How Backing Jill Stein Creates a Win for Sexism
With the Democratic Party’s nomination process at an end, Green Party candidate Jill Stein argues that she provides an attractive alternative to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Stein has worked hard to convince voters who want to see our first female President that if they are not sold on Clinton, Stein and the Green Party can fill that role and should gain ambivalent voters’ support.
If this logic reflected reality, and a third-party candidate had a chance of actually winning a presidential election, Stein might offer a credible possibility for voters who like the idea of a female President but struggle with liking the idea of Hillary Clinton. The problem is that Stein’s position is neither realistic nor a victory for feminism, and progressives who back Stein and buy into her logic may unwittingly be upholding a sexist political system. Here’s why:
(1). Stein’s Criticisms of Hillary Clinton: Although Stein and Clinton have much more common ground than differences of opinion1, Stein has fought long and hard to distance herself from Clinton and paint herself as the “kinder, gentler,” female candidate. She has also lobbied a litany of criticisms against Clinton, from accusing her of being part of “the establishment” to calling her a “bad mother.”
Some of Stein’s criticisms of Clinton may appear to be somewhat benevolent, or at least gender-neutral, but they are not. The pattern Stein follows in her attacks on Clinton may be more subtle and nuanced but is not without sexist undertones. That Stein has harnessed so much of her energy at ceaselessly lambasting the only female candidate who represents one of the two major political parties is no accident. In fact, like Republican nominee Donald Trump, Stein attacked Clinton just for being a woman. It isn’t hard to see the misogyny of Trump’s claim that Clinton’s popularity among female voters and feminists was due to her “playing the woman card.” What many voters don’t seem to realize, however, is that Stein herself accused Clinton of “playing the woman card,” adding that America needs someone who is not simply considered a viable option for President by virtue of being female.2 Stein’s discussion suggests that Clinton’s gender is the only asset that she brings to the table, a reductionist and essentialist view.
Also, while criticizing Clinton for being a “bad” mother, Stein claims that her supposedly superior mothering skills qualify her as the best female presidential candidate, a claim that reeks of sexism. The message is that girls and women are only qualified to be President if they become mothers, and they must be “good” ones at that, as defined by Stein. As many analysts have pointed out, Stein’s criticism of Clinton as unfit for the presidency for allegedly being a “bad” mother would never have been directed towards men.3 It is certainly telling that male politicians and public figures, from Gingrich to Hastert, have politically survived real scandals, and the issue of whether or not they are good fathers has never been addressed. Stein’s bias replicates an antiquated and essentialist view of women that promotes a sexist double standard.4 As one author explains, “Nobody claims that presidents have been ‘bad fathers’ by sending soldiers to war.” Ironically, Stein’s attempt to call out Hillary’s mothering skills as disqualifying her for the presidency was made on Mother’s Day.
(2). Stein’s Treatment of Women in General: It isn’t just that Jill Stein viciously attacks Clinton, but the way Stein seems to view women and their roles in the political sphere in general that is troublesome. For example, Stein recently tweeted that she is the most successful female presidential candidate in history.5 Part of this tweet was clearly intended to take another potshot at Hillary, who had just been declared the presumptive Democratic nominee for President and the first woman to represent a major political party in American history. But it goes even deeper, because Stein’s claim that she is “the most successful female presidential candidate” to date diminishes the accomplishments of the dozens of women before her who have run for President.
Stein’s arrogant claim signifies an unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone celebrate, the accomplishments of every woman (including Clinton) that have laid the foundation for a female President in this election. It is as if no other woman who has tried to break the political glass ceiling matters; no other effort was as important as Stein’s. This attitude does little to forward gender equality. Stein’s narcissistic insistence upon herself as the only qualified candidate, coupled with her willingness to put other women down, even like-minded ones, is dirty politics.
(3). Stein: “Nader Trader/Traitor”: If Stein’s advocacy is followed to its logical conclusion, then her supporters will vote for her in November. However, Stein has estimated that her own target is to receive 15% of the national vote, which is hardly enough to put her in the Oval Office.6 There is a world of difference between a candidate with a genuine chance at winning an election and one whose only prospect is to gain enough votes to alter an election’s results. Stein falls into the latter category — while she cannot get enough votes to win in November, she could get enough votes to affect which candidate becomes our next President.
As many political analysts have explained, “Her better numbers notwithstanding, Stein still falls under the category of a protest-vote — — or worse, from a liberal perspective, a spoiler who ends up helping Trump. At her current level of support, she stands no chance of winning any votes in the Electoral College,” but “Stein…could tilt a tight race in some key battleground states, with Johnson drawing votes away from Trump, and Stein, to a lesser extent, costing Clinton the valuable votes of disaffected Democrats.”7 Those who lived through the 2000 election and watched Ralph Nader’s candidacy cost Al Gore the presidency understand all too well the risks involved in a strategy like Stein’s. In this case, however, there is even more at stake — we have a historic opportunity to elect our first female President, and that candidate is one who actually represents the same interests as Stein’s 91% of the time. This means that, far from merely paying lip-service to the idea of having a woman on a major ticket (as John McCain did with Sarah Palin in 2008), this election provides a chance for voters to create history by not only electing a female President, but by electing one who supports progressive causes and fights for equality on numerous levels. The problem is that Stein doesn’t have a chance of winning the election, but her candidacy does create a threat to Hillary’s becoming President. By lulling voters away from Clinton, knowing full well that the only impact of such a move would be to hand Trump the election, Stein is actually saying that she would prefer to have America run by a notorious misogynist (Trump) than a progressive female President, simply because that female candidate isn’t Stein herself.
Jill Stein has repeatedly argued that the time has come for a female President.8 As she infamously tweeted, “I do agree with Hillary Clinton that it is time that America elects a woman for President.”9 If Stein is sincere in this belief, then knowingly costing the only woman with a true chance of winning the presidential race such a victory by asking voters to back Stein instead is disingenuous, to say the least. What Stein leaves unsaid but what must be understood by voters is that by risking the election of Trump at the expense of the only electable female candidate, Stein is content to let sexism win. It is not only naive to believe that a vote for Stein is a vote for gender equality; it is irresponsible and could give this country the most misogynistic possibility — an administration led by unapologetic female-bashing Donald Trump.
(4). Stein and the “Sanders Switch”: Another consideration that voters should take into account is what exactly Stein’s candidacy does stand for. While many liberals can enumerate progressive sounding opinions Stein talks about, they must also pay attention to her actions in this election cycle, which speak much louder. In evaluating whether her actions would actually translate into support for gender equality, it is worth examining her relationship with former candidate Bernie Sanders. Recently, Stein offered to step down as her party’s presidential nominee so that Sanders can run for President on the Green ticket.10
At first glance, it may seem ideal to undecided Sanders supporters for Stein to make this move. However, if one scratches the surface of Stein’s proposal, it is extremely problematic. First, consider Stein’s repeated emphasis on the need for a female President. Suggesting that she will remove herself from the ballot and step aside for Sanders to run for President does not ring true with what gender equity requires. Instead, such a move sends conflicting, sexist messages. Stepping aside for a male candidate indicates that while Stein claimed it is critical to elect a woman this year, she didn’t really mean it and doesn’t intend to give voters an opportunity to make that a reality. It sends the message to girls and women everywhere that the goal of electing a female President to contribute to gender equality is secondary to letting a man have a second chance at a nomination.
Stein has emphatically demanded a female President and vehemently argued that she is the only person who can fill that role to achieve the goals of feminism. Asking a man to take her place as a presidential candidate tells America that women should step down when a man is around. This behavior reinforces the idea of women as second-class citizens. Worse still, Stein’s actions tell women and girls that even if they are ideal candidates for a position (as she has painted herself to be), they are not as qualified as their male counterparts. Stein’s position on the “Sanders switch” is degrading to the people who originally bought her message that gender equality is critical in this election cycle and an about-face that betrays her original supporters.
Stein’s alleged rationale for asking Sanders to pick up where she is willing to leave off and run as the Green nominee is also suspect. Stein claims Sanders “could lead the ticket and build a political movement,” but stepping aside in his favor signifies that a female leader, and Jill Stein, much less, cannot be a leader or build a political movement as well as a man.11 Moreover, Stein argues that Sanders only lost the Democratic nomination because the Democrats committed “psychological warfare” and “sabotaged” his chance to be the nominee.12 Such language suggests that Stein would give Sanders another shot at a presidential nomination to somehow rectify the alleged “wrongs” of Democrats. In making these claims, however, Stein places the priority of giving Sanders some kind of “reparation” for not winning a nomination above electing a progressive, female President for the first time in American history. Stein can no longer claim to be fighting seriously for gender equality when she is literally asking Americans not to vote for a female President at all this year. If the “Sanders switch” were honored, there would only be ONE female candidate on the ballot, a candidate who has already been declared a non-option by Stein. Following Stein’s logic to its actual conclusion means not voting for Hillary Clinton or Jill Stein, which refutes Stein’s claim that she truly believes we need a female President.
Finally, it is worth considering Stein’s suggestions about Sanders in light of Sanders own requests. Since Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sanders has publicly declared that the most important thing to do in this election is to prevent the possibility of a Trump presidency.13 He has agreed to work with Hillary to defeat Trump, emphasized that Trump would be the worst option for any kind of equality, and Sanders has officially endorsed Hillary Clinton.14 In fact, Sanders has recently become as emphatic about the need for Hillary to become President as Jill Stein once was about her own candidacy, arguing that Clinton is the “far and away the best candidate” to defend the rights of minorities, women, and other underrepresented groups.15 Logically, if Jill Stein agrees with Sanders on the issues as much as she claims (99%, according to her own reports16), she would agree with his decision to endorse Clinton and acknowledge that the best shot at advancing civil rights, such as gender equality, is to vote for Hillary. Instead, Stein does exactly the opposite of what Sanders requested — making inflammatory comments about Clinton and lambasting Sanders for his endorsement.17 Obviously, it’s contradictory for her to offer to step down for Sanders to take the Green Party nomination while acting as though Sanders is a “sellout” for his accurate statement that a vote against Hillary is, in reality, a vote for misogynist Donald Trump.
The problem is that Jill Stein is more than just contradictory. Stein went out of her way to “disqualify” the only female candidate for President who has a chance to win, which could risk a victory for Trump. This means at some level, Stein is willing to help a sexist candidate get elected, which says much more about her true beliefs on gender equality than her tweets ever did.
Stein’s intentions may seem unclear, and certainly it’s hard to understand how she likes Sanders enough to want to supplant another woman’s (her own) candidacy but thinks he isn’t smart enough to endorse a candidate unless that candidate is Stein. By isolating herself as the only woman qualified to be President and the only person qualified to even make an endorsement, Stein doesn’t do any favors for the millions who face gender discrimination on a daily basis. Taken in combination, Stein’s behaviors do not actually fight sexism and, instead, suggest a very real risk and scenario that would leave a sexist status quo completely intact, if not strengthened, by her bizarre candidacy.
1 Jill Stein’s own twitter status indicates that she sides with Hillary Clinton on 91% of the issues. https://twitter.com/DrJillStein/status/742450334556028928
2 Eli Watkins, “Green Party’s Jill Stein to Sanders fans: ‘There’s a plan B here,’” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/08/politics/jill-stein-bernie-sanders-supporters/ (June 22, 2016).
3John Aravois, “Internet excoriates Green Party’s Jill Stein for calling Hillary a bad mom,” AmericaBlog, http://americablog.com/2016/05/internet-excoriates-jill-stein-calling-hillary-bad-mom.html.
4Alexandra Brodsky, “Jill Stein, Leave Essentialist Ideas of Motherhood out of the Election,” Feministing.com, http://feministing.com/2016/05/09/jill-stein-leave-essentialist-ideas-of-motherhood-out-the-election/ (May 9, 2016).
6 Oliver Milman, “Green party’s Jill Stein invites Bernie Sanders to take over ticket,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/08/jill-stein-bernie-sanders-green-party (July 8, 2016).
7 See, e.g. Nathan Guttman, “Is Jill Stein the Spoiler-in-Chief for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?,” Forward.com http://forward.com/news/national/343220/is-jill-stein-the-spoiler-in-chief-for-hillary-clinton-and-the-democrats/ (July 12, 2016).
8 See, e.g., Jill Stein, “Why America Needs a Woman President this Mother’s Day,” http://www.jill2016.com/_a_women_president_mother_s_day (May 8, 2016).
10 See Milman, e.g., supra note 6.
13 Dan Roberts, “Bernie Sanders: ‘I will work with Hillary Clinton to stop Donald Trump,’” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/16/bernie-sanders-will-work-with-clinton-donald-trump-speech (June 16, 2016).
14 “Bernie Sanders: ‘I am endorsing Hillary Clinton’ and ‘she must become our next President,’” Daily News Bin, http://www.dailynewsbin.com/news/bernie-sanders-i-am-endorsing-hillary-clinton-and-she-must-become-our-next-president/25150/ (July 12, 2016).
15 Bernie Sanders, “Why I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton,”transcript available at http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/287370-transcript-bernie-sanders-formally-endorses-hillary (July 12, 2016).
17 Nick Gass, “Jill Stein shreds Sanders’ Clinton endorsement,” Politico.com, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/jill-stein-no-bernie-sanders-endorsement-225417 (July 12, 2016).