By Aaron Leibowitz
(Note: This blog is about sports and politics. This particular post is not about sports at all.)
Bernie Sanders is talking about a revolution. He’s a self-proclaimed socialist advocating for redistribution of wealth, tuition-free college and breaking up the big banks. You’ve all heard the talking points.
I will be voting for Sanders because I think he’s the candidate most likely to push for serious structural change. I think he’s in a better position than Hillary Clinton to do so because of where his money, and her money, respectively, comes from.
But I’m not writing this to engage in a Bernie vs. Hillary debate. I’m writing this because the presidential election has sparked a discussion among my generation – millennials – about the best way forward. And if we’re serious about having this discussion – serious about systemic change – then we need to not only take a hard look at the platforms of the candidates before us, but also consider what we want that change to look like, sound like and feel like.
More to the point: If we want to have a legitimate conversation about a revolution, then we need to confront the sexism tainting the ongoing presidential race.
Sexism manifests itself in a million different concrete, measurable ways. On the macro level, it’s denial of reproductive health care; the wage gap; domestic abuse; disproportionate responsibility for unpaid childcare and household work; and so on.
But it also manifests itself at the micro level in ways that are more difficult to prove with hard numbers. Because of the power dynamics of patriarchy, men are more likely to feel comfortable speaking condescendingly toward and about women; more likely to view them as untrustworthy; and more likely to judge their displays of emotion and empathy as signs of weakness or irrationality.
Which brings us to Bernie and Hillary.
I recently saw a male friend who supports Sanders post the following about Hillary on Facebook:
“More and more people will come to their senses about what a snake that woman is.”
Another male friend who supports Sanders posed a question on Twitter:
“How come it’s sexist to hate Hillary Clinton even though she’d make a piss-poor, terrible, awful, lying, deceitful president?”
It’s not, in a vacuum, sexist to believe Clinton is misguided, or a liar, or a bad leader. Personally, I see her as someone who would more or less continue along the same political path as Obama. I think the path Sanders proposes is better, so I’m voting for him.
But while Clinton is perfectly deserving of critique, the intensity and nature of the vitriol being slung her way – in many cases by male supporters of Sanders – is absolutely attributable to sexism. Instead of simply accusing women who point this out of playing the “gender card,” stopping and listening and sincerely trying to understand the double standards that exist would go a long way.
I see little acknowledgement from most male Sanders supporters of the fact that, a) Clinton has accomplished seemingly impossible things for a woman within the U.S. political system; and b) she could not have gotten to this point – becoming a legitimately electable presidential candidate – without “playing the game” by taking corporate money and being hawkish in her foreign policy approach.
None of these, I believe, are reasons to vote for her. But it’s sure as hell worth examining, as individuals, whether we’re bringing the same harsh tone and intense lack of trust to our critiques of male politicians – particularly those with comparable platforms to Clinton’s and plenty of flaws of their own.
An honest reflection should make it clear that, on the whole, we’re not.
No, it’s not inherently sexist to disagree with Hillary’s policies, or even to hate them. But problems arise when self-proclaimed “radical” men, claiming to want revolutionary change, look at Hillary’s policies, look at Bernie’s policies, decide they like Bernie better, and ask no further questions about how we got here.
Problems arise when we support a candidate calling for a revolution, but fail to ask whether it’s more than mere coincidence that the only self-proclaimed socialist who has managed to gain mainstream appeal is a straight white male.
Problems arise when we fail to ask whether a revolution led by a straight white male, and bolstered, in large part, by straight white male supporters with a nasty tendency to paint his female opponent like she’s the devil incarnate and to speak condescendingly to her supporters, is truly the type of revolution we want.
It’s worth asking, in our conversations over the next nine months, whether a political revolution whose crusaders are unprepared to recognize and confront sexism is even a revolution at all.
(Sources of wisdom for this piece include: http://www.pajiba.com/politics/an-allcaps-explosion-of-feelings-regarding-the-liberal-backlash-against-hillary-clinton.php; Rae; and Molly.)