Why Some Feminists Won’t Back Hillary
photo from LA Times
“‘I can still be a feminist if I don’t vote for a woman’ sounds dumb,” said Stella, a 30-year old law student from Philadelphia. And yet from the moment the media realized that “Bernie Bros” had a whole bunch of lady counterparts, it’s a point that millennial females have been forced to make with some frequency. Tellingly, Stella added a few moments later, “I have socially constructed guilt about not immediately preferring Hillary.”
While she and others may have some guilt, and have been frequently called upon to defend their opinion, they certainly aren’t budging. Furthermore, they don’t feel compelled to offer much of explanation. Dozens of articles have popped up over the past few days, which express, in a number of creative ways, two basic points: 1) Women who support Bernie do so because they believe he is the better candidate and 2) women find it offensive to be told they must vote based on gender.
Nothing too groundbreaking on the surface here, in my opinion. Yet something is making this topic intriguing enough to be the clickbait du jour. The answer may lie in taking a closer look at the real reasons people like Bernie and don’t like Hillary. We have trouble talking about those reasons, because at the end of the day, they’re emotional, and emotion in arguments leads to hostility.
Bernie’s followers have been accused of being naive and stupid. Most Hillary supporters started their challenge against Bernie by pointing out his lack of experience, or lack of any real plan. What they failed to see is those arguments will never persuade Bernie’s followers, because they already know. “I don’t think electing Bernie will cause immediate change in our paradigm,” explained Liz Koehler, 28. “I do think it will set the table for people to feel empowered once again to take more action on a local level, where we have true potential to make big changes in our immediate environment.”
I personally found this statement from Koehler moving and compelling, because it defines the difference between ideology and idealism. There are plenty of reasons to support a politician, and whether or not you agree, philosophy is a valid one. Initially, the argument from the Hillary camp was that it was more important vote for a leader based on what they could do than what they represent. But Bernie’s camp isn’t buying that. What Bernie represents is exactly what they need. Inspiration is what they need. Facts, plans and details will not be what persuade this demographic.
Enter feminism. Once it became clear that young voters craved ideology and innovation, Hillary’s supporters tried to manufacture one. She needed something more ideological because Sanders’ campaign is so intensely aspirational and rooted in symbolism. If voters were willing to vote based on what a leader represents, why not position Hillary’s gender as a representation of what she could achieve, as well?
The intense fixation on millennial women stems from the hope that Hillary can recoup that demographic by becoming aspirational and symbolic as well – and that feminism is the way for her to do it. But not only does it pale in comparison to Bernie’s grandiose accusations against big banks and erroneous wars, it also doesn’t really suit her.
The irony of the whole thing is that Hillary probably would agree that people shouldn’t vote based on gender. In my humble opinion, Hillary’s attitude seems to be the same as the one held by the women who disdain her: I did all this work so I could make up my mind and do my own thing, not so I could be seen as a woman. I don’t believe for a second that Hillary is a traditional feminist. In 2008, she was told to play down being a woman, and she lost to her more aspirational opponent Barack Obama. This time it was decided that she should play the feminist card.
Personally, I do believe she’s a brilliant person and has many strong leadership qualities. But not only does her gender alone not move the needle for millennials, the slightest indicator of insincerity is enough to send them over the edge. Leveraging an ideology as a campaign tactic is exactly what this young demographic finds most distasteful. In a battle that’s become largely about symbolism and authenticity, the very idea of a playing a card at all is the kiss of death.