Whether you’re hoping to see Hillary Clinton march gender equality right into the Oval Office, or you’re waiting for Bernie Sanders to lead us into the post-capitalism future of your dreams, there is one undeniable fact about this election cycle: Hillary Clinton is the target of a lot of misogyny. From the predictable jabs your drunk uncle makes at the family reunion–”She’ll get the P.M.S. and invade Russia and then we’ll all get nuked!”–to the media’s insistence on running only photos with the harshest lighting in an effort to point out that, yes, she has indeed aged much in the way human women tend to do, we’re making damned sure that for every step Sanders takes, Clinton must take two.
Are we on the same ground here? We’re all in agreement that there is, indeed, a gender bias working against Clinton? Okay, good. And Courtney Enlow agrees with that, too. She even wrote a think piece about it: An All-Caps Explosion of Feelings Regarding The Liberal Backlash Against Hillary Clinton. In it, Enlow points out the frustration many women feel about the current campaign. While Donald Trump’s loud, rude, and obnoxious schtick is charming to some (probably equally loud, rude, and obnoxious) voters, it would be a turn-off coming from Clinton. While Sanders can take the stage in an ill-fitting suit, wild hair, and a scowl, Clinton could be fresh out of that Stepford Wives machine and still be criticized for showing too much toe-cleavage, or not enough toe-cleavage, or whatever could possibly be used to detract from her physical appearance and turn our minds away from her as a politician. Enlow is absolutely right, there is a double standard at work that means Clinton must take great pains to appear calm, rational, and mildly appealing.
Enlow stated at the outset of her piece that she feels this race is “very, very personal,” and I agree. I also feel that this race is very, very personal, at least where one part of Clinton’s record is concerned. It’s actually the part that Enlow is very quick to dismiss criticism of:
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. LET’S NOT PRETEND WE’VE ALL BEEN THE MOST INCLUSIVE PROGRESSIVE SUPER-COOL PEEPS FOR LIKE A THOUSAND YEARS NOW. PROGRESSIVE MEANS JUST THAT–PROGRESS. SHIT THAT WAS A BIG GODDAMN DEAL AT THE TIME IS NOT COOL NOW. PROGRESS. IT’S FUCKING SWELL.
The problem with her “certain now-unacceptable policies back in the ’90s” is that they aren’t from the ’90s. See, back in 2004 (or as we apparently describe the ’00s now, the ’90s), Clinton was fine with the definition of marriage as one man, one woman, stating:
I believe that marriage is not just a bond, but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.
She called those marriages a “fundamental bed-rock principle.” At the time, she was opposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriages, but in her remarks she carefully positioned herself as not defending marriage equality, but the sanctity of the constitution as a living document. She took great pains to assure us all that she, personally, did not support same-sex marriage. In 2006, Clinton felt that marriage equality wasn’t a federal issue, and should be handled by individual states. In a 2008 Human Rights Campaign questionnaire, she reasserted her opposition to a federal decision on marriage equality, once again saying that it was a state-level decision. She also said:
I support full equality of benefits, rights, and responsibilities for individuals in
loving, stable, same sex relationships and in principle, I would like to see federal
benefits extended to same sex couples that meet certain standards. I would need to
examine the feasibility of implementing such a provision and look forward to
working in partnership with the Human Rights Campaign and others in the gay
rights community to determine the best path for realizing this goal.
Remember, in 2008 the only “certain standard” that needed to be met for a man and a woman who were married to claim spousal benefits or “responsibilities” was to be married, which Clinton opposed. She needed extra hoops to prove the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, but only after she decided wether those hoops were feasible. This system of hoops appears to be so complex that it would have to be assembled by committee.
It’s been a long time since 19902008, though. People grow, and people change. But usually when they do it, they can pinpoint a reason or reasons why their thinking changed, and admit that they were wrong. In 2014, Clinton sat for an interview with Terry Gross on NPR. Clinton was candid when it came time to scrutinize her vote in favor of the Iraq war, saying that she was wrong, and explaining that she didn’t want to voice that for fear of dishonoring the soldiers on the ground in the conflict, soldiers she had helped put there. When it came time to talk about marriage equality, however, she stumbled. While she easily accepted responsibility for the lives impacted by her Iraq war vote and offered reasons why she did not publicize her conversion, she could neither admit that she was wrong on marriage equality, nor explain why her views had “evolved.” That word came up a lot. Usually, we see “evolved” used as part of an explanation (“the giraffe’s long neck evolved from a need to reach leaves on higher branches”), rather than an entire explanation. But Clinton has none, and that her evolution seemed to take place conveniently in time for her next presidential run has left some members of the LGBTQA+ community (myself included) skeptical as to her sincerity. That doubt was certainly not dismissed by her campaign’s celebration when individual states’ same-sex marriage bans were overturned by the Supreme Court:
There was no acknowledgement that her political position seven years earlier was the position that the Supreme Court had just struck down. Just a quick jump to pride, as though she’d been there for the fight all along, when in 2014 she described her “evolution” to Terry Gross as something akin to being caught in a riptide and simply embracing the inevitability of being swept out to sea.
Enlow goes on to say:
AND IF YOU COME AT ME FOR EVEN ONE GODDAMN SECOND WITH A “YOU JUST LIKE HER BECAUSE SHE’S A WOMAN” I WILL DESTROY YOU WHERE YOU STAND. I LIKE HER! I LIKE HER POLICIES, I LIKE HER PLANS, I LIKE WHAT SHE STANDS FOR, I LIKE THAT SHE’S GROWN AND EVOLVED AS A HUMAN AND POLITICIAN! I LIKE THAT SHE WAS FOR MANY OF US MY AGE ONE OF OUR FIRST ROLE MODELS OF A SMART, PROFESSIONAL, KICKASS WOMAN AND THAT SHE ISN’T AFRAID OF THE WORD “FEMINIST” AND I’M SICK OF HAVING TO APOLOGIZE FOR LIKING HER, FOR HAVING TO QUALIFY AND SEE YOUR SIDE AND RESPECT YOUR OPINION WHEN I FUCKING DON’T AND YOU FUCKING DON’T RIGHT BACK. I LIKE HER!
AND MOST OF YOU LIKE HER POLICIES AND PLANS TOO BECAUSE A) THEY’RE BASICALLY FUCKING OBAMA AND B) THEY’RE NOT THAT FUCKING DIFFERENT THAN FUCKING BERNIE.
I sympathized with the first sentence so much. I, too, am tired of being told that my choice in this race comes down to Hillary’s gender. Women are being pushed into either defending their choice to vote for Hillary or defending their choice to not vote for Hillary. It’s about one thing, and one thing only, from both anti- and pro-Clinton voters, and that thing is feminism. So I understand Enlow’s frustration there. What I don’t understand is her framing of how we should exercise our choice as voters. Clinton and Sanders are very similar in policy on the big issues, that’s true. But Enlow seems to be asking us why, if the two candidates are so similar, aren’t we choosing the one who is a woman?
Well, for me, and for some other LGBTQA+ folk out there, our question is why, if the two candidates are so similar, should we choose the one who spent two decades reminding us that we’re second class citizens and striving, unapologetically, to make that a reality? Why, if the two candidates are so similar, would we choose the one who can’t account for her evolution of feeling toward marriage equality, but very much insists it has nothing to do with politics?
IT IS ABSOLUTELY GUT WRENCHING THAT THIS BADASS, IMPORTANT WOMAN HAS BEEN DIMINSHED AND WRITTEN OFF AND HATED HER WHOLE CAREER, HER WHOLE EXISTENCE AS A PUBLIC FIGURE.
Hillary Clinton has absolutely faced an uphill battle through an endless landslide of sexist bullshit, and the battle isn’t over. But Hillary Clinton is a rich, straight, white, cis woman battling through a landslide on a mountain that isn’t even on the map for anyone who isn’t rich, straight, white, and cis. For all that Enlow insists that Hillary has been forced to “play the game” because no other options were available, she overlooks the myriad privileges Clinton started out with, and the advantages she gained through policies she publicly supported (some of which were signed into law by her husband). Policies that made damn good and sure that people who aren’t rich, straight, white and cis had a much steeper hill to climb, with a landslide four times larger than the one she faces now.
The choice of Enlow and other women to unapologetically ignore that reality is theirs; I certainly don’t have the energy to stop them. And Enlow’s piece is not an outlier. Since the beginning of this race there has been a simmering antagonism on feminist social media that slyly insinuates, but stops short of outright declaring, that votes for Sanders are votes against all womankind. Those of us who aren’t voting for Clinton are naturally feeling belittled, silenced, and patronized by that discourse. If Enlow and other feminists want us to believe that their votes are not swayed solely by the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman, then they must extend that same courtesy to women who don’t support her. It’s not some weird cocktail of internalized misogyny, lust for free stuff, and total political ignorance that’s making some of us turn away from Clinton. It’s Clinton herself.