Being a woman is just not enough anymore to choose who gets the chance to steer a powerful country writes Bushra Ahmed
With its furious debates, patriotic hyperboles and glitzy campaign drama, nothing is more exciting than an American election. While Trump tends to grab headlines with his jingoistic speeches, it is the battle between the two heavyweights, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that makes this election particularly interesting. Sanders, a 74-year-old, left-leaning politician with his honest, fiery speeches talks to the youth about change. While Clinton, one half of a power couple that has been in American politics for a long time, seems to have everything going for her—except perhaps that she is a woman.
It isn’t easy being a woman in power corridors ruled by men. See the famous Situation room photograph from 2011 for instance, which has Clinton sitting amongst a bevy of men, witnessing an incident that will turn history in another direction. The only other woman in the picture, Audrey Tomason, Director for Counterterrorism for the National Security Council, is peeping way behind, and was only brought to attention later after the public pondered over the ‘mystery woman’ in the frame.
So naturally, as a woman and a self-identifying feminist, I should be cheering on Clinton along with all women around the world. For many, Clinton bagging arguably the most powerful post in the world will go just beyond shattering the glass ceiling. It will be historic. After all, 80 countries in the world have elected women presidents, and the US is yet to join the list. It’s obviously a giant step for feminism and one of Hillary’s biggest strengths as a candidate. Unfortunately, it is also turning out to be her biggest fallacy.
That the Sanders-Clinton race has divided women across is evident in the reactions from different quarters, many unexpected. Gloria Steinem recently threw a sharp dagger into the crowd when she said the reason young women are voting for Sanders was because the “boys are there”. By now Steinem, a bastion of feminist thought, seems to have steeped herself into a one-shoe-fits-all brand of feminism, which makes this statement of hers startling, but not surprising. Add to this, Madeline Albright’s, former Secretary of State, vocal support for Clinton, which essentially relegated any woman who does not support Clinton to a ‘special place in hell’. Ironically, if this was a roundabout way for both Steinem and Albright to steer and garner more female votes towards Clinton, it was a fail to say the least.
It is no surprise then that Hillary hasn’t really inspired as she was expected to. Sanders on the other hand has had young women flocking to him. Most interestingly, younger women seem to believe him in more than they do in Hillary, who belongs to a generation of older women whose battles seem lost to the millennials. And their version of feminism too basic. The average college-educated audience today relate to a more complex form of feminism that is more inclusive, leaves room for debate and is not so black and white. Events where young women are ridiculed or called out for their political choices reinforce to them why Sanders and not Hillary might just be their hero.
The ridicule of women supporting Sanders does not stop here. Despite giving a fantastic speech at a Sanders campaign trail, Emily Ratajkowski, actor and model was told that her job was not to campaign, but to look just pretty. All Ratajkowski said was that she wanted her first female president to be more than a symbol, she wanted her to have politics that can revolutionize. All this vilifying amongst women, brings me to the question that begs to be answered. Am I a bad feminist then if I support Sanders and not Clinton? And Sanders identifies as a feminist, so what stops? To start with, perhaps the biggest challenge remains in relegating feminism to being a unitary identity that cannot translate into multi-faceted ideology. While one can identify to be a feminist, the rhetoric of its ideology needs to move beyond older conceptions of gender.
Clinton stands for a liberal corporate brand of feminism, while Sanders is squarely a democratic socialist. Simply put, being a woman is just not enough anymore to choose who gets the chance to steer a country. It is about what the brand of ideology (in this case feminism) one follows. Questions of race, gender politics, worker’s rights, neo-liberal machinery, identity, immigration, have to be stitched into the feminism narrative. In a world that is faced with too many questions, feminism itself needs to move in its next wave, one that is much more nuanced and attempts at bringing change in a much bigger way.
To put it rather baldly, Clinton is white, educated at the exclusive Wellesley and Yale, straight, and belongs to an old political dynasty who are all extremely well-off financially. Can she understand the issues the disfranchised face in reality; outside what her expert campaign speech writers shoot off for her speeches?
Many refer to Clinton’s long career, making her an expert diplomat equipped to handle the US political stage. But do I want a leader who wants to bring change while very firmly staying within the same game Or is it perhaps time to get someone who hints at a change much bigger, someone who works on the ‘outside. Moreover, a powerful rhetoric like feminism cannot simply just stand on singular stilts of gender identity.
In times like these, we as feminists need to create new narratives through our choices. In this case, it is a man who lends a glimpse into a fresh, radical future. And nothing is more regressive than the idea to vote for someone based on their gender alone. That, definitely is not feminism.