this ain’t about sexism

Driving home yesterday, I listened to Pat Schroeder and NPR talk about how people are not voting for Hillary Clinton because of sexism. I swore at the radio and then apologized to my car.

As everyone who knows me knows, I’m SICK AND TIRED of this election. I’ve been disenchanted, frustrated, depressed, and irritated. Lately, I’ve just been downright angry. I am a third wave feminist and I’m proud of it. Gender issues have been central to my identity for as long as I can remember. I am ecstatic to think that a woman might be in the White House in my lifetime. But I refuse to vote for someone solely on the basis of their gender and I resent being told that this makes me sexist.

I have absolutely no doubt that sex, race, age, gender, religion, class, and other factors are at play in this election. Talking to teens, I was always fascinated by their discussion of “that black guy” and “that woman” running for president. At least those labels were relatively accurate. “That Muslim” (Obama) and “that polygamist” (Romney) were a bit harder to stomach. I am very frustrated by how intolerant much of this country is, but I don’t have a lot of patience for when people suggest that one intolerance is better or worse than the other. I’ve always appreciated the second wave feminists for what they did for women in the 1970s, but I identify as a third-waver because I think that it is irresponsible of feminists to seek power for rich, straight, white women at the expense of other women. So when Gloria Steinem wrote an op-ed in the NYTimes about how women are never front-runners, I shuddered. She argues that sexism is not taken as seriously as racism and that sexism is a bigger barrier. I’m not quite sure what world she’s living in.

My instinct was to list off all of the ways in which race is more of a barrier. Like the racial make-up of our jails. Or the racial make-up of the tech industry. Or the racial dynamics in LA. But this would be counter-productive because I don’t believe that comparing such intolerances is effective. And besides, they are tightly entwined and interwoven. So I mediated and just decided that Steinem doesn’t represent me or my generation of feminists.

And then there was Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania killed me. Going into PA, I believed that I could vote for either Democratic candidate in November. After PA, I decided that I’d rather vote for Mickey Mouse than Clinton. I have no tolerance for politics as usual and I’m pretty annoyed with all of the candidates at this point for falling into such disgusting crap. But how on earth did Clinton manage to convince the press that she’s “more working class” than Obama? After his (admittedly foolish) statements in Appalachia, she went on and on about how he was an elitist condescending fool while nothing that her husband was the first black president and aligning herself with the working class. How on earth is a millionaire with an amazing pedigree and unbelievable social connections able to convince working class America that she’s one of them? Grumble. I think we all need to do a bit of owning up to our privilege at this point. But, oh right, that won’t get us elected. Grumble 2.0. This was just one of the many charades that convinced me that Clinton is more determined to win by any means possible. And that worries me. I don’t trust that she’ll do what’s best, but what’ll make her look good. Gas tax holiday? Hello!

Lately, it’s been the whole sexism issue. I have no doubt that she’s been treated unkindly in the press. And sexism is part of that story. But how can she say that sexism is the reason that young, educated voters aren’t voting for her? She’s done extremely well with older women and white working class men and Hispanic/Latino groups. Sure, there’s still some sexism in here… I’ve heard plenty of older voters say that they’ll vote for her because her husband will help her out. But they still voted for her! She’s not done so well with young, educated groups or with black voters. How is this sexism? Frankly, if this election is about sexism, I wouldn’t have expected her to do so well with traditionally macho and misogynist populations. So is my refusal to vote for her a sign of my self-hatred?

I keep hearing that she’s not leaving the race because she doesn’t want to signal defeat, that she doesn’t want to let the sexists win, that she feels like she needs to stay in so that the next generation of women will feel as though they have the power to go for it. I am the next generation of women. I don’t feel disempowered by her not being the nominee but I do feel embarrassed by her refusal to step aside and her ongoing efforts to crack the party into half. I don’t like her speaking on behalf of my generation of women this way.

In her justifications and explanations, she refutes any critique that she’s not being a team player or that she’s doing damage to the party. In some ways, time will tell. But I hope to goddess that when she finally steps down, she works as a senior Democrat to help heal the party and bring people together. If she does this, I will give her a second chance. But right now, I’m absolutely positively disgusted. And please, can we get off this sexism story? It’s embarrassing.

Thanks for letting me blow off a little bit of steam.

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25 thoughts on “this ain’t about sexism

  1. Claire

    Amen Danah, my sentiments exactly. For me it was when she started trying to weasel Michigan and Florida that I became thoroughly disgusted with her and stopped even considering supporting her. (and congratulations on graduating, btw!)

  2. Stefan Hayden

    I think it’s a common feeling of an entire generation. I pretty much agree with everything as well… if you can’t vent on the internet where can you?

  3. Martin

    I’m SICK AND TIRED of this election. I’ve been disenchanted, frustrated, depressed, and irritated.

    For God’s sake, why? We have excellent candidates this year. Even McCain would be orders of magnitude better than Bush (especially if he kept his recent campaign promises of transparent government and eco-friendliness).

    No matter who becomes president, we’ve already won.

  4. Bill Fitzgerald

    RE: “How on earth is a millionaire with an amazing pedigree and unbelievable social connections able to convince working class America that she’s one of them?”

    Hell, George Bush did it. Twice. The thing that kills me watching this (and other) campaigns is that intelligence seems to be a liability.

    @Martin: orders of magnitude better than Bush is still a low bar. What’s frustrating and disheartening (for me, anyways) is the level of national discourse.

  5. James Lawson

    Here in the deep south, there are many of Yellow-Dog Democrats(Democrats with conservative leanings) and Boll-Weevil Republicans(Republicans with liberal leanings). The one thing I have been hearing from both of them is that in the past 8-12 years how the political races have become so vile and disgusting. Personally, as a centrist, I think if Hillary doesn’t get out after May 31st (DNC Rules meeting) then we start seeing the Democratic party fracture.

  6. ls

    I understand these frustrations, but I’ve never seen anywhere that Clinton has claimed that sexism is the *sole reason* or even main reason that she’s losing/lost, or that women in particular have some kind of feminist mandate to vote for her (sure some of her supporters or dumb news hosts might say this, but I haven’t heard it coming from her campaign). When she said that the campaign had been sexist but not racist, I take that to mean that there have been a slew of sexist slurs, both obvious and not, thrown at her, and that this goes largely un-critiqued, whereas such racial slurs a) do not get thrown at Obama, and b) would not be accepted if they were. I mean, it’s silly to frame it that way because you can’t just analogize one -ism to another, but this is the level of discourse we seem to be at, so. Other people have written on this far better than I have and I trust that you’ve read some of those things so I won’t try to convince you, but for those interested, Shakesville has been keeping tally of both sexist and racist treatment by the media/blogs/candidates, and it is really mind-blowingly disturbing.

  7. Mark Federman

    On a tangent from the politics, but on the same plane as making visible issues of sexism, racism, and privilege, is the thoughtful (not to mention, classic) piece by Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

    The politics of celebrity and populism that have overtaken the American presidential race have become terribly problematic: the average Joe and Jane in America seems to want to vote for someone with whom they can identify. To do so means closing both eyes and ears, since none of the candidates from either party are anywhere near average. Consequently, many of the Janes and Joes look for negative identification connections with racism, sexism, (anti-)privilege, and (anti-)intellectualism, resulting in most of the candidates pandering to those perverse positions.

  8. Prolific Programmer

    What gets me about this whole process is that there’s no substantive policy discussions. Americans have essentially agreed that the status quo is fine and the political parties reflect this no matter how many times you hear candidates say “change”. As former London mayor Ken Livingstone penned, “if voting changed anything, they’d abolish it”

  9. Gordon Rae

    We won’t have achieved gender equality until people can say why we hate Hillary just the way people say they hate Dubya. Sadly there has been a lot of unimaginative use of words like “bitch” and not enough of the articulate criticism she deserves. I have always supported the Clintons (and kinda fancied Hils) but once she stopped being the undisputed front-runner, I was shocked at how cynical, bitter, and manipulative her campaign became.

  10. Scott Crawford

    Nicely put. I could almost hear the steam escaping and see the normal shade of pink return to your face. The Me vs We core values have become so telling. We will benefit from this transformation in the end. And you blow off steam so well…no, you’re right, it will be better when it’s a memory.

  11. greg

    I am 43, putting me somewhere between HRC’s generation and your generation. Technically, I am an older “X”, but culturally I identify with both “X” and “Y” much more than I do with the Baby Boomers.

    One thing that has bugged me in this election is when I encounter women (and some men) from the Boomer generation who feel that HRC has represented the one and only chance for a woman to become president — that we will never again see a woman who can come so close to being elected president, and that, therefore, it has been crucial to see HRC succeed in the name of achieving gender equality.

    I feel that stance reveals a disturbing generational myopia. It seems that they want to see a woman from THEIR generation elected president, and somehow there is no room within their imaginations to conceive of a younger female as that potential presidential contender that they dream of.

    I favor Obama because of who he is, not because of his race. I also think it rocks that we are likely to see our first “Black” president in 2009. And I can’t wait to have the chance to vote for a qualified female presidential candidate. I have no doubt that there are plenty of them rising up and on their way.

  12. Hari

    racism matters in the xenephobic western contexts I think… the ‘obama-in-kenyan-costume campaign’ made me wonder about the collective psyche of Americans…

    and am unsure which wave alice walker belongs to, but her daughter, Rebecca Walker is one of the third wave fore-runners
    I agree with you danah, second wave was really a pain for us

    btw, congrats for the graduation 🙂

  13. Hari

    racism matters in the xenephobic western contexts I think… the ‘obama-in-kenyan-costume campaign’ made me wonder about the collective psyche of Americans…

    and am unsure which wave alice walker belongs to, but her daughter, Rebecca Walker is one of the third wave fore-runners
    I agree with you danah, second wave was really a pain for us (who belong to ‘other contexts’)

    btw, congrats for graduation 🙂

  14. Hari

    racism matters in the xenophobic western contexts I think… the ‘obama-in-Kenyan-costume campaign’ made me wonder about the collective psyche of Americans…

    and am unsure which wave alice walker belongs to, but her daughter, Rebecca Walker is one of the third wave fore-runners
    I agree with you danah, second wave was really a pain for us

    btw, congrats for graduation 🙂

  15. Some Other Mike

    I agree with Martin…the big story of this election is the ouster of at least one evil faction, and maybe even the other, regardless of which candidate wins. This goes back to the ‘Bipartisan Forum’ in Oklahoma last winter, when Mayor Bloomberg was warming up a campaign.

    I still maintain that Bloomberg was running warm standby, in the event that neither Sen. McCain nor Sen. Obama made the cut. It will be interesting to see how many of those attendees will end up in the Cabinet next year.

    Along the same lines, I’ll guess that control of the Democratic Party is at stake, much like McCain won control of the GOP along with the nomination. That reason alone is enough to keep Sen. Clinton running to the bitter end.

  16. Tex

    Ahhh. Sniff…this reminds me of a night I had in a local lesbian bar recently. There was much insistence from the house that it is “just time to have a woman for president.” No one actually seemed interested in whether or not she was the right woman for president, merely that she was a woman. Needless to say, I went home alone after admitting that I prefer Obama.

    So, for what it’s worth, there are certainly others of us out here around your same age and demographic who think Clinton sucks and have no interest whatsoever in seeing her in office, even as there are others who disagree. That alone suggests to me that this election is actually about the same things all elections have been about. Some people like Kennedy’s pretty makeup, some people get scared by Johnson threatening nuclear war if the opponent wins, and some people prefer to focus on real issues.

  17. Bridget M. Blodgett

    I agree with a lot of your sentiments in this post. I think the difference regarding race between the first and second wave feminists and the third wave stem from the relationships that the two movements had with each other in the past. I know many feminists felt abandoned after African Americans received the right to vote and largely stopped campaigning (despite the fact that many feminists supported them in this cause there was no reciprocation). I believe many second waves feel resentment to the fracturing that went on during the late 70s when women of color started pointing out that the movement supported middle and upper class white women almost exclusively.

    That doesn’t make any of it right but sometimes its better to try and take some perspective.

    As for this particular election I can’t help but thinking of the bread and circuses of Ancient Rome every time I listen to any political talk.

    Congratulations on your graduation and good luck with your dissertation writing. I know what a accomplishment/grind it is as I head in to my own proposal!

  18. Steve

    The reason people should support Hillary has little to do with her gender. It is simply that (1) she would make a better President than Obama and (2) she has a better chance of defeating the Republican.

    Obama says “change” but he is vague about specifics. He offers no hope to those of us who are lower income – who, like myself, have a struggle to pay our bills from one paycheck to the next. He offers no relief for skyrocketing prices for food and fuel. He has no program for reining in the financial speculators.

    Hillary may be rich, but at least part of her family background has working class roots (Her mom, I believe). Sure, I was disappointed that she chose to give a victory speech, promoting the interests of working people, while wearing a jeweled necklace that would choke a horse. But, little as I like the rich in principle, I’m not convinced that every wealthy individual is automatically evil. I really think Hillary gets it. Hillary offers hope to myself and people in my economic condition. Obama offers empty platitudes about “change”. Change into WHAT, Senator?

    If Obama wins the nomination I will probably hold my nose and vote for him – because even a hollow shell with a feel-good rhetoric chip is better than a Republican who supports Cheney and Bush’s war against Iraq. But I will do so with a heavy heart.

    Hillary offers hope. If the media and the party bosses succeed in buying the nomination for their guy, that hope dies. Obama can’t do what needs to be done, and I doubt he would if he could. He doesn’t get it.

    Oh, and danah. You think *you’re* disenfranchised? I live in Michigan 🙁

    Thanks for listening,

  19. April

    I think we’re starting to see the emotional downfall of some Clinton backers who are too emotionally vested in their candidate. I’ve seen a number of stories like this in the last couple weeks –

    I have to question if Hillary Clinton’s comments about sexism are just trying to encourage some of these debates that are more emotionally-fueled than rational. I’ve also read a number of stories about Clinton supporters (some large groups) saying they will support McCain in the fall if she doesn’t win the nomination. This type of behavior and threats just drive me crazy. I can’t believe people are so upset that they would direct their anger towards a candidate whose beliefs line up so close to their own candidate’s.

    I feel a bit un-PC (or maybe sexist? 🙂 for saying this, but it reminds me a bit of a group of girls gossiping and dissing a guy who’s about to dump their girlfriend. Hillary needs to get in there and say “thank you for your concern, but we have more important issues to deal with. I’m trying prove I’m a strong female leader, not the victim.”

  20. Amelia


    I tend to think that for women under the age of 45, gender is just less important. I guess in part thanks to the struggles of our mothers, I don’t feel that I have ever been held back professionally by the fact that I am female. (although saying that, I don’t have kids) For women of my generation its more to do with character than gender – I would rather have a good male boss than a sub-standard female one; I would rather be represented politically by a strong male candidate than a female one who I don’t trust…

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