‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other’ says Madeleine Albright, former American politician and the first woman to serve as the US Secretary of State. Normally I’d agree with her; in a culture which delights in turning women against each other a show of sisterly solidarity can be a revolutionary act. But this time I’m not so sure. Albright was repeating her famous phrase at a rally for Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democrat nomination where, alongside feminist icon Gloria Steinem, she berated young women for abandoning Clinton in support of her opponent, Bernie Sanders.
I might not be able to vote in the American presidential election, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been as intrigued by the race between Clinton and Sanders as I was by the Labour leadership contest, which I had equally little say in. Before Sanders decided to run I’d have found it hard to imagine that I would be supporting any candidate but Clinton; if we’re not having a female prime minister anytime soon, why don’t we have a female president whilst we wait for one to pop along? But the emergence of Sanders has forced me to look properly at Clinton’s policies and consider what it is – besides supposed sisterhood – that she stands for.
I applaud Clinton’s support for Planned Parenthood, her plan to increase transparency about gender pay gaps and her desire to confront violence against women; but I see all of those policies in Sanders’ manifesto too. The difference is that he goes further than that. Clinton may be progressive about gender, but in other areas she simply represents more of the same.
Sanders’ manifesto repeatedly promises to remove the corrupt influences of moneyed powers from American life, as we would expect from a self-proclaimed socialist. Clinton may say she wants to clean up Wall Street but that she supported the controversial Keystone Pipeline until very recently suggests she is willing to support big business until public scrutiny forces a change in position.
Politics is often criticised as being ‘male, pale and stale’, but whilst Sanders may fulfil the former two criteria as much as all but one of America’s previous presidents, he certainly isn’t ‘stale’. The system change his election would bring is as crucial to female empowerment as the inspirational figurehead of a female president would be. Women won’t reach the top in a society which depends upon oppressing the 99%.
I really want to love Hilary Clinton as a candidate, to be able to whole-heartedly support her. I want her campaign to fill me with the same zeal that Tina Fey’s SNL sketch about her last presidential campaign inspires in me. But there’s no point in having a female president if the country she leads is as undemocratic and blindly profit driven as it is today. Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall may have been our county’s best hope at putting a woman in 10 Downing Street, that didn’t mean I wanted them to triumph over Jeremy Corbyn, whose policies I actually support.
When Albright and Steinem claim supporting Clinton will empower women they are not questioning the intersectional factors outside of gender which prevent us achieving gender equality. They may be veterans of the Women’s Liberation Movement, but that doesn’t give them the right to tell young women who to vote for and what is, or isn’t, a feminist act.
They aren’t the gatekeepers of feminism and to assume they understand the experience and mind-set of a very different generation, with very different lived experiences, seems more than presumptuous. Clinton might have a “woman problem”, but policy change – not intergenerational name-calling – is the way to solve it.
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