Democratic primaries

In Clinton v. Sanders, 'pleasing the boys' has nothing to do with it

A Clinton victory would be symbolic, but young women see Sanders as a vehicle for actual social change
Photo: U.S.M.G.

Earlier this month, Gloria Steinem declared on Bill Maher’s show that “millennial” women prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton because they’re imitating the males of their generation. “The boys are with Bernie,” Steinem said, suggesting on the one hand that young women are incapable of making sound political judgements, and on the other hand that Hillary Clinton embodies the only possible progressive option for women.

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As Moumita Ahmed, one of the leaders of the Millenials for Bernie Sanders movement, highlighted with irony in an interview with the Guardian, young women in the United States, including those who identify as feminists, leave university more indebted and enjoying fewer opportunities than ever.… But for some reason, they’re supporting Bernie Sanders only to “impress all the boys?”

Faced with controversy, Steinem later retracted her comments. Her statement, however, illustrates the attitude of a certain liberal elite whose members seem incapable of understanding why their darling candidate is being rejected by some of the very demographic groups to whom Clinton hypocritically claims she is an “objective ally.”

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In fact, some have made a strange presumption about Democratic voters: if women, and especially young women, forsake Clinton in favour of Sanders, it’s because they’ve again fallen into the trap of the patriarchy, under a progressive veneer. And conversely, it’s postulated that a woman is necessarily better suited to defend the interests of all women, no matter what she proposes.

But evidently, they neglect to highlight that the gap between women at the top and those of the middle and working classes is much more important — and more violent — than the gap between men and women within the privileged classes… where, by chance, most of Clinton’s supporters can be found.

That’s why Madeleine Albright could state, at a rally for Clinton in New Hampshire, that there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Some women dream of seeing Clinton in the White House, because in their eyes it would be a significant symbolic step on the road to equality. We agree on that.

However, for a lot of women, especially millennials, the symbolic appeal of electing a woman as president means little in the struggle for equality. In the current context, their horizons are limited, and they face urgent economic issues that directly undermine their autonomy. Is it then a surprise that they see their interests better represented by Sanders?

Unfortunately, those who support Clinton under the banner of “feminism and progress” can’t admit any of this, because they would then be forced to see that their idea of “feminism and progress” is disconnected from the reality of ordinary, vulnerable, or marginalized people, whom they claim to defend.

This would also force them to admit that supporting the only candidate who belongs to a marginalized group (women) won’t mitigate the inequalities and different forms of exclusion that pervade U.S. society. On the contrary.

Except the elite doesn’t care about these considerations, and its moralistic and paternalistic attitude reminds us that, in this view, equality is measured primarily by counting heads in the halls of power. Thus the “solidarity” between women that Albright speaks of boils down to a demand that the majority exercise self-denial and loyalty so that a minority can break the glass ceiling in peace.

Of course, none of this prevents us from recognizing that Hillary Clinton is indeed subject, in the political arena, to a double standard related to her gender. She is often the target of sexist attacks, and her behaviour and appearance are scrutinized like no other in the media. We want her to be as smooth and slick as possible, but still accuse her of being cold and humourless. Meanwhile, we are silent on the unpolished side of Bernie Sanders. The space allowed to Clinton to speak out and convince the electorate is narrower, more “civilized.” This is a real problem faced by women in politics.

However, this does not change the fact that when Clinton supporters cry “treason” or “sexism” when they see women turn to Sanders, the “leaks” they’re pointing to are caused by nothing less than the blind spots of their own policies.

Nothing is won yet for Bernie Sanders — far from it. But we can at least point out that if certain voters prefer him, it might be because he does not see “diverse representation” as an end in and of itself. If he sometimes targets certain segments of the population, Blacks or women for example, it is not simply “clientelism.” It is to emphasize that awareness of injustices related to gender or ethnicity can be a vector of change for society as a whole.

He argues that equality is more than a form empty of content, and in so doing unmasks the use of “feminism” or “diversity” to neutralize the dissatisfaction of those who bear the weight of inequality.

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