By now, we’ve all heard those “outrageous” comments by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright. By which, I mean, you’ve probably read some of the memes and the blog posts that are completely clogging up social media and are built around cherry-picked snippets of those comments taken completely out of context. Before we go further, can we just step back a moment and review those comments — this time, IN context.
First Gloria. I watched her live on Bill Maher, and since then I’ve played and replayed her comments. Her context — when she could get a word in edgewise from Bill Maher’s interrupting — was this. He baited her by saying, “Young women don’t like Hillary. They like Bernie.” She had just finished praising young women today for being more politically active than women were in her day. And she noted: “Gratitude never radicalized anyone. When I got politically active, it was not because women before me got me the vote. I never thanked them for giving me the vote. I got radicalized because of what was happening to ME.” In other words, she understands that every generation of women has to make their own journey for their own reasons. She continued by saying: “When you are young, you look for where the boys are. The boys are with Bernie.” She was interrupted again by Maher and never got to finish her thought. But I understand what she meant to say from following Gloria Steinem for decades and hearing her speak several times. In fact, when I first heard her live, I was also a fresh faced young feminist just graduated from college and convinced I could conquer the world. And she dressed me down a little too. It’s something she’s probably done for more generations of young women than she cares to admit. But her warning was that young women think they are in a time when the playing field is level. They think they can play with the Big Boys, so they often look to see what those boys are doing because that’s the team they think they can be on. When we are younger, she warns, we’ll find a measure of acceptance and mentors — male and female — to support us. It’s only 10, 15, 20 years down the road, when we are in a position to challenge male power, that suddenly the mentors, at least the male ones, will disappear and the glass ceiling becomes clear. It’s part of her larger theory that men tend to get conservative as they get older because they gain power, while women get radicalized as they get older and lose power — or are never allowed access to it. I’m sure that’s the road she was going down, but in the context of a one minute interview, where Bill Maher was interrupting her and mugging and making vaguely sexist comments about her hip-huggers, she wasn’t able to make the complete point.
I won’t even spend that much time on Madeleine Albright. I’m less knowledgeable about her and less admiring. But I do know that “The Special Place in Hell” line is kind of her catch-phrase. She trots it out everywhere and it always gets her a big applause line. It’s been picked up by Taylor Swift and by Starbucks cups, which surely indicates how relatively bland and meaningless it has become. But, if there is one thing I’ve learned from the absolute shit-storm of hateful rhetoric and memes and ALL CAPS SHOUTING that has funneled down my social media since I announced that Hillary was my first choice, it’s that Bernie supporters are ready to BURN THE FRICKEN HOUSE DOWN AND EVERYONE IN IT. And it doesn’t matter if you were a Progressive decades before some of the young Bernie-ites were even born, a Feminist icon, or an accomplished woman back when even more was stacked against you and you could only do what you did because you braved a coat hanger abortion. It doesn’t matter what you support or what you’ve done, if you are not HEART AND SOUL WHOLEHEARTEDLY COMPLETELY FUCKING IN WITH BERNIE you are a “sell out”, “tool of the establishment”, “hater of the poor”, “someone who condones baby killing” and “JUST A FUCKING REPUBLICAN”*.
Let’s pause a second here. Do you really want to throw all the old feminists under the bus? Really, Bernie Gals, really? (I’m not sure if I should include myself in that group because I’m decades younger than Gloria Steinem and I fully plan to live and keep agitating until I’m one hundred. So I’m still quite young.) But one thing I do know is that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And there is a hell of a lot of history embodied in old feminists. History in the form of years and years and years of working to crack that glass ceiling and get the proportional share of power that should be available to 51% of the population. Most of all, we know where all the pitfalls and barriers are, we know all the excuses for why we can’t have a full seat at the table and why it’s still okay that the average woman will earn a fraction of what a man will earn in his lifetime and why it’s still completely acceptable for a large segment of politicians to build a platform around denying us the basic right to control our own bodies.
But you know the big barrier to female parity in power? It’s that old trope of “Sure we fully support a female candidate. But it’s got to be a REALLY QUALIFIED candidate.” We’ve heard that shit for ages. Women candidates just weren’t seasoned enough or, as a Democratic operative once told a group of us who were trying to get more women into House and Senate races, “women can’t or won’t ask for the big money. And until they do, there can’t be successful female candidates.” Well, now we have a really, really qualified candidate — arguably more qualified than any other candidate on either side and certainly more qualified at this point than male candidates who eventually got into the Oval Office. And she learned the big money game. But, oh no, now that’s a big strike against her. And anyway, they counter: “I’m not voting strictly on gender and I’m certainly not sexist. Of course I’d vote for Elizabeth Warren if she ran, just not Hillary Clinton.” Well, let me tell you. If and when Elizabeth Warren runs, there will be something that she lacks. She won’t quite be as qualified as she should be, but maybe next time. Or there will be a man who wants to run and, goshdarnit, this is just too important a race to take that risk. We’ve heard this shit for ages. Because you know who would have been a kick-ass incredible President? Shirley Chisholm — who out Bernied Bernie on social agenda, small donor financing, and anti-war bona fides all before Bernie ever won his first election — and that was back in 1972. What are the odds that year after year, election cycle after election cycle since then, somehow those same excuses keep coming up? What are the odds that there really truly haven’t been any women who weren’t smart, talented and ready enough to run for President in all that time? Or that the perfect female candidate just doesn’t happen to have materialized?
Because that’s the thing, a female candidate has to be perfect. Certainly Hillary Clinton is painted by Bernie supporters as The Great Satan because she’s not perfect. Of course, it’s fine that Bernie isn’t perfect. If you point out that it seems like a double standard that Hillary can’t possibly rein in Wall Street when she gave a couple of paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, but Bernie absolutely, positively is free of the Military Industrial Complex, despite the fact that he was perfectly happy to support the Military’s $1 Trillion dollar boondoggle because it brought a nice slice of pork to Vermont. And Bernie can attend all-expense-paid high dollar donor retreats — where he sits in hot tubs with those same hedge fund people and pharmaceutical lobbyists that Hillary can’t possibly be trusted to police by virtue of once being in the same room. And Bernie supporters can gleefully share a meme of Hillary Clinton at a Goldwater rally WHEN SHE WAS SIXTEEN YEARS OLD. But Bernie’s ham-fisted attempt at a journalism think piece that included gang rape fantasies is just “something that happened 40 years ago and doesn’t even matter.”
Which is not to slam Bernie. God knows, you slam Bernie at your own peril because his supporters will hunt you down and shout you down and logic and facts and equivalencies be damned. But go ahead and be for Bernie if you truly like his policies best. Go Bernie. Go you. I’ll state again: I want Hillary, but I don’t think being for Hillary means I have to demonize Bernie. I’m surprised demonizing Hillary has to be a condition of your support of Bernie.
But if Bernie gets the nomination, he has my vote. In fact, he has more than my vote. I will give him the support that I bet none of the young rabid Bernie supporters will give him. Because, again, history. I know how this is going to go if we get President Bernie Sanders. He’ll barely make it through his first hundred days unscathed. He’ll come up against an obstructionist Republican Congress that blocks every policy he supports. He won’t deliver a New Deal in a few months. There won’t be a revolution. There will just be the aftermath of an election and all those checks and balances. Those bright shiny young Bernie supporters will turn on him like a rabid dog. They’ll call him a sell-out, they’ll say he’s betrayed their trust, they’ll fill up Facebook and other Social Media with meme after meme about what a Republican he’s turned out to be. And they’ll pout and sit out the midterm elections when he really needs them. In fact, a new shiny Progressive may try to primary him in the midterms. I don’t even have to go a decade back in history to draw precedent for this scenario. Remember Barack Obama? I remember hearing the whining and pouting and tantrums by the youth segment of his supporters (and his more Leftist supporters of all ages) less than a year into his tenure. And they certainly stayed away from the polls at the midterms. I even remember Bernie Sanders adding insult to injury by trying to primary Obama.
But you know what the old feminists will be doing? We’ll be doing the heavy lifting that Democracy and change demands. We’ll be lobbying for President Sanders’s agenda, we’ll be working to field and support state, local and Congressional candidates who will advance a Progressive agenda. We’ll fight to get redistricting reform initiatives on the ballot, to address gerrymandering which is one of the main reasons we have so many Republicans and Tea Partiers in office no matter how many Democrats show up to vote. We’ll be out on the street knocking on doors, trying to change minds and fight voter suppression one neighborhood at a time.
Because that’s what we fucking do. That’s what we’ve done for decades and decades even when we’ve been denied over and over and over again and all the goalposts were changed every year, so somehow: “Sorry gals, it’s just not your time.” And we’ll do it even though most of us probably really want Hillary Clinton. Hell, if you look at Hillary’s record with Barack Obama, she’ll probably be out in the streets as well, working her tail off to support, with fundraising and personal appearances, not only President Sanders, but every female Progressive candidate. It’s what she does. And I have the deluge of emails from her — dating back years — cajoling, begging and strong-arming me into making a donation to an embattled Progressive female candidate — even if she’s in a state 1000 miles from mine. “Because”, Hillary always warns me, “It’s just that important.”
So young Bernie supporters — especially female Bernie supporters: do you really really want to throw us on the trash heap? Do you want to call us irrelevant and scream at us and ignore all the women, famous and not famous, who got you even to the tentative level of equality you are at now? Do you really want to say that we can’t possibly know what you are going through? I graduated college in a recession as well — back when there were whole professions closed to me just because I was a woman and back then it was okay to put up that barrier. Women older than me had more of the same, plus, the specter of unwanted pregnancy and coat hanger abortions. So we’ve all had it tough. And it’s not that we old feminists can’t take the abuse. We’re used to that. We were prepared not to be thanked. Gloria prepared us for that. But we really didn’t expect this level of abuse from you.
Nevermind, you’ll see what we mean in 10, 15, 20 years from now. Some of us will not be around. Some of us will and we’ll still be playing the long game. But I guaran-damn-tee you, you’ll wish you’d listened to us.
*All of the above are things that have been hurled at me by female Bernie supporters who are friends or at least acquaintances!