[Content Note: Misogyny.]

Bernie Sanders continues to assert that he is not fighting a dirty campaign of coded misogyny against Hillary Clinton. It's a pretty dubious claim, given that he keeps giving interviews where he says stuff like this:
Sanders also talked about his long-standing opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in contrast to Clinton, who now opposes the deal she once called the "gold standard" of trade agreements. Consistency on issues like this "does speak to the character of a person," he said.

He also talked up his vote against authorizing the war in Iraq in 2002, remarking that "[i]t is important to see which candidates have the courage to cast tough votes, to take on very, very powerful interests."
So, Hillary Clinton is a coward of low character. On its face, that might seem like rote political rough-and-tumble—and it is, insomuch as calling out an opponent as a "flip-flopper" or suggesting they made a vote out of political expediency is common enough. It's pretty standard fare in US politics, irrespective of the reasons someone actually changed their position. Consistency isn't a strength if you were wrong in the first place.

But, again, the fact that Clinton is a woman matters. A straight white cis man going after a female candidate, or any marginalized person, with variations on "weak" and "poor character" has connotations that it doesn't when it's directed at another straight white cis man.

Those sorts of words carry with them a much more significant power to diminish when directed at someone who doesn't share the speaker's privilege, because saying a woman is weak invokes ancient misogynist stereotypes of female weakness. ("The weaker sex.") And questioning the character of a woman for changing her mind invokes ancient misogynist stereotypes of female fickleness, while doing so in the course of implying she's changed her mind for nefarious reasons invokes ancient misogynist stereotypes of female manipulativeness.

All of these stereotypes exist specifically to marginalize women. And a man can't use language that engages them and then claim that he's not trading on them. You don't get to pretend an entire history of narratives that define women as less than don't exist, because it's inconvenient for your campaign strategy.

And lest one imagine that I am suggesting that Clinton is above criticism on these, or other, issues: I am not. It's my estimation that Clinton's Iraq War vote was politically expedient—but I can say that, I can make that criticism, without using language that suggests it's a flaw in her character or evidence of cowardice.

(To the contrary: I am painfully aware that female candidates often feel obliged to stake out more hawkish foreign policy positions in order to disprove assumptions that they are too weak. Which doesn't justify Clinton's vote, but we can't ignore the bitter irony that she cast a vote in part to avoid being accused of weakness by one group using misogynist tropes, only now to be accused of weakness for that vote by another group using misogynist tropes.)

I'm not saying Sanders can't or shouldn't criticize Clinton. I'm simply saying that the way he criticizes her matters.

(I hold myself to the same standard when I am criticizing our black president.)

And any dude who feels super aggrieved that men are obliged to be more sensitive to the words they use to criticize women can direct their ire at systemic misogyny and the people who uphold it, rather than at the women who are subjected to its ruthless diminishment.

It's not fair. No, it isn't. But I promise y'all: We'd happily trade the patriarchy for a meaningful equality in which this stuff didn't matter. If you think it's unfair that men have to be sensitive to the language they use to criticize women, I guarantee you it's hell and gone more unfair to be a woman at whom a single word can be launched, carrying millennia of misogyny behind it.

One final note: In the same interview, Sanders "walked back" his celebrated debate moment in which he said that we should stop talking about Clinton's "damn emails."
Sanders said in the Wednesday interview that he did not [regret his remark] and that the investigation should "proceed unimpeded."

"You get 12 seconds to say these things," the senator explained. "There's an investigation going on right now. I did not say, 'End the investigation.' That's silly."
Is it? I think many people interpreted Sanders' comment to mean that he found the investigation to be specious. Maybe he even did mean that in the moment, but has since realized that it's more useful to him to support an investigation against his competitor. If he did, no one will call him a coward or question his character for changing his mind.

And that's the whole point.

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