronized and condescended to by Clinton and her prominent female supporters.

The 2016 presidential election is not about helping one woman win. It’s about helping all women improve their lives, and it’s about empowering women to dig deep into each candidate’s positions in order to determine who can accomplish our common goals. Women are intelligent enough to make informed political decisions and to resist peer pressure and manipulation, even from our fellow feminists.

The next step for feminism is to stop allowing anyone, male or female, to tell any of us, of any gender, that we have to vote and make decisions according to our bodies.

Alexa Sue Amore is a graduate student in medieval studies at Fordham University. She previously wrote “Levi’s Labor’s Loss” for Truthdig.

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