“Well, it would be just as sexist to vote for Hillary because she’s a woman as it would be to vote against her because she’s a woman,” the argument goes. As Madeline Kunin, who defeated Bernie Sanders for governor of Vermont, recently wrote:
When Sanders was my opponent he focused like a laser beam on “class analysis,” in which “women’s issues” were essentially a distraction from more important issues. He urged voters not to vote for me just because I was a woman. That would be a “sexist position,” he declared.
No, it’s not. (And, now, we fortunately have a word to describe what’s happening when a privileged man, such as Mr. Sanders, deigns to explain feminism to women.)
Saying that it’s sexist to want a woman president is the same kind of thinking that says it’s racist to consider what diversity a job applicant could bring to the office, classist to select low-income college applicants to ensure a mixture of views within the entering Ivy class, too politically correct to insist that some LGBT people be on the decision-making team, selfish for disabled members to want a disabled person to help select the physical location for an event. It’s the same kind of thinking that insists that African Americans should say #alllivesmatter instead of #blacklivesmatter. When society does, in fact, treat certain groups as “less than,” it’s not wrong to acknowledge that and to want to change it. And pretending to treat everyone “equally” — i.e., ignoring the fact that some groups are discriminated against — generally, somehow, regularly results in the privileged group remaining privileged. Because they get to draw on all the advantages of their (often invisible) privilege while their opponents aren’t even allowed to point out that they’re being required to run the race wearing hobbles.
Does anyone seriously doubt that many African Americans (and quite a few of the rest of us!) wanted Barack Obama for President in part because there had never yet been an African American President and he was the first candidate to have a real shot at that? Does anyone sane seriously doubt that having an African American president has been a good thing?
Here’s a picture of just how good it’s been. ~ Picture found here.
In fact, it’s sexist NOT to admit that women have, for the entire history of this country, been excluded from the halls of power and that having a woman’s point of view in the Oval Office would be a good thing. And, as Governor Kunin recently wrote:
Living in a woman’s body makes the world look different on some – though far from all – issues.
As a new legislator, my first bill introduced in the Vermont House was to increase funding for childcare. I had young children and I knew that finding childcare determined whether or not I could leave my house and come to the capital, Montpelier. And I knew, that for poor women, childcare determined whether they could go to work and support their children. As governor, I saw to it that childcare funding was quadrupled and funding for education doubled. Hillary Clinton’s career follows a similar trajectory. Education reform was her priority as the governor’s wife in Arkansas. A bill to cover children’s health insurance (CHIP) was her achievement as a New York senator. “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights” was the message she sent to every country she visited as secretary of state. Yes, Hillary has been around, she’s been a determined, consistent fighter for children’s welfare and women’s rights. It’s part of her DNA.
She was drawn to these women’s issues – now urgent economic issues – in the same way that I was, by our experiences as working women, wives, and mothers. A number of men will protest: “I believe the same thing as she does.”
What’s the difference? The difference is how do they rank on the agenda. Is equal pay near the bottom of the list, or is it a priority? Is defense of Planned Parenthood an issue that saves women’s lives, or is it only another institution among many? Placement on a competitive agenda is vital to achieve results. I believe that Hillary Clinton will give high priority to equal pay for equal work, not because she has experienced discrimination herself, but as a woman, she can empathize with women who have been discriminated against. It is a kind of empathy that allows no definition, but I felt it every time I made eye contact with the women I met along the parade route or on the factory floor.
When President Obama proposed now-Justice Sandra Sotamayor for the Supreme Court, Republicans complained that she would adjudicate based upon her experience as a Latina woman. (The inherent, invisible, and privileged notion underlying that criticism is that well-to-do white men somehow don’t adjudicate based upon their experiences as, well, well-to-do white men. Of course they do. It’s just that, as a member of the privileged group, they get to believe that their judgements are objective while everyone else’s judgements are colored by their sex, class, race, etc.) And, of course, to some extent, she does adjudicate based upon her background and life experiences. So does everyone. Which is what makes it important to have people from a variety of backgrounds making decisions, rather than having nine white men constitute the Supreme Court.
Of course, there are a number of reasons to vote for Mr. Sanders and there are reasons other than Ms. Clinton’s gender to vote for her. As Washington Witchdoctor Caroline Kenner recently stated:
My top reason for supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton for president is that she already knows how to work the system better than any chief executive we’ve ever elected. Mrs. Clinton has been serving in Washington since the Watergate trials in the early 1970s. There is nothing about the federal budget, no aspect of foreign relations, that is mysterious to her. She is a wonk’s wonk, someone who knows how to work the system quid pro quo.
And Mrs. Clinton is remorselessly practical. She know what is achievable in this distressingly polarized political climate. Her feet are always on the ground but her heart is truly progressive, informed by her deep allegiance to social justice stemming from Methodist spirituality.