There’s a representational hygiene to liberal feminism. It’s polishing the silverware at the bossman’s table till you can see your face in it. It’s an umbrella-shaped “M” for “Maggie” keeping us safe and dry as Mrs Thatcher takes us to the cleaners. Blair’s Babes signing up to bomb Iraq. Box ticked, quota met; job done.
Meet Hillary. Her well-funded super PAC are perfectly correct in claiming that the Democrats and the US are “ready” for her: its current institutions all have ready-made Hillary-shaped crevices where they can slot her in without incident. Uncle Sam becomes Auntie Same. His hands are still up, only now we can’t see them.
Clinton offers a female-fronted version of the same old parliamentary politics. Whether you want that is a matter of ideological preference, but we should at least agree not to pretend that her leadership would be anything other than business as usual. Relative to the Democrats, she is revanchist if anything, vowing to recover US national pride by taking two military-imperialist steps forward from Obama’s half-a-step back.
Let’s have a bit of background before we put HRC up on the dissecting table. By “liberal feminism”, I mean the pursuit of what Hillary calls “equal rights”. This holds that the state should be worked within as currently formulated to get non-men a fifty per cent share of the spoils. (I simplify not because I don’t think there’s more to liberal feminism than that, but for brevity.)
Most feminist objections to Hillary come from radical or postmodern perspectives and revolve around the idea that a) the state needs to go, or at least be substantially Nip/Tucked, and b) other oppressions affect experiences of misogyny and are overlooked by liberal feminism’s elision of racism, classism, transphobia, queerphobia, ableism, and many marginalisations besides. Remember that fifty-three per cent of young women backed Obama over Clinton by the end of her first adventure in primary-land.
But the problem with trying to divide feminism into “waves” is also the problem with pinning down a “feminist” reaction to Hillary: not all feminists think the same. Pundits who wonder whether Hillary has the “feminist vote” are adorably naive. Lots of “millennnial feminists” (quoth the Daily Beast) love Hill Rod Clint; lots of us can’t stand her. Here are five unexhaustive reasons I’m not taken with her.
First: She’s a hawk if ever there was one. As Senator she was a diehard fan of the 2003 invasion of Iraq; she has since responded with lukewarm backpedalling and no apology. Former Defence Secretary Robert Gates – a Bush-appointed Republican – observes in his memoir that she took a harder line than he did on Afghanistan, Libya, and the bin Laden raid. Her State Department was incredibly helpful in enabling Obama’s expansion of lethal drone strikes. Pakistani nine-year-old Nabila Rehman came before Congress in 2013 and drew them a picture of the strike that killed her grandmother; deplorably ungrateful for Hillary’s impassioned pursuit of gender equality, she omitted to crayon in the words “Girl Power!” to mark it as a feminist bombing.
Second: Her engagement with Black Lives Matter is shoddy, and that is putting it politely. In an interview with fellow state-hugging liberalista Lena Dunham, Hillary had this old chestnut to offer: “They have to respect the police, and the police have to respect the community.” Spitting on Sandra Bland’s grave by calling her death a “not respecting the cops” problem is, shall we say, unpersuasive.
Third: She votes with the flow. Her last-minute go-ahead on same-sex marriage is the stuff of infamy. State monogamy isn’t necessarily a good thing, but it is in Hillary’s eyes; it is therefore pretty damning that she didn’t want queers to have it until the umpteenth hour of political expediency. As with Iraq, she has never apologised for her previous stance, this time offering up a bromidic little concession that she has now “evolved”. Evolve faster next time, hun. Isn’t “ready” what you’re meant to be all about
Fourth: While we should be careful about branding HRC as an unreconstructed she-Bill, she was instrumental in getting his 1990s welfare-slashing passed – later bragging about it in her 2003 memoir – and in marshalling congressional support for crime legislation that expanded incarceration and the death penalty and kicked the drug war up several notches.
Fifth: Look at the company she keeps. The Human Rights Campaign – those respectability-politicking media darlings – heart the Hill. Goldman Sachs gave her over $600,000 in speaking fees in one year. Walmart have been loyal donors since she served on their board, where she ignored the struggles of their labour unions and made no comment when the company was later the target of the largest gender discrimination suit in history. Anyone opposed to such entities should ask what it is about Hillary’s politics that gets them so excited.
Lots of Hillary criticisms are gendered. Take the furore last October when fellow primary candidate Bernie Sanders accused her of “shouting” about the need for gun control, then papered over charges of invoking shrill-irrational-woman rhetoric by saying he didn’t intend it. (I love that one. Someone drops a concrete block on your foot: “Didn’t intend it, so no harm done.”)
Even if there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling a woman that her shouty invective won’t get her anywhere, “Could activists be a bit more reasonable about all these bullets going into all these children’s heads?” is a condescension richly bullioned by the reasonable/emotional, male/female binary opposition. I’m fond of Bern, but “shouting about gun control” was a lemon of a comment and a lemon of a response.
More to the point, though, why should sexist criticism nudge me into the Hillary camp? A lot of criticism of Carly Fiorina, too, is sexist. Lucinda Creighton. Theresa May. Maggie Thatcher. How far right do we have to go before liberals give up the notion that experiencing misogyny allows you to represent people who don’t share your politics?
When individual criticisms of Hillary are sexist, they should be called out in no uncertain terms; I have no time for the left’s habit of labelling people who bring up sexism as censorious solidarity-ruiners. But beating down sexists is more effective when you don’t peg it to supporting Hillary. It means you discuss sexism on a structural level rather than selectively deploying identity politics to get a neocon-in-disguise into the Oval Office so she can cut welfare for single mothers.
Pulling a Maggie is not just compatible with non-male representation in a capitalist democracy. It is inevitable. This is so because partisan politics is a hamster-wheel that spins in order to a) validate false choice as the only choice, and b) divert our gaze from the bullseye of all parliamentary governance: protecting the private property of the capitalist class. Again, whether you want that protection to happen is a question of ideological sympathy; that it does happen is undeniable. Even the US “libertarian” right agree with me here: their position is often that the state is ill-equipped to do anything but protect property.
You can shake up the aesthetics of candidacy if you want, but by the time Ready-For-Tweedledum has gotten elected, she has convinced voters that she will do whatever Tweedledee had done before; mainstream candidates must appear make themselves seem like viable custodians of the state as-is, and that means keeping the status quo freshly validated and in good repair. Often, Ready-For-Tweedledum takes pride in going further than the male alternative – Maggie-ing at its finest. So yes, you get non-male leaders. Leaders of? Well, let’s leave unsexy prepositions (and unsexy propositions) for another day.
Emma Goldman, Edwardian anarchist par excellence, saw this one coming. In her 1917 essay on women’s suffrage, she writes: “[I]t is a fact to those who know the real political conditions in Australia, that politics have gagged labor by enacting the most stringent labor laws, making strikes without the sanction of an arbitration committee a crime equal to treason. Not for a moment do I mean to imply that woman suffrage is responsible for this state of affairs. I do mean, however, that there is no reason to point to Australia as a wonder-worker of woman’s accomplishment, since her influence has been unable to free labour from the thralldom of political bossism.”
To sharpen a concept I have been implicitly relying on: I think capitalism is intrinsically unfeminist. (Here, too, I’m showing up to the party ninety-nine years after Emma said it better.) Substantiating this is probably another article’s work, but in brief: men primarily own and control the major means of production, perform the high-level production tasks and receive the greatest share of surplus production. Individual non-men can start rich or get rich, but they do so by joining an elite core whose activities remain unchanged.
It is impossible for everyone to be a capitalist (again, many on the right would agree – see every Telegraph thinkpiece on why inequality is a natural result of capitalism). This screws all non-capitalists, but especially women and non-binary people: they are the poorest within the poorest. And even if they did successfully colonise the capitalist class, it only has so many vacancies: there are always going to be a lot more non-males left outside.
A common right-wing response is that a rising tide lifts all boats, even if they are at different levels – but our current level of production is depleting and flooding the Global South, making it dubious how sustainably we can step it up. The answer does not lie in producing more things; we cannot do that without destroying the planet. We have to divvy up the things we’ve got more evenly.
This is why I find questions like “Why does Jennifer Lawrence earn fewer millions than her male co-stars?” rather uninteresting: the morally salient thing, to me at least, is that someone else is surviving on minimum wage by cleaning both of their trailers, and someone else again is working in a sweatshop to make the only clothes the cleaner can afford to buy, and this will never change for as long as we protect the interests of the capitalists benefiting from their labour.
But you don’t even need to agree with me on the limits of liberal statist capitalism to think Hillary would be bad for feminism. It is sufficient to note her militarism (dead people tend to have a hard time Leaning In), her corporate bedfellows (Walmart are sexist by liberal standards), her consistent disregard for black lives (again, not something even the most centrist of liberals should support), her welfare-gutting (same, or at least not on the scale involved here), her carcerality (same), her droning (same).
There is long-standing socialist debate on whether taking part in sham-elections can ever be justified by practical gains, and on whether those gains are outweighed by the risk of our organising losing its fangs and abandoning direct action. I tend towards the latter view, but a little intellectual generosity is only appropriate when human lives depend on the outcome of US politicians’ disagreements over exactly how miserly welfare policies should be, exactly how many black people to incarcerate, exactly how many drones to send hovering over Yemen and Pakistan and Somalia and Afghanistan.
For that reason, I wouldn’t judge anyone who held their nose and checked Hillary’s box if the Democrats selected her. I would categorise it, though, as damage-limitation. Her policies are better than Trump’s, but nothing to write home about. It is worth considering, too, that you take the sanitising hit of politics seeming, like, so super gender-equal now, guys.
The idea of women as purifying agents is nothing new. Now we gatekeep the state itself: nothing enters, nothing leaves.