The Democratic primaries have prompted an intellectually invigorating turn in online feminist discourse. No, seriously, I mean it.
It’s been weeks since I scrolled past a Beyoncé thinkpiece on Twitter, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a demand for feminist Disney characters making the rounds. We’ve barely stopped to hateread (spooning is now sexist! Taylor Swift said what, unintersectionally?). Instead, issues of political power, economics, and movement-building have occupied our time. Even better, the debate is moving offline and into print: a fantastic new book is set to probe the legacy and politics of Hillary Clinton, questioning what a woman in power would mean for the women who aren’t.
No, not that one.
There are actually two books on Clinton coming out fairly soon. There is My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency, by Doug Henwood, which was announced recently to much fanfare (and yes, some disgust). Henwood’s certainly not a fan of Clinton, but the book is an analytical biography of the politician. If you’re looking for an ideological condemnation of Hillary, you’re more likely to find it in False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a collection edited by Liza Featherstone featuring essays by such feminists as Magpie Corvid, Frances Fox Piven, Donna Murch, Yasmin Nair, Megan Erickson, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Medea Benjamin, Catherine Liu, Belén Fernández, and Kathleen Geier (and yours truly!).
By all measures, False Choices should be hailed as the more daring and overtly polemical project. (Sorry Doug!) But compared to My Turn, the anthology of feminist essays is getting roughly zero attention. In part, that’s likely due to My Turn’s killer cover art, painted by immensely talented Hillary buff Sarah Sole. But there’s another, more significant reason for the oversight.
The left feminist critique of Hillary Clinton is being intentionally ignored by high-profile feminists because its very existence contradicts a thesis they hold dear: that criticism of Hillary Clinton—even from the left—is primarily the domain of misogynistic men who hate to see a strong woman succeed.
A bevy of feminist bigwigs—who all seem to support Clinton, coincidentally—have been alerting their readership to the figure of the “Bernie Bro,” the supposedly sexist, white, and male Sanders fan who is polluting his campaign with unrestrained hatred of women. While sightings of the species are remarkably rare (even in this age of screengrabs), the feminist pundit class insists that Bernie Bros are everywhere. Amanda Marcotte doesn’t give us much detail on the “he-man woman-haters club” she says Bernie has attracted, but she does allude to Reddit. Which sounds believable enough: dig through the garbage, and you’ll probably find some trash, right? Unfortunately, I don’t think you could find a sexism-free corner of Reddit, or of any political orientation, for that matter; it’s a sexist world out there, and it’s not as if Hillary’s supporters have never exhibited explicit animosity toward a woman in politics.
Michelle Goldberg, for her part, is a little more convincing. She at least has the decency to dig up a sample Reddit post (though it’s hardly the seething diatribe of misogyny that Marcotte describes). And she cites Kathy Geier, a contributor to False Choices, who feels some Bernie supporters deploy a “sanctimonious, lecturing, hectoring tone” to “delegitimize any critique of sexist Hillary coverage.”
It’s not that critics of Hillary are largely misogynist. It’s that she’s a proven neoliberal warhawk, a Wall Street sycophant, and a consistent enemy of the poor.
Perhaps my own bias is at play here, as I’m notoriously unsympathetic to the plight of the mansplained. But there is some irony in the spectacle of very established writers—the same writers whose cheerleading for Clinton now dominates progressive publications—complaining of “hectoring tones.”
We know that Bernie has more women donors than Hillary, that women make up 47.8% of Bernie’s supporters, and that the biggest divide between Bernie’s camp and Hillary’s is age, not gender. Would it be ageist of me to complain of being “Oldsplained,” or perhaps “Established-MiddleClass-splained” by the feminists whose tony “tones” might be a little bit snide? When will the oldgressives cease their hectoring of working-class socialist feminist women?
At The Cut, Rebecca Traister suggests there may be a “socialist sexism” at play, and while I’d never insist that sexism has been eradicated among socialists (again, has it been eradicated anywhere?), I find us a fairly feminist bunch. When asked why she overlooked feminist critiques of Hillary that would complicate her argument, Traister replied, “But if any of you want to do followup on all the women using sexist language, I’d read!” I suppose she is interested in women who object to Clinton—if those women conform to her Bernie Bro narrative.
Meanwhile, there are left, feminist women who believe that Hillary Clinton is a poor, if not abhorrent, candidate for the presidency, but top media feminists never seem to be interested in engaging with us. (We have truly reached a nadir when my own Grade A anti-Hillary jokes are being overlooked in favor of mild chucklers from male Bernie Bros.) Call it gaslighting, call it erasure, call it the silent treatment—whatever you call it, it has been frustrating.
It’s not as if we haven’t been clamoring.
Roqayah Chamseddine has been trying to get the self-appointed gentleman’s league of Clinton supporters, #HillaryMen, to acknowledge her existence, culminating with the exasperated “Have either of you responded to any nonwhite women tweeting at you, you insufferable bastards?” Alas, the Hillary Men appear to be accountable to only one woman.
Rania Khalek also called out Hillary Men, tweeting, “When will the Feminist Hillary supporters condemn the terrorist Hillary bros among them?” (#HillaryMen cofounder Peter Daou, it turns out, is not only a former Clinton employee, but also a proud former member of the Lebanese Forces.) Elsewhere, Khalek has detailed Hillary’s “feminism of exclusion,” and summed up her opinion of the politician rather neatly with this: “Capitalism is a rapacious death cult with an insatiable appetite. Hillary Clinton wants to save it from itself.”
As Abi Wilkinson puts it, “Reasons for left-wingers to be critical of Hillary include things she’s done & said and the fact she’s in competition with a left candidate. It’s nonsense to deliberately ignore all of her female critics to make out criticism is just a gendered thing.”
The troubling thing about all the histrionic “Bernie Bro” allegations is not that they’re hurting Sanders’s campaign. (I don’t think the weak tea of progressive journalism has quite the effect on the electorate that writers and readers often assume.) The danger here is that in erasing left feminism, consciously or not, progressive media is pitting class against gender—making socialism (or Cold War social democrats, whatever) look sexist to feminists, and making feminism look fucking bourgeois to working people.
As for the alleged misogyny powering the Bernie camp, I honestly cannot possibly bring myself to care much about sexist attacks on Hillary. I’m not dedicating any serious time to going after some Trump supporter who calls Clinton “cankles,” and less still do I care about some leftist’s ephemeral dislike of a political opponent that may or may not have a gendered undertone. Just as I don’t see Traister or Marcotte running to the aid of Sarah Palin or Ann Coulter when right-wing women are the targets of sexist derision (and boy are they ever), I’d have to tick pretty far down my prioritized list of feminist concerns before I got to “Pitying the politically powerful multi-millionaire poised to run the country.”
That so many established feminists appear to favor one exceptionally rich and powerful woman over the millions of women in dire need—many struggling as a direct result of horrifying policies of Bill’s that Hillary still supports to this day—is alarming to me. Sady Doyle, a self-identified socialist who supports Clinton nonetheless, says that “the gendered nastiness coming unilaterally from Sanders’s camp doesn’t make me feel I can vote for him in any scenario.”
Are feminist pundits really saying they won’t vote for Bernie Sanders because he (and apparently he alone) has sexist followers? (You see, dear, I’d like to end French monarchy, but all those cartoons of Marie Antoinette ogling an ostrich penis were so horribly sexist!) Sanders’s suggested policies are better for the struggling people of this country, particularly women. So why throw the most vulnerable populations under the bus for Hillary Clinton? Because some boys were shitty on the Internet?
I’d obviously be pleased to see a politically decent woman president, and if Hillary gets the nomination, I’ll happily cast my protest ballot for Jill Stein from the safety of my blue state. (Truth be told, as a Cold War social democrat, Bernie’s already my “compromise” candidate anyway.) Obama’s presidency has not yielded much in the way of material gains for black people in America, and it’s hard to imagine what a symbolic feminist victory like a female president would guarantee for all but the most privileged of women. As it stands, I’d no more vote for Hillary than I would for a Margaret Thatcher or a Sarah Palin.
And isn’t that the simpler explanation of left dissent from Team Clinton? It’s not that critics of Hillary are largely misogynist or even that they’re obsessed with political purity. It’s that she’s a proven neoliberal warhawk, a Wall Street sycophant, and a consistent enemy of the poor.
It’s a strange sort of “misogynist” who condemns Clinton for her endorsement of “welfare reform,” which eviscerated a social safety net that primarily benefited women and children. And who are these misogynists who question Clinton’s time on the board of Walmart, a company known for its mass exploitation, particularly of women? What a misogyny that decrees the women of Iraq deserve lives free of American war! There’s a misogyny that advocates for childcare, healthcare, free university parental leave? O brave new world, that has such misogynists in it!
If that’s misogyny, I’d be happy to see more of its kind.
*Correction: In an earlier version of this post, we included an outdated list of False Choices contributors. According to Verso, Barbara Ehrenreich and Roxane Gay are not contributors.