by Shaker Alison Rose, a fierce queer feminist, avid book lover, and proud cat lady who lives in the northern SF Bay Area.
[Content Note: Ageism; misogyny.]
One of the (many) things about this election that has made me want to run screaming for the hills is the very odd and imbalanced way that age has been discussed and debated, especially among the voters, and most especially among supporters of Bernie Sanders.
Here are some facts: By election day, Clinton will have just turned 69 years old; Sanders will have recently turned 75 years old; 75 is a bigger number than 69. Yes, even when we are talking about a lady and her age! It's not like figuring out how old your pet is in "human years."
And yet, one of the consistent forms of "humor" and argument from Sanders supporters is that Clinton is old, uncool, unhip, out of touch, old, pathetic, embarrassing, old, old, old.
I first realized how prevalent this thinking was when those fake "Bernie or Hillary" posters started showing up in my Tumblr feed and Twitter timelines. The meme shows official portraits of Sanders and Clinton under the headline "Bernie or Hillary? Be Informed. Compare them on the issues that matter." The image is photoshopped to have a random topic as the "issue" and below each portrait is the candidate's supposed stance on said issue.
In nearly every iteration I've seen, the "issue" is something related to pop culture, and the statement attributed to Sanders shows a deep understanding of and affinity for the topic, while Clinton's statement reads like someone who has no familiarity with it at all and is painfully trying to pretend otherwise.
Amanda Hess at Slate had an article about this meme earlier this year, pointing out how weird and juvenile it is, in addition to being sexist, if you have a shred of comprehension of what sexism is and how it works. To assume that Sanders, for example, knows all the ins and outs of the Harry Potter universe while Clinton can't even get a single Hogwarts House name correct, or that Sanders has a hipster's expertise in 90s alt rock while Clinton simply grasps for a widely-known hit radio track, is to bestow automatic coolness on an older man while assuming inherent stodginess in an older woman.
Never mind the fact that I have no idea where Sanders' fans get this idea that he is, or at least probably is, some kind of human pop-culture encyclopedia. What has he ever said or done in the past to indicate this? I imagine that both Sanders and Clinton have about equal knowledge of Beyonce, Orphan Black, or Daniel and his ever-present white Vans.
Sure, part of this is simply that they like him more, so they want to believe him to be cooler. But that liking and that belief is inextricably tied to painting her as less cool, and the way we indicate "less cool" in someone who isn't young is by making them out to be oh so very old. It would be very easy to make the same out-of-touch jokes about Sanders, if people considered his age on an equal footing with hers.
I guess another perk one gets with a "woman card" is a ten-year penalty added to your birthday.
In the 2008 Democratic primary, there was a large age gap between then-Senator Barack Obama—47 years old prior to the convention—and Clinton, who was 61. Obama was certainly the more youthful one, closer to the "young voters" demographic in many ways. While it bothered me then too to see Clinton portrayed as "too old," at least the fact of her being the much older one wasn't bullshit.
To hear Sanders' supporters (or undecided voters) talk about her age and how it makes her dorky, not relatable, fake, etc., irritates the hell out of me because it requires a willful ignorance of reality, and again, a greater leniency shown to the man than to the woman. It's okay, and even great, and even awesome, for 75-year-old Bernie to be President, to be in power, to want support, to try to connect with younger people. But when 69-year-old Hillary does the same, it's just so sad and ridiculous.
In fact, age as a disqualifying factor seems to have only been used against Clinton, even though both Sanders and Donald Trump, who will turn 70 next month, are both older than she is. Many of these same voters were also eager for Vice-President Joe Biden to enter the race, Biden who will turn 74 just after the election. I could point out that cis men have shorter average life expectancies than cis women, but I guess that would make me a misandrist. Ahem.
It's also interesting (and by "interesting" I mean "annoying as fuck") to see the enthusiastic esteem many Sanders supporters have for Senator Elizabeth Warren, their favorite defense against accusations of sexism ("I can't be SEXIST, here's a lady I have deemed acceptable!!"). Warren will be 67 years old in a few weeks. So if she's terrific and they would totally have supported her as a Presidential candidate, it strikes me as just a bit disingenuous to focus so much on Clinton being an old old lady. If a woman has to fit into your narrow mold of Good Enough, Cool Enough, Progressive Enough, in order to be allowed to age in public, then I hate to break it to you, Sparky, but you're kinda sexist.
Advanced age in a man denotes experience and wisdom; in a woman it denotes staleness and deficiency. Older men who keep going at their work are admired for their tenacity and vigor; older women who do so are sneered at for their stubbornness. The physical signs of aging in a man are at worst gently teased, and more often seen as "distinguished"; those same physical signs in a woman seem to literally disgust a large portion of society, who are angry that a woman who doesn't sexually attract them has the audacity to still place herself in their line of vision.
None of this is new, but it will always anger me to see supposed progressives gleefully engage in overt misogyny made up largely of HA HA SHE'S SO OLD jokes against the first woman to have a clear shot at the presidency. If age is a concerning topic for you, it should concern you regarding all of the candidates. If it's only her age that concerns you, that speaks louder than a thousand memes.