Last week, I was faced with a shocking revelation: that I was supporting Bernie Sanders because he has the boys. It came as a great surprise to me, especially since I’d long thought that I’d backed him based on his principles, progressive policies and willingness to challenge the establishment. Alas, I was wrong.
For trailblazing feminist Gloria Steinem to say that millions of young women are backing Sanders to get attention from boys is a fundamentally sexist thing to say. It rests on the age-old notion that women don’t have their own political opinions, and are ultimately swayed by the men in their lives. This idea was popular just after American women got the vote – that women would just vote the way their husbands did. That was an unfair and untrue generalisation then – and it definitely has no place in today’s society.
The fact that this statement came from a self-proclaimed feminist – and an important, influential one at that – reveals one of the problems at the core of feminism. For many Democrat supporters, the Clinton-Sanders debate has created a division. The idea that Hilary Clinton will do more for women just by being a woman is fundamentally flawed. Of course representation matters – to deny that is stupid and shortsighted. Representation in the high echelons of the political world can be game changing, especially when the person is the first of their gender, race etc. But it is wrong to stop there. Margaret Thatcher was a woman, but few will argue that she changed women’s lives for the better.
Voting for Clinton because she’s a woman is short-sighted. It detracts from her policies, and in Clinton’s case, that’s an advantage. She’s not lacking in political experience, but she fails to provide what most of Sanders supporters back him for – real, tangible change. Clinton is undeniably a part of the establishment. Despite being a man, Sanders is more likely to enact the sort of change that will touch people’s lives, as well as the American political system. Clinton’s feminism is fixated upon smashing the glass ceiling, which is great until you realise that most women are held down by a sticky floor, quite a way below the ceiling. Does Clinton care about them?
Sanders has a background of real political engagement. Clinton appears jaded, a part of a slick political machine that knows well how to present her to its strengths, Sanders appears more genuine. Is this Sanders gaming the system, and manipulating voters’ being tired of politicians? Possibly. But Sanders’ policies speak for themselves – he has a long history of supporting women’s rights, and not just in theoretical and symbolic ways: Sanders economic policies will disproportionately help American women. And importantly, not the just white, middle class American women that Clinton is concerned about. Sanders does not ignore the way gender, race and class intersect – he is one of the few US politicians to speak out about police brutality, and has focused his campaign on the way these inequalities intersect and manifest themselves within America.
For Steinem to say that young women have not taken any of this into account, and would be voting for Clinton had it not been for boys, is patronising and extremely insulting. Steinem is wrong. Her feminism is wrong, it is not only outdated but entirely irrelevant. Aside from Steinem’s idea of young women being apolitical beings that only care about male attention, the ‘as a woman vote for Clinton’ mentality reduces both female voters and female politicians down to vaginas. And how fundamentally sexist is that?
Image credit: Marc Nozell