Let’s Not Pretend Electing The First Female President Wouldn’t Be Radical
By Rachel Hills
This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.
It’s a strange thing, being a Hillary Clinton fan on the Internet. Right now, it feels a lot like the film Candyman, except instead of saying Hillary’s name five times, you only need to say it once to conjure a bunch of Bernie Sanders fans talking about what a corporate harpy she is. Oh, and why aren’t you voting for Bernie?
And I get it, kind of. Not the harpy thing, but the Bernie thing. There are things I like about Bernie Sanders, too: the prospect of universal healthcare, for one. And if Democratic primary voters decide that his vision is the one they want to take into the general election, I will happily campaign for him.
But I want to challenge the idea that he is the most or the only radical option in the Democratic race. Specifically, I want to challenge the idea that electing the first female president wouldn’t be big, or important, or radical.
One argument I’ve seen circulating amongst Bernie supporters — his young, female supporters, especially — is that it’s bad feminism to support Hillary on the basis that she is a woman.
Instead, we need to examine which policies will be best for women. And since women are people, and Bernie is the more left-wing candidate on most issues, he is therefore the better candidate for feminists to support. It would be nice to have a female president, sure, but it needs to be the right one. Someone like Elizabeth Warren. Or perhaps someone more like Hillary Clinton was back in 1992, before she’d had her spirit flogged by the Republicans for a quarter of a century.
I see it from male Bernie supporters, too — the insistence that women who support Clinton give reasons for supporting her that aren’t about gender. And it is usually left-wing women who are asked to do this, because the men I know who support Clinton tend to be:
a) more quiet about it and,
b) more centrist, i.e. more ideologically aligned with Hillary, themselves.
The implication is that gender itself is not a sufficiently progressive cause to vote for someone. We need better reasons. That she’s more experienced — and it’s true that, like most women who get anywhere near positions of power, she is incredibly qualified. That she would be a more effective legislator. That she is secretly as, or even more liberal than Bernie. That she can win.
But the truth is, I do support Hillary Clinton “because” she is a woman. And I am perfectly okay with that.
My feminism isn’t just — or even chiefly — about getting women into positions of power, and I don’t think that electing a woman president would mean automatic world peace and equality. I don’t believe that women are innately gentler or fairer leaders than men are.
But my feminism does involve calling attention to the people and places where power tends to fall, and to challenging the idea that men are the natural and inevitable holders of power. Being a feminist, to me, means believing that gender matters; that it is still an axis along which people are privileged and denied, and that that’s a problem that needs addressing.
I happen to think that it is seriously fucked up that until 2008, every single person elected “leader of the free world” was a white man. I think that a one-two punch of the first black president followed by the first woman president would be an incredibly powerful progressive message. And I’m tired of the way that no matter what women do, they are never good enough; never quite the right mix of fresh-and-experienced-and-radical-and-relatable-and-authentic-and-electable.
I wouldn’t support a Carly Fiorina, or a Sarah Palin, a Michele Bachmann, or a Margaret Thatcher, because I wildly disagree with them on, well, everything. But Hillary Clinton isn’t a cloak-and-dagger conservative. She is an imperfect liberal, flawed to the same degree that any woman who had been put under a microscope for two decades would be. She is a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. And she is a hardworking, tenacious warrior QUEEN.
That doesn’t mean you have to support her, if she doesn’t gel with you. Maybe you believe that a female president would be transformative, but taxpayer-funded college education would be even more transformative. If so, that’s fine. That’s what elections are for. Go forth and vote!
But as feminists, let’s not pretend gender doesn’t matter. And let’s not pretend that the first woman — the first feminist — president wouldn’t be a big fucking deal.
Lead image: On the trail in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton speaks to a packed gymnasium at a Get Out The Vote rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. All photos by Zach D Roberts.
More stories from The Establishment’s political series:
No, White Women, I Will Not Be Voting For Hillary
Why I Prefer Bernie’s Revolution To Hillary’s Boardroom Feminism
When It Comes To Discussing Gender In Politics, Everyone Is Losing
Stop Telling Marginalized People Who They Must Vote For
To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party