Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hillary's Victories Are Not Victories for All Women

Of all the lousy arguments that have been used to boost Hillary Clinton's candidacy, one sticks out as being both particularly annoying and particularly common: the "she's a woman!" argument. Clinton herself has not shied away from using this argument, and it's also been used in ways that, deliberately or not, only distract from the actual substance of the campaign and glorify Clinton, such as this piece gushing over her "historic" "victory" in Iowa.

Hillary Clinton (
Implied, if not explicitly stated, is the idea that if Hillary Clinton wins, that in and of itself is a stride for women everywhere. For me, this has never appeared as anything but a self-serving fairy tale made up by Clintonites who are either less-than-honest or downright delusional. But apparently it's a powerful enough argument that we've even gotten a self-described socialist feminist promoting Hillary.

The thing is, there's just no substance to this idea. Hillary's maybe-victory (still all I'm willing to call it, given the continued controversy) in Iowa--and any other electoral successes she has, including if she manages to claw her way into the Oval Office--only prove that a lot of people are willing to vote for a woman for president. That's great, of course, but we already knew that--reliable polling data has shown that better than 9 out of 10 Americans are willing to vote for a woman for president, if they view her as well-qualified. This simply isn't like when JFK had to overcome the actual obstacle of being a Catholic when Catholics were still widely distrusted and convince the voters he wouldn't turn America into a Vatican City puppet state. Convincing Americans that a woman could be president is essentially a fait accompli, so Hillary Clinton is not making some historic stride, in a meaningful sense of the word, by winning Iowa, any other state, or even the presidency.

Nor will electing Clinton somehow help erase sexist attitudes in America. To disprove that idea, you just have to look at how things have been under our first black president. Given the level of partisan hatred for Obama, racism has actually gotten worse since he's been in office, and, of course, we continually see cops killing unarmed black men and walking away without any criminal charges. I'm not blaming this on Obama, but plainly enough racism has not disappeared because of Obama's election--it's intensified. The Republicans already despise Clinton, so we might see the exact same thing if she gets elected.

When it comes to actual policies, we can say without a doubt that Clinton is better than any of the Republicans running. The frontrunner for the Republican nomination is a more or less open sexist, and we couldn't expect much from the creepy religious zealot Ted Cruz or the slimy hack Rubio. But Clinton hasn't made it to the general election yet, so we aren't forced to make that choice. We have an alternative to Clinton in the form of Bernie Sanders. Sanders is old, white, and male, though. How could he be better for women than Clinton?

Well, pretty easily. Who has the better plans for dealing with poverty, which disproportionately affects women? Or the prison-industrial complex, which has incarcerated increasing amounts of women? Or healthcare, where women have their own specific set of needs? If your answer to those questions is "Hillary," then I can only say we'll have to agree to disagree.

Not surprisingly, there have been genuinely sexist attacks on Clinton. People have complained about her raising her voice, which is pretty absurd in a campaign with Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And perhaps some of her hawkishness can be ascribed to a need to show she'd be just as tough as one of the guys. But that doesn't mean that electing her will achieve something big for women. The idea that it would is the sort of toxic myth that applauds the success of the people at the top while ignoring the continued struggles of those at the bottom. Some of the biggest challenges for women lower down on the economic scale come not from misogynist attitudes, but institutional sexism. The only way to remedy that is to go after the institutions themselves with a hatchet. And Clinton is plainly not the person to do that.

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