Why I Prefer Bernie’s Revolution To Hillary’s Boardroom Feminism
This story is part of The Establishment’s ongoing series exploring the political dialogue surrounding the democratic presidential candidates, progressivism, and feminism.
I often enjoy a nice, hot, steaming mug of male tears — otherwise known as expressions of male butthurt over social justice. These are not literal tears, although some clients in my work as a dominatrix do pay me to make them cry. Male tears are visual and verbal. The mediocre white male passed up for a promotion and the rejected, whiny man-child who thinks that he is owed sex cry them.
Men may underestimate a woman based on their own misogynist precepts and fallacies, and then find themselves outsmarted and outmaneuvered by her. The feminist witnesses such men — shocked, stammering, damning the woman who has defeated them — and laughs at their frustrated spectacle, calling it out for its rank and unacknowledged privilege. And she finds within it the male tears: the prized, schadenfreude-laced nectar that she gleefully sips.
What makes male tears so delicious, and what makes some men hate the concept so much, is that they literally do not exist for you if you’re not a feminist. To enjoy the joke, you must see and understand the vast, systemic domination of our culture by patriarchy and male privilege, and you must cheer for the woman who, by her own strength, and by dint of generations of women’s struggle, wins, and subverts that domination. Sadly, those tears are rare; in our society, only a few women ever get to challenge male supremacy directly.
One who has managed to challenge this supremacy, repeatedly, is Hillary Clinton, who in her campaign for president has brought forth the finest vintages of male tears as she has confidently fought off her often sexist opponents.
At the beginning of the most recent Benghazi hearings, Clinton found her moment. Amy Davidson described it with clarity and grace in the New Yorker:
“Peter Roskam, of Illinois, was laying out a scenario in which Clinton’s assumption of a leadership role on Libyan policy ‘didn’t come easy,’ when he stopped and said, in case he might be overwhelming her, ‘I can pause while you’re reading your notes from your staff.’ Clinton replied, ‘I can do more than one thing at a time, Congressman — thanks.’ A minute or two later, Roskam said, ‘Go ahead and read the note if you need to.’ This time, Clinton laughed. ‘I’m not done with my question,’ Roskam said; he was just doing her a ‘courtesy.’ ‘That’s all right,’ Clinton responded, with a friendly wave of her hand. From then on, she was in control. ‘I’m sorry that doesn’t fit your narrative, Congressman. I can only tell you what the facts are,’ she told Jim Jordan, of Ohio, who is the chairman of the Freedom Caucus. As he spoke, she rested her chin on the palm of one hand, as if he were not much more than a loud boor at a party who, puzzlingly, doesn’t seem to know how he sounds. When Lynn Westmoreland, of Georgia, informed her that he spoke slowly, Clinton laughed again and said, ‘I lived in Arkansas a long time. I don’t need an interpreter.’”
This wasn’t the only time that Clinton showed her wry bravado. When Anderson Cooper asked her if she wanted to respond to Lincoln Chafee’s critique of her use of a private email server to conduct State Department business, she said, smiling, “No,” to wild applause. Again and again, she has shucked off the weight of earnestness traditionally required of a woman candidate in the public eye, to the shock and horror of men everywhere. The commentariat brutalizes her for this hubris, but to little effect. She gives no fucks, and as a woman, I cannot help but cheer her on. My eyes widen. I catch my breath. The hairs rise on the back of my neck, and I smile: male tears at their finest.
Some women — largely older, largely white — cheer Clinton on because, like me, they identify with her. Every time she subverts the expected response, tosses her head, smirks, asserts her boundaries, and refuses to be cowed, she reminds me of a time when I’ve been spoken over or mansplained at, or she evokes a moment when I stopped an entitled man in his tracks — or wished, upon reflection, that I had.
But even as she inspires me as a woman claiming space in a field of men who would use misogyny against her, she does not inspire me as a candidate for president of the United States. And ironically, this is because of my feminism.
As an intersectional feminist, I understand that any of us might glory in the victories of women who, against the staggering odds, punch ragged holes in the all-encompassing net of male supremacy. But these victories cannot sustain us. I, raised middle class and well-educated, can easily relate to Clinton. But I am all too aware that the woman next to me on the bus might not relate to her so easily.
The feminism, and the campaign, of Hillary Clinton are of the boardroom — of the men, and few women, who sit there — but not of, or for, the women who clean that boardroom. Hers is the feminism of going to war so girls can go to school, as the bombs she sends and the sanctions she enforces kill thousands of other girls. Hers are the blandishments toward Black Lives Matter, when she supported, and was supported by, the prison-industrial complex throughout her career. Hers is the pronouncement of the inviolability of a woman’s body, when her State Department funds only those countries who swear to oppose prostitution. The grieving mother, the criminalized sex worker, and the undocumented immigrant who cleans, cooks, and cares for the children and parents of the Hillary Clintons of this world cannot partake in the enjoyment of her triumph in hearings and debates.
The male tears are not for them. If they were to stand up the way she does, they would likely be struck down, by husbands and boyfriends and parents, by hiring managers and admissions clerks, by bosses, and by police bullets.
I want male tears for every mug. I want a world where society has changed, where capitalism and white supremacy and patriarchy have ruptured so strongly in the favor of the dispossessed that there are women everywhere, from every class, challenging men and winning, and drinking their male tears, in the public eye and behind closed doors.
Trouser suit memes of Clinton checking her Blackberry, telling presumptuous men to shove off, might inspire me, but they cannot sustain my hope, or the hope of a nation that does not look or sound like her and a world which rejects the politics of austerity, violence, and marginalization. Without systemically attacking the racism, greed, and sexism of our society, Clinton can call herself a feminist, but it can’t help but ring false to the ears of the millions of women who her policies have left behind. Establishment Editor-at-Large Ijeoma Oluo put it perfectly in a public Facebook post: “I’d love a female president too, but a boot on your neck is a boot on your neck, even when that boot is actually a high heel. It’s all white supremacy to me.”
No matter how ferocious, how cool, how competent she appears, Hillary Clinton represents a system of capitalist theft where corruption is so pervasive that it is no longer called corruption, but the law of the land. The Goldman Sachs bankers invited her to speak no fewer than three times, and paid her a princely sum. Many former officials and heads of state are so paid, but Clinton is personal friends with bankers and financiers; her daughter Chelsea has married one. She claims not to be swayed by those payments in any vote, on any policy, and we are, of course, not privy to her thoughts; but if her flip-flopping on bankruptcy laws, described by Elizabeth Warren in 2004, wasn’t bought overtly, perhaps it arose out of a genuine sympathy with credit-card companies.
Clinton defends Planned Parenthood with a strong voice, but her ardent support of her husband’s destruction of the welfare state has denied dignity and reproductive justice to many more than Planned Parenthood could ever help. In the wake of the police murder of Black men, women and children, Clinton calls for reforms, but her and her husband’s crime policy has destroyed Black families through incarceration and police violence. “I’m a progressive who gets things done,” she said at a debate, but when we judge her on her actions, what she gets done is, truthfully, the opposite of progress.
Bernie Sanders is an old, white man, with many problems within his politics, including his support of foreign policy interventionism in Libya and elsewhere, and his initially awkward resistance to legitimate critiques from Black activists that he has emphasized class over race. But his steadfast focus on corporate power has captivated the hopes of many, many millions of American voters and supporters around the world. In his age, he is a living link to the great victories of American social democracy and racial justice, who is not afraid to take advice from the new social movements that face tremendous risk to challenge society on race and gender. Sanders offers no perfect policies, no tempting, carceral answers to injustice, but only precisely what he promises — a political revolution that is up to us, not him: a sweeping change in government priorities that would directly address the system that keeps the poor, people of color, and women down.
That revolution would let the marginalized make our own answers; with the rebuilt social safety net and increased minimum wage that Sanders supports, more women, across more intersecting axes of oppression, would have the power to stand up, as Hillary has, and could claim their power, as she does, before the cameras and in the highest seats of the land. And many other thousands of women might see their victories in this social media age, and, witnessing them, drink the male tears. They might, in their turn, rise — and fight.
The promise of that revolution is what gives me hope for the future, not Hillary Clinton’s feminist dog-whistles, not Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright’s demand that women stick together, not the insinuation of Bill Clinton — who has been accused of rape and sexual harassment — that to support Sanders is sexist. There are sexists in the ranks of Sanders’ supporters, and the media loves to focus its eye on them, but there are many, many more women who are inspired to action by his participatory movement and his challenge to corporate domination.
Hillary Clinton claims to represent the marginalized, while Bernie Sanders opposes the forces that keep the marginalized from claiming our own power. I’ll stand with him.
Lead image: Bernie Sanders’ travel water bottle sits next to him at a talk in Daniel Webster College, New Hampshire. All photos by Zach D Roberts.
More stories from The Establishment’s political series:
Let’s Not Pretend Electing The First Female President Wouldn’t Be Radical
When It Comes To Discussing Gender In Politics, Everyone Is Losing
Stop Telling Marginalized People Who They Must Vote For
No, White Women, I Will Not Be Voting For Hillary
To Move Forward, We Must Stop Enabling The Democratic Party