Image: Raffi Asdourian
I would slather myself in honey and wander into a bear cave before casting a vote for Carly Fiorina — but a pro-woman woman president would be valuable.
Like most good controversies, it all started with my desire to kiss Ryan Gosling on the lips.
On November 12, Ryan Gosling tweeted a Bernie Sanders video and said the following: “For my birthday...could you do me a solid and pass this around?”
Purely for my own amusement, I replied to his comment, “I understand you feeling the Bern, but I’m a Hillary girl. We can still make out though, right?”
The tweet was dumb, sure, but relatively innocuous. Like most non-famous people, the majority of my tweets go unnoticed, so I was surprised when someone responded immediately with, “Why? Bernie is legit, HRC is bought and paid for.” I hadn’t really meant to dive into a political discussion, but I answered honestly: “She has the experience, esp in foreign issues, & I want a woman* president. Plus, she can win.”
There’s no way I could sum up why I’m a Hillary supporter in 140 characters, but I had given it a solid try. I really do understand why Gosling (who has since said that he hasn’t endorsed anyone, that he was just sharing a video) or anyone else might be such fervent Sanders supporters — in almost any other year, I’d be right there with them. There are lots of valid reasons to prefer Sanders over Clinton. I understand the problems people have with Clinton and Sanders offers an especially stark contrast to those issues. I tried to explain this to my new Twitter pals, but their vitriolic hatred of Hillary — and me, by extension — seemed to override any potential common ground:
“you are what is wrong with the US,”
“you are irresponsible and anti-feminist”
“this is the definition of sexism”
this is the “opposite of feminism”
Over the next 48 hours, my Twitter notifications multiplied exponentially. It was clear I had touched a nerve — one that had nothing, and everything, to do with Hillary Clinton.
Specifically, under attack was the notion that Clinton’s gender would have anything to do with my support for her (which, of course, it does). While my interlocutors didn’t seem to distinguish between “part of my support is because I want a woman president” and “I support Hillary exclusively because she’s a woman,” they were right about one thing: I do not pretend to be gender-blind when I’m assessing our presidential candidates.
That people found any reference to Hillary’s gender “sexist” wasn’t surprising. For many (usually those in a privileged class), equality amounts to the perceived erasure of differences — the old “I don’t see color, I just see people” fallacy. In my experience, this perspective tends to come with a more politically conservative view. It’s the “bootstraps” notion: That two people, regardless of race, gender, and socioeconomic status will be able to achieve the same status as long as they work exactly as hard as each other.
But these critics were from, more or less, my own “side.” This wasn’t Donald Trump equating someone making fun of his hair with his reference to Carly Fiorina’s “ugly face,” these attacks were coming from progressive Bernie Sanders supporters. People who, presumably, understand that gender inequality exists in this country. Sanders certainly does. Even if they didn’t support Hillary themselves, could they see why having a woman president might be important to (some) women?
There’s a clever scene in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None that jumps back and forth between Dev and Arnold (both men) walking home from a bar and Diana (a woman) walking home alone from the same bar. The worst thing that happens to Dev on his walk home is that he steps in dog crap and ruins his sneakers. This injustice stays with him for days. On Diana’s walk home, she’s stalked by a creep who unsuccessfully hit on her at the bar and is now following her back to her apartment. She pulls out her phone, dials “9-1” of “911” with her thumb ready to hit the last digit if necessary (a move every woman I know is familiar with) and continues her walk home with the creep yelling, “Why won’t you give a good guy a chance!” at her. She rushes into her apartment and calls 911 when he won’t stop screaming and banging on her door. It’s just another night out on the town as a single woman. Meanwhile, Dev is really bummed about his sneakers.
Men and women have different experiences in this country, just as white people and people of color do, cis and trans folks do, etc. Privileged groups experience the world differently than non-privileged groups. Thus far, we have only had cis, heterosexual men in the highest elected office and, until seven years ago, all those men were white.
I won’t apologize for wanting a candidate who can understand what it’s like to be a woman in our political and social climate. Asking me to remove gender from my consideration of the candidates is asking me to deny how heavily the experience of being a woman has shaped my relationship to this country. Further, ignoring my experience does nothing to further gender equality.
The opposite of sexism isn’t gender blindness, just as the opposite of racism isn’t race blindness. Equality comes when the systems that maintain the oppression of certain groups by other groups are broken down. Supporting a woman for president in part because she is a woman is not the same thing as saying “women are inherently more qualified to be president than men.”
There is, however, value in having a woman president simply because we’ve never had one before. That’s not to say any woman candidate would be a step in the right direction — I would slather myself in honey and wander into a bear cave before casting a vote for Carly Fiorina — but a pro-woman woman president would be valuable. It’s not a radical notion. Emily’s List is a powerful, well-respected organization dedicated to the political success of pro-choice, Democratic candidates.
On Monday, Donald Trump referred to Secretary Clinton’s bathroom break during the Democratic Debate as “disgusting.” So-called “outrage” about the Republican frontrunner’s sexist, racist, xenophobic comments is as routine and impactful as a selfie on Snapchat. Sexism, racism, and xenophobia (as well as a considerably warped sense of reality) are not enough to drop him from his frontrunner status. What does this tell our children — or the world, for that matter — about our values?
A few years ago, I was at a fundraiser with my dad. The woman sitting next to me asked if I planned on attending law school, as my father had. When I said no, she shrugged and turned back to her dinner, “You’ll marry rich and go shopping all day.” She was not kidding.
There are infinite ways in which women are told that with their gender is limiting and even disgusting. This happens in the economic realm: we also still only make approximately 70 cents for every dollar a man makes, and it’s been estimated that women won’t reach parity with men in leadership roles until 2085, as well as in countless other areas of our lives.
None of this means that you or I are obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton. But in a country where Mississippi refused to ratify the 19th Amendment (allowing women to vote) until 1984, I’m not going to apologize for my vote (I’m fortunate that no one is actively trying to disenfranchise my vote. Sadly, this is not true for many).
Of course, Clinton isn’t the perfect candidate — there’s no such thing. But the reality is she’s had to be twice as many things to twice as many people as a man would to even get a place on the stage. In the brilliant Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay writes, “Even from a young age, I understood that when a girl isn’t likable, she is a problem.” Few people in the public eye know this better than Hillary Clinton, but it’s something every girl grows up understanding. Women are used feeling confined to one stereotype, from which any deviation is chastised. We are are told to always take baby steps, never leaps. “The rest of this space is not for you,” we’re told. “Not yet. Try again later.”
Hillary’s trying again. And just like last time, I will be with her every step, and every vote along the way.
P.S. The Gos never got back to me about that smooch. I know, I’m disappointed, too.
*When I say I want a woman president, what I really mean is I want a president who is not a cis male for president. However, because our only choices are cis men/women here, I’m sticking to the binary terms.