A #BernieLady in a BroWorld

Before there were Berniebros, there were Clintonbros. I was a White House intern in 1995, where I took my duty to Xerox things, deliver things and answer the phone very seriously. I had one suit and one pair of heels, and dreamed of one day becoming a speechwriter or working at the State Department.

The male interns were learning how to navigate office BroWorld — how to get a more powerful guy to see himself in you, mentor you, ally with you.

The females interns were also learning how to navigate BroWorld — how more powerful guys often said they wanted to mentor you, but then got mad when you refused their sexual advances, and then either ignored or retaliated against you. These were the mid-level staffers, the advance men, the everyday bros whose mentorship could have launched our careers.

It was an environment where the lengths of our skirts could get us sent home, back before we recognized gendered school dress codes as slut-shaming.

It could have been any office. In fact, no matter where I’ve worked — progressive, conservative, male-dominated or female-dominated — I’ve been stuck in BroWorld. I’ve risen high enough that I’ve been able to touch the glass ceiling — and lemme tell you, it really does live up to the myth. It’s hard and thick and they don’t hear your muffled shouts on the other side.

As a teenager, I was totally inspired when Hillary Clinton said that she could have stayed home and baked cookies, but decided to fulfill her profession instead. By the time I got to the White House, however, she was already chastened and falling back into the role of a traditional First Lady. Our class of interns was given “Hillary’s cookies” at orientation.

When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, there was a lot of debate about whether Hillary should stay with Bill. I didn’t really care about the inner-workings of someone else’s personal relationship. I did care, however, that BroWorld was doing what it always does — protecting its powerful bros, and absolutely destroying the young ladies caught up in its soul-killing compromises, the “nuts and sluts.”

At that point, I turned to leaders like Governor Ann Richards for inspiration. Ladies who tell it like it is, and keep telling it even after the world shames them for being unladylike.

In 2014, Zephyr Teachout asked me whether she should run against powerful incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo. I told her that the only reason not to do it would be fear — fear that his machine would belittle her, discredit her, turn her into a joke. She stared at me, and said, “Now I have to do it, because you just dared me to.” That’s a bad ass lady, the kind of lady who is gonna take a hammer to the glass ceiling, smash it, and pull everybody up with her.

We fought that race with almost zero institutional support. Hillary Clinton supported Cuomo. Imagine an alternate universe where Hillary was the champion of progressive women in her own state. She would have been on our rickety bus, sweating the broken air conditioning, letting people know that the era of “three men in a room” making all the decisions was over. We would have elected our first female governor in New York.

After Zephyr lost her campaign, I teamed up with some other awesome ladies who wanted to see Elizabeth Warren run for president. We were inspired not just by her passion for financial reform, but also by her biography. Once again, institutional support was thin. And the supposedly feminist argument from a lot of Hillary fans was that it wasn’t Elizabeth’s turn. Another woman would dilute Hillary’s chances, which would be bad for the cause of electing Hillary as the first female president. Hillary-only Feminism.

Back then, they said that Elizabeth didn’t have a chance of winning. We all know that Elizabeth would be killing it right now. I found the argument that Elizabeth can do more in the Senate (but not in the Senate leadership!) than the presidency to be condescending and another manifestation of the glass ceiling. “Be a good team player — you’re more useful in a supporting role.”

And yet the same people who were making those arguments against Elizabeth running are now Clintonsplaining to me that I’m a self-hating woman and a bad feminist. They say that I’m so blinded by my devotion to economic justice that I’m willing to miss this historic opportunity to lift up my sisters (well, just this one very special sister).

To which I say: Patriarchal countries around the world have been passing the baton to the female relatives of male leaders for centuries. It’s always been one of the cracks in BroWorld — one that a few lucky women have been able to slip through.

But I don’t want to just slip through a crack. I want to break BroWorld into a million pieces. That’s why this BernieLady is on board for the revolution.

Harry Grant Dart, “Why Not Go the Limit?”, March 18th, 1908 issue of Puck magazine. Library of Congress