On Bernie Sanders' 1972 Essay

[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape fantasies; misogyny.]

So, a Mother Jones profile of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dug up, among other things, an essay Sanders penned in 1972 for an alternative newspaper called the Vermont Freeman. Titled "Man—and Woman," the piece is an exploration of gender roles written in a '70s pop-psych milieu, and it describes a man in a couple fantasizing about abusing women while having sex with a female partner who is fantasizing about being raped; invokes a hypothetical newspaper article about a preteen girl being gang-raped; and references the woman having a "sex friend when you were 13 years old."

image of the Sanders essay
A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused.

A woman enjoys intercourse with her man—as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.

The man and woman get dressed up on Sunday—and go to Church, or maybe to their "revolutionary" political meeting.

Have you ever looked at the Stag, Man, Hero, Tough magazines on the shelf of your local bookstore? Do you know why the newspapers with the articles like "Girl 12 raped by 14 men" sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?

Women, for their own preservation, are trying to pull themselves together. And it's necessary for all of humanity that they do so. Slavishness on one hand breeds pigness on the other hand. Pigness on one hand breeds slavishness on the other. Men and women—both are losers. Women adapt themselves to fill the needs of men, and men adapt themselves to fill the needs of women. In the beginning there were strong men who killed the animals and brought home the food—and the dependent women who cooked it. No More! Only the roles remain—waiting to be shaken off. There are no "human" oppressors. Oppressors have lost their humanity. On one hand "slavishness," on the other hand "pigness." Six of one, half dozen of the other. Who wins?

Many women seem to be walking a tightrope now. Their qualities of love, openness, and gentleness were too deeply enmeshed with qualities of dependency, subservience, and masochism. How do you love—without being dependent? How do you be gentle—without being subservient? How do you maintain a relationship without giving up your identity and without getting strung out? How do you reach out and give your heart to your lover, but maintain the soul which is you?

And Men. Men are in pain too. They are thinking, wondering. What is it they want from a woman? Are they at fault? Are they perpetrating this man-woman situation? Are they oppressors?

The man is bitter.

"You lied to me," he said. (She did).

"You said that you loved me, that you wanted me, that you needed me. Those are your words." (They are).

"But in reality," he said, "if you ever loved me, or wanted me, or needed me (all of which I'm not certain was ever true), you also hated me. You hated me—just as you have hated every man in your entire life, but you didn't have the guts to tell me that. You hated me before you ever saw me, even though I was not your father, or your teacher, or your sex friend when you were 13 years old, or your husband. You hated me not because of who I am, or what I was to you, but because I am a man. You did not deal with me as a person—as me. You lived a lie with me, used me and played games with me—and that's a piggy thing to do."

And she said, "You wanted me not as a woman, or a lover, or a friend, but as a submissive woman, or submissive friend, or submissive lover; and right now where my head is I balk at even the slightest suspicion of that kind of demand."

And he said, "You're full of __________."

And they never again made love together (which they had each liked to do more than anything) or never ever saw each other one more time.
After I read this last night, my thoughts were: One, 1972 is a long-ass time ago, but Sanders was also 31 years old in 1972. Not exactly a kid. Two, I had no desire to see Sanders "crucified" over it, as became the charge against anyone who raised concerns about it. Basically I just wanted him to say, "That was super fucked up and indefensible and I regret it." Three, asking a man to repudiate troubling attitudes about women/sexual assault isn't an attack. It's a request to (maybe) reestablish trust. And four, that shouldn't be a big deal, since people who genuinely believe they fucked up generally don't mind saying so.

But Sanders took a different route. Through a campaign spokesperson, the essay was described as a "dumb attempt at dark satire in an alternative publication."

Step One: Call it satire. Step Two: Call us humorless.

The spokesman further explained: "When Bernie got into this race, he understood that there would be efforts to distracts voters and the press from the real issues confronting the nation today."

Well, not for nothing, pal, but male politicians seeking higher office who have loathsome ideas about women, gender roles, and sexual violence is one of "the real issues confronting the nation today." Which is why I was hoping that Sanders would take seriously the concerns raised about some of the language used in that piece.

The truth is, I'm way more angry about that response than I was about the fucking essay.

I had hoped that a progressive, feminist-sympathetic male candidate would be more inclined to meaningfully address the problems with having penned a disturbingly lurid essay about gender roles than simply sending out a spokesperson to dismiss it as satire. (And does Sanders realize that going with the "satire" angle actually makes it worse? This was intended to be humorous? Oh.) But serious men who work on "the real issues" don't owe shit to hysterical feminists with no sense of humor.


Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus