Hillary Clinton Does Not Represent All Women—and Makes Some Feel Powerless

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Hillary Clinton Does Not Represent All Women—and Makes Some Feel Powerless

"It was extremely demoralizing and frustrating," writes Halper, "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." (Photo: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.

RANIA KHALEK, journalist, associate editor at Electronic Intifada, co-host of “Unauthorized Disclosure

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.

The Democratic machine thinks it can hold progressive voters hostage forever. It can’t. I think Trump’s candidacy is a disaster. Clinton is a poor candidate who can take advantage of the Republican Party’s disarray. People are really suffering—working-class, middle-class people—but having a woman become president will help real feminists define our project against hers.

I’m grateful to HRC for getting the nomination because her rise to power will put an end to any ideas that liberal identity-politics people might have had that women are “naturally” peace-loving. Her nomination has actually given voice to a lot of women on the left to differentiate their feminism from hers. We can now criticize a bourgeois feminism, a neoliberal feminism, an imperial feminism, a militaristic feminism or an authoritarian feminism, and it will be very clear what we are talking about. Phew. We’re not self-hating women. We’re critical women who want socialist feminism. I’ve found the silver lining. It took a few days, but it happened.

So thank you, HRC and your supporters. Thank you, HRC, for your ambition and its realization, but hell will freeze over before someone like you gets my vote. It’s unfortunate for you because in 2008 I was so desperate to believe that Democrats were going to save us from [George W.] Bush and the disastrous wars and economic policies he had put into place that I voted for Obama eagerly and thought that he was going to lead a movement from the White House. I even submitted my resume for a position in his administration. He never hired me.

There was no chance in hell that someone like me would be part of the government, but I was an idiot and I believed in the lofty rhetoric. Instead, Obama appointed Arne Duncan as secretary of education, and they hired David Coleman, a fellow Yalie, who was into educational “solutions” and public/private partnerships to run Common Core. Obama hired a bunch of corporate shills and patsies, and his administration has not called upon diverse and strong voices of dissent to serve the people.

The people who say we should be celebrating the symbolic moment have already forgotten we had a symbolic moment with Obama and that symbolism is not enough.

We have to deal with the nature of the Democratic Party—technocratic, cozy with finance, jealous of its privileges, divorced from the interests of ordinary workers of all colors and genders, but able to talk a good line about “diversity” and ‘”opportunity’” while feeding the greed of private equity and Silicon Valley types.

ADRIANA MAESTAS, writer, teleSUR, NBC Latino, KCET.org, AlterNet

I can’t say that I’m very excited about Hillary Clinton’s official nomination as a woman. I recognize the historical significance of it, and in the historical context, it certainly is a big achievement. However, I think that people need to continually question Hillary Clinton’s policies as they would any other candidate’s, especially when it comes to women’s issues and world affairs. For example, Clinton has supported some foreign policies that have had horrendous outcomes for women in places like Iraq and Honduras.

As a Chicana, I feel that I don’t necessarily fit into Hillary Clinton’s brand of feminism. Sure, she has Latina representation within her campaign, and it’s notable. But simply having people there who are from my community does not make me feel any better about her when she still seeks to embrace Henry Kissinger and other architects of devastating foreign policy. This is a woman who not too long ago said that child refugees from Central America should be sent back to their countries—places that are violent and in turmoil because of decades of U.S. intervention and Clinton’s own policies.

We should not give Hillary Clinton a free pass just because she’s not as crass as Donald Trump, who articulates his vision in an absolutely ridiculous and racist way.

YASMIN NAIR, writer, academic, activist, photographer, co-founder of Against Equality and contributor to “False Choices”

I’m not of the belief that having a woman nominee is in itself significant. I grew up [in Kolkata, India] under the shadows of Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, and fully understand that tyranny and oppression are not restricted to male political figures. If anything, the U.S. is barely catching up with the rest of the world.

Clinton has amply demonstrated that she will be a terrible president, a leader for the wealthiest and a hawk who will seek to out-hawk even Barack Obama, the Bushes and, of course, her own husband. 

Clinton’s choice of vice president tells us everything we need to know about her real position on women’s rights. It should come as no surprise that Hillary Clinton would choose someone with Tim Kaine’s position on the Hyde Amendment. It’s part of her desperate attempt to garner more votes among the more right-leaning parts of the electorate. It also signals the extent to which she is willing to compromise women’s rights, particularly the rights of poorer women and women of color, who are most vulnerable to a reduction in or denial of access to abortion (and child care). With this move, she has made it clear that she is only interested in the rights of women who, like her and her friends, already have access to medical resources and abortion.

There can be no reducing inequality without guaranteeing women’s rights to abortion. The right to either terminate a pregnancy or, for that matter, to have children with the guarantee of resources to support them is an absolute necessity for equal rights. Until women are granted such rights, there can be no eradicating of inequality because the lack of such rights means that women will never gain full access to everything they need.

I come from a “young democracy,” where it’s considered strange to reveal for whom you’re going to vote. The secret ballot should mean something. I also find this incessant posturing of “I will vote for X” bizarrely performative. But if people are genuinely worried about how their vote will affect the election, they should decide according to what results they want to bring about in their particular states (swing states or not, etc.). If they’re not happy with either candidate, there are others to choose. And not voting is also a legitimate option. Politics and change are not determined by an election that happens every four years. People need to become much more aware and active about what’s going at the local level—change moves up from there.

A FORMER STATE DIRECTOR IN THE BERNIE SANDERS CAMPAIGN (she chose to remain anonymous)

When we talk about Hillary Clinton’s brand of feminism, we have to consider which women her brand of feminism represents and supports. She certainly does not represent all women. Her brand of feminism doesn’t represent poor and working-class women. If it did, she would not hedge on support of a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

She would not have served on the board of Wal-Mart, the country’s largest employer, which pays poverty wages to the women who work there.

Hillary Clinton’s brand of feminism serves some of her fiercest supporters like Meryl Streep and Madeleine Albright, who are upper-class white women.

She frequently talks about women making 78 cents to every dollar a man makes. What about black women who make even less, at 63 cents to every dollar a man makes, or Latinas who make even less at 54 cents?

We often hear Hillary Clinton talk about the middle class and working families. What about the poor? What about the unemployed? I don’t expect to hear the GOP talk about the poor. But for the Democratic nominee to dismiss the poor and unemployed is disconcerting. But again, this is her brand of feminism.

Additionally, Hillary Clinton had the opportunity to recognize people of color in a real way by choosing a person of color as her running mate. She could have chosen a prominent person of color, like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey or [San Antonio Mayor] Julian Castro, who are known on the national stage. She chose Tim Kaine, a white man, who is virtually unknown outside of his state of Virginia.

It was especially condescending how the campaign highlighted that Kaine speaks Spanish and goes to a predominantly black church. It felt like they were saying to black and Latino voters, “I know you thought we were going to select a black or Latino running mate. We decided to go with another white man, but look, he’s just like you.” It was an extremely insulting form of pandering. It reminded me of when Bill Clinton played the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall Show.”

Of course, it is a great achievement that a woman is the Democratic nominee. But it’s never been important to me for any woman to be the nominee. If that were the case, I would have supported any number of women, such as Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin.

I didn’t support President Obama because he was black. If that were the case, I could have supported Herman Cain or Ben Carson. I voted for President Obama because his ideology mostly aligned with mine, and he was black. I would like to have a female nominee whose views and policies align with my own, but I don’t have that.

Hillary Clinton does not represent me.

It’s condescending to think that women should support any female candidate because she’s a woman. I think “there is a special place in hell” for women who try to bully other women.

You don’t have to be a woman to be feminist. Bernie Sanders has always stood up for women even when he thought no one was watching. On the other hand, some women hide behind feminism to do things that aren’t necessarily beneficial to women. Clinton’s supposed feminism masks policies that don’t support women. 

We didn’t win the primary. Clinton will win the election, and we will have four more years of the status quo. But this is a movement. And a movement isn’t about one presidential election. It started in 2008 with Obama’s election, and then it grew in 2011 with Occupy Wall Street, and then it started snowballing with the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter, and Bernie Sanders. This movement of protest and fighting for change will continue to grow.

We have to keep going, and we will keep going. There is going to be a revolution of some kind. It’s happening. We all can feel it. We all know it’s coming. It’s just up to us what it’s going to look like.

Katie Halper

Katie Halper is a writer, comedian, filmmaker and the host of “The Katie Halper Show,” a weekly WBAI radio show and podcast. Her writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, Salon, The Guardian and The Nation, and she has appeared on MSNBC, RT, Sirius Radio, Fox News Radio and “The Young Turks.”  Follow her on Twitter: @Kthalps

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