It is time that feminists who have supported Clinton for the right reasons step up to the plate and criticize her for unacceptable remarks and practices. The women’s movement has been deeply divided over the Clinton candidacy. Yet what started out as a legitimate disagreement about the merits of the candidates and their agendas has turned into a test of one’s feminist credentials. But the test is perverse. It is not a test of feminist principles and values. It has become a test of loyalty to Clinton, in spite of the fact that she is undermining basic feminist values.
But perhaps one shouldn’t speak of the “women’s movement.” After all, aren’t there almost as many feminisms as there are feminists? However, it is safe to assume that feminists of different stripes share at least two basic principles: 1) one’s dignity and sense of self-worth should not depend on one’s gender, and 2) opportunities for achievement should not favor one gender over another. Almost all feminists have been willing to substitute “race” and “ethnicity” for “gender” in these two statements. Almost all feminists would argue that to set the oppressed against each other is reprehensible and undermines these principles. We rise or fall together. Isn’t this what feminists have believed? Further, means are inextricably linked with ends. You can’t promote human dignity by undermining it in your practices.
Clinton’s recent comments and strategy have wrenched means from ends. In her quest for the presidency, and now perhaps the vice presidency (or who knows what else), she has behaved as if she is willing to see divisions widen between races and classes. Here is Hillary’s recent comment in USA Today on the topic of white workers.
“There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Obama’s support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
This was not an accidental throwaway comment. (And Clinton can’t hide behind the fact that she is “citing” an AP story. One is responsible for the news stories that one cites.) Numerous times during this race the Clinton campaign has attempted to make Obama the Black Candidate. What is so extraordinary about this recent statement is just how matter of fact it is. But suppose the positions were reversed. Suppose Obama was losing. Suppose Obama decided that he had to devise a “black strategy” in order to deny Clinton the nomination or gain leverage. Suppose Obama had said,
“There was just an AP article posted that found how Senator Clinton’s support among working, hardworking Americans, black Americans, is weakening again, and how the, you know, blacks in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”
Think of the implications. Obama would surely be viewed as playing the race card or perhaps the race deck. At minimum Hillary supporters would view Obama’s version of the statement as fostering a divide between white women and blacks, for patently selfish ends. Further, it would be viewed as creating rifts in the Democratic Party that make winning in November more difficult, thereby undermining feminism, because the Republicans will not be good for women’s issues.
Why aren’t Hillary’s feminist supporters taking her to task for these comments? We have heard some criticisms by Clinton supporters. But they are often softened with, “Well, she really didn’t mean it.” Nonsense on stilts. She meant it. Her campaign now depends on a strategy that the statement promotes. She wants to rack up a large white vote in West Virginia and Kentucky. She wants to be able to say that she is the candidate of white workers, especially white male workers. Anyone who doesn’t call this for what it is, is an apologist. And one reason for being an apologist is the fear of failing the Hillary loyalty/feminist test. But this is wrong. It is putting Hillary above feminism(s).
Feminists who have supported Clinton need to speak out NOW, and speak out with vigor. Feminism(s), and what it stands for, is more important than Hillary Clinton.