What I’m about to write isn’t a criticism of Senator Sanders, although some of his more ardent defenders may take it that way. What I am about to write is an examination of privilege and how it works, often invisibly, to give men advantages over women. If we don’t at least start to see privilege at work, we’re going to have a difficult time addressing it, which, I realize, is often exactly what the privileged want us to have.
When Secretary Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination in 2008, there was this thing that kept happening on blogs and in the media that bothered me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on just what was wrong. And, knowing as I did that I was strongly biased in her favor, I was reluctant to respond, in case my discomfort were actually with Secretary Clinton. What would happen is that either the candidate herself or, often, someone who supported her would make some statement that, especially taken out of context, could be interpreted to be racist. And she would get criticized, not just for the statement, but for running a poor campaign. What was wrong with her?!?!? Why was she listening to such shitty advisors?!?!? If she couldn’t run a better campaign, how could she run the country?!?!?! The phenemon got worse as the campaign wore on, as it became increasingly clear that she was probably going to lose the nomination, and as people whom, I believe, were looking for reasons to dislike her, seized upon what were actually pretty silly incidents.
It happened when Ms. Ferraro said that then-Senator Obama was doing as well as he was because he was a black man. It happened when Ms. Clinton said she was not going to drop out before the end of the race because we never know what could happen and it was taken as a veiled desire to see Senator Obama shot. It happened just again, recently, when, in response to a question about why Secretary Clinton doesn’t attract more young women, Gloria Steinem inartfully explained that women often become more radical feminists as they age. (For some reason, I’ve never heard anyone ask Senator Sanders or his supporters why he can’t manage to attract more old men.)
Well, fair enough. Running for president ain’t, as the saying goes, beanbag and if you screw up, you’re going to get called on it. Except that it doesn’t always work that way. I’ve been noticing over the last week or so that Senator Sanders and some of the people supporting him are now making some of the same kinds of statements that would have merited a week of yelling if Secretary Clinton had said them. And the response has been basically: crickets.
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about: After his loss in South Carolina, due, at least in large part, to his inability to win African American votes, Senator Sanders addressed an overwhelmingly white crowd in a different state and told them that they were “too smart” not to vote for him. Now, I have absolutely no doubt that Senator Sanders wasn’t trying to insult African American voters. But it’s the kind of misstep that would have brought the ceiling down on Secretary Clinton’s head. Yet, it barely merited a few snarky tweets. Similarly, the other day, a rapper named TI endorsed Senator Sanders. He said: “Not to be sexist but, I can’t vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman. Just because, every other position that exists, I think a woman could do well. But the president? It’s kinda like, I just know that women make rash decisions emotionally — they make very permanent, cemented decisions — and then later, it’s kind of like it didn’t happen, or they didn’t mean for it to happen. And I sure would hate to just set off a nuke. [Other leaders] will not be able to negotiate the right kinds of foreign policy; the world ain’t ready yet. I think you might be able to get the Loch Ness Monster elected before you could get [a woman elected].” And, again, the response was: crickets. Last night, after Super Tuesday losses due, in large part, to African American voters choosing Secretary Clinton, the Sanders campaign announced that it will focus on getting its message out in white states where it is better received. Crickets.
So I’m not criticizing Senator Sanders, nor am I justifying Secretary Clinton. What I am doing is pointing out that we have different standards and that women and men get treated differently. Every single misstep the woman makes results in boatloads of criticism. But we make excuses for the man, shrug stuff off, focus more on real issues than out-of-context slips of the tongue.
And that, mes amis, is privilege.