An article has been making the rounds that shares a self-described “all-caps explosion of feelings” about the how the left has failed to support Hillary Clinton’s run for president. Amid important points about how Clinton criticism can often be sexist and Clinton’s gender makes her presidential campaign all the more challenging, there’s a troubling refrain: We all make mistakes. Give Hillary Clinton a break. She’s the first woman doing what she’s doing and feminists should recognize that.
“YOU DON’T LIKE THAT SHE HAD CERTAIN NOW-UNACCEPTABLE POLICIES BACK IN THE ’90S? HEY, I GET THAT THAT SHIT SEEMS LIKE LAST WEEK, BUT IT WAS ANOTHER GODDAMN WORLD ENTIRELY. I GET THAT WE ALL THINK WE’RE THE UNIVERSE’S BESTEST HUMANS BUT MOST OF THIS COUNTRY JUST LEARNED TRANS PEOPLE EXIST, LIKE, YESTERDAY.”
Setting aside the bizarre assumption that the author’s readers are cis, white, able-bodied, and in all ways personally unaffected by Clinton’s “now-unacceptable” policies, there’s a deeper theme here. It’s not a new idea, either. It’s the foundation of white feminism. The advancement of women—always women already in power, women with privilege—is more important than any other struggle, so pipe down with your other causes and support women even as they step on the shoulders of more vulnerable groups to get where they’re going. You see it with every oppression “middle man”: white queers who don’t want Black Lives Matter protests ruining their Pride parade; TERFs who think their experience of misogyny gives them a license to attack trans women; middle-class racists who claim white privilege doesn’t exist because they “never asked for anything.” They’re the Bill Lumberghs of social justice: pathetic, impotent middle management getting off on lording it over a more disadvantaged group than themselves.
Is Hillary the literal worst? Of course not. But her politics should give feminists pause—as women of color have been pointing out since the 2008 Clinton/Obama rivalry. Here are just a few examples.
She’s supported the school-to-prison pipeline and the War on Drugs.
It’s well documented that the prison industrial complex swelled under Bill Clinton’s administration. Was Hillary secretly plotting to subvert it? Not likely—she’s made her active role as First Lady a key talking point in her “experience”-focused bid, and private prison lobbying groups are lining her pockets during her current campaign (as are Exxon Mobil and Texas pipeline company Cheniere). She’s even reluctant to take a stand against the death penalty, one of the most sobering icons of racial bias in the American justice system.
She’s among the most right-wing Democrats when it comes to war in the Middle East.
Supporting the United States’ illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 (vowing that “those terrorists” would “feel the wrath” of the U.S.) wasn’t the last time Clinton showed her hawkish side. As Senator she opposed any restrictions on U.S. arms transfers and police training to governments that charged with human rights violations. She pushed to veto a 2011 UN security council resolution calling for a settlement freeze in Israel and attempted to block any action resulting from a 2009 UN fact-finding report documenting war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. In a 2014 interview with The Atlantic, she waved off the topic of war crimes blithely: “It’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.”
The experience of sexism alone should not earn anyone automatic support.
Ann Coulter has experienced sexism, but I don’t want her in the White House. It is possible to condemn gendered criticisms of Hillary Clinton and her supporters while also opposing her as a presidential candidate. Will Hillary Clinton be held to a higher standard of excellence (among other things) because she’s a woman? Of course. But telling her good-faith critics to sit down and shut up in the name of feminism isn’t solving that problem.
I will never ask another person to suck it up and take one for the team in the name of feminism by voting against their interests. If that makes me a bad feminist, so be it—I hear there’s a book about us.