On the feminist argument for Clinton

I’m getting annoyed with this kind of argumentation:

One could argue that, gender aside, [Hillary] Clinton’s policies are better for women than [Bernie] Sanders’s – Naral Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood’s endorsements speak to that some, as does Clinton’s vocal emphasis on repealing the Hyde Amendment, which denies poor women the ability to obtain reproductive healthcare. But there is also nothing untoward about pointing out that the groundbreaking first of a female president would also benefit women.[1]

One could indeed argue this, I suppose, but the truth is that Jessica Valenti does not. She cites examples of Clinton’s positions without saying how they are better than Sanders’. Does Sanders support the Hyde amendment? I doubt it and Valenti offers us no evidence that he does or that he would be any less ambitious in seeking its repeal.[2]

Valenti’s real argument is this: “Only in a sexist society would women be told that caring about representation at the highest levels of government is wrong. Only in a sexist society would women believe it.” And it’s valid as far as it goes. But her support for her argument is this:

The absurd conclusion these detractors are making is that if gender plays any role in a woman’s vote, it must be her sole litmus test. (If that were the case, you’d see throngs of feminists supporting Sarah Palin or Carly Fiorina.) As author and New York magazine contributor Rebecca Traister has written, “Somehow the admission of gender as a factor in support for her creates an opportunity to dismiss not only enthusiasm for Clinton as feminized and thus silly, but also a whole body of feminist argument that concerns itself with the underrepresentation of women in politics.”[3]

Valenti misleads on the argument against Clinton. The feminist question for Clinton, just as it would be for Palin or Fiorina, is whether electing her advances women’s interests more than electing one of her opponents.

Immediately then, we must ask, does electing a lawyer who defended a client accused of rape by viciously attacking his accuser[4] in many of the ways that feminists say discourage women from reporting rape advance women’s interests? Does electing the wife of a man accused of rape and sexual abuse who attacks his alleged victims in order to advance her own political career[5] advance women’s interests? These are questions I have to leave for women to answer.

But there are other questions to consider as well. Does viewing social inequality only through the feminist dimension of a multidimensional problem advance women’s interests? And if it does, does it do so by kicking others down? One might suspect, given Clinton’s reliance on Wall Street for support[6] and her husband’s history of support for neoliberal policy, that the poor might indeed suffer in a Clinton presidency, just as they have in the Obama presidency, where Clinton served as Secretary of State.

Then there’s the question of electability. Does it advance women’s interests to support a candidate who will herself be unelectable in the general election,[7] and thus possibly also bring down other “down-ballot” feminist candidates? As Valenti herself acknowledges, “[t]he first female president . . . [is] certain to bring misogynists out of the woodwork at proportions that will make GamerGate look tame,”[8] except that I doubt very much that those misogynists will wait for her inauguration. They’re already going after her and using at least some of the arguments I have cited above as part of their case.[9]

Valenti thinks that “while President Obama’s tenure hasn’t lead [sic] to any ‘post-racial’ utopia, the symbolism of the first black president forever changed the way this nation thinks and talks about race. The first female president . . would likely do the same for gender.”[10] Perhaps and I certainly do not want to argue that women’s grievances against wealthy white patriarchy are any less significant than those of Black Lives Matters protesters or of the Occupy movement. But I suspect that women’s needs would be no better served than those of Blacks during the Obama administration (figure 1):

Fig. 1. Ted Rall, January 6, 2016, fair use.

The simple fact is that electing a member of a subaltern group to high office does not meaningfully address problems of social inequality. As we see with examples such as Barack Obama, Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Carly Fiorina, Bill Cosby, and many more, when such people find their way to elite status, their interests come to align with and they too often identify with the very wealthy white male patriarchy that is in fact the problem.

  1. [1]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/15/go-ahead-and-vote-for-hillary-clinton-because-she-is-a-woman
  2. [2]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/15/go-ahead-and-vote-for-hillary-clinton-because-she-is-a-woman
  3. [3]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/15/go-ahead-and-vote-for-hillary-clinton-because-she-is-a-woman
  4. [4]Alana Goodman, “The Hillary Tapes,” Washington Free Beacon, June 15, 2014, http://freebeacon.com/politics/the-hillary-tapes/
  5. [5]Silpa Kovvali, “Bill, Hillary and the women: Should millennials care about Bill Clinton’s sex scandals?” Salon, January 8, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/01/08/bill_hillary_and_the_women_should_millennials_care_about_bill_clintons_sex_scandals/; Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers, “For Hillary Clinton, old news or new troubles?” Washington Post, January 6, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-bill-clinton-scandal-machine-revs-up-and-takes-aim-at-his-wife/2016/01/06/a08cf550-b4be-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html
  6. [6]Patrick Healy, “Wall St. Ties Linger as Image Issue for Hillary Clinton,” New York Times, November 21, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/us/politics/wall-st-ties-linger-as-image-issue-for-hillary-clinton.html
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Damnation by faint praise: Sanders claims to be more electable than Clinton,” Not Housebroken, January 10, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8529
  8. [8]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/15/go-ahead-and-vote-for-hillary-clinton-because-she-is-a-woman
  9. [9]Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers, “For Hillary Clinton, old news or new troubles?” Washington Post, January 6, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-bill-clinton-scandal-machine-revs-up-and-takes-aim-at-his-wife/2016/01/06/a08cf550-b4be-11e5-a76a-0b5145e8679a_story.html
  10. [10]Jessica Valenti, “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” Guardian, January 15, 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/15/go-ahead-and-vote-for-hillary-clinton-because-she-is-a-woman

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