Misogyny Rules The 2016 Election
Is the left worse than the right?
I’ve been a Socialist all my life. My parents were Socialists and for a time–during the dangerous House UnAmerican Activities hearings – my father was a Communist. The story about my parents’ elopement was not that they were too young (they were) or that they were still in college (they were), but that my mother’s father wouldn’t allow my mother to "marry a Commie."
Like my father, I joined the Communist Party in college. But while my father was a card-carrying Communist for years, I left the CPUSA before I left college. I had been lured by a charismatic professor, but I was a budding feminist and the sexism within the far left stunned me, even as a teenager. Women were adjuncts at the meetings, even though the women I knew within the CPUSA were obvious leaders. Yet there we all were, every meeting, making coffee, putting out pamphlets and leaflets, setting up the chairs and placing ashtrays around the room, bringing cookies we had baked the night before. After the meetings we were the ones doing the clean-up. Like wives to the movement.
Was this what Marx and Engels intended? Had Emma Goldman been forced to bake cookies? Was Angela Davis making coffee? I hoped not.
Socialism stayed in my blood, though. To me, income inequality was the obvious basis for the majority of the world’s ills. That women were at the locus of that inequality just bolstered my belief that Socialism was the only true political movement.
Socialism and feminism.
Over the years of my journalistic career I have written extensively about women and poverty. Lesbians and poverty. GBT people and poverty. People of color and poverty. How could Socialism not be the most important political movement? If we fixed the dramatic economic disparities between men and women, straights and LGBT, whites and people of color, wouldn’t everything else – notably gender/sex discrimination, racism and homophobia sort themselves out?
Was I lured by Bernie Sanders the way I had been lured by my professor in college? To paraphrase another American politician, You betcha!
But then, as was the case with my college foray into Communism, came the sexism. So. Much. Sexism.
I am less tolerant now, as a middle-aged woman, than I was as a teenager of misogyny in its many forms. I still get cat-called, I still hate it. I still get called "girl" instead of "woman" when I am usually old enough to be the mother of the man saying it. I still get hit on by men who maybe think they are doing me a favor since I am middle-aged, but it’s just as uncomfortable as when I was in my 20s and 30s if not more so.
But that level of rage I felt as a teenager at being relegated to housewife to the movement at all those CPUSA meetings has come back full-force with the misogyny I have experienced and witnessed during this election season.
Most shocking since this primary began a year ago, is that it hasn’t been the GOP or Donald Trump and his followers who have reminded me how misogynist America still is. It’s been Bernie Sanders and his Bernie Bros.
I don’t need to write another article about the Bernie Bros. There have been dozens. Every major news outlet, left, right and center, has spotlighted the Bernie Bros. Initially, in late 2015 when women first started complaining about sexist attacks on social media by Sanders supporters, we were told it was just a few outliers. Now we know differently. As recently as this week a dozen pieces have been published – by men as well as women – about the Bernie Bros. That’s how bad it is.
May 14 at the Nevada Democratic Convention, part of the convoluted caucus system for that state, Bernie Bros literally tore up the place, eventually being ejected from the Paris Las Vegas hotel where the event – thousands in attendance – was being held because hotel security called police because they could "no longer ensure the safety of the hotel’s guests."
Similar problems had transpired back in February during the Nevada caucus itself when civil rights icon and co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta, was attacked and later trolled by Sanders supporters for demanding that the caucus be bilingual for Spanish speakers.
On May 14, the battle began when Sanders supporters accused Roberta Lange, chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party, of unfairly excluding Sanders delegates who were not registered Democrats. Some of Hillary Clinton’s delegates were disqualified for the same reason. It is, obviously, a requirement that Democratic delegates be registered as Democrats. The rules followed in Nevada have been in place for over 50 years, so complaints of the caucus being skewed against Sanders – who lost the Nevada caucus in February – were unfounded.
At the end of the convention the delegates were certified. The numbers were exactly the same as they were in February when Clinton won the caucus: 20 for Clinton, 15 for Sanders.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), listed as one of the top five most liberal senators in Congress and a member of Congress since 1983, was called a "fascist bitch" by Sanders supporters who booed when she took the stage. She reminded the crowd they were all Democrats and that booing her was like booing Sanders.
On May 17 Boxer, who is the same age as Sanders, spoke out about her experience, saying "Sanders’ supporters made me feel threatened." Lucy Flores, an assembly woman from Nevada who was in attendance and who is a Sanders supporter, released a statement condemning the violence which reads in part, "Actions at the convention clearly crossed the line. Progressive need to speak out against those: making threats against someone’s life, defacing private property, and hurling vulgar language at our female leaders. Regardless of whether you agree with the leadership of our Chairwoman Roberta Lange, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do her actions warrant being harassed, insulted with misogynistic vulgarities and or threatened in any way."
According to the Nevada Democrats, Lange received thousands of phone calls and several texts a minute for days after her private cell phone number and home phone number were published on Twitter and Facebook by Sanders supporters. Threats to her family, including children, were made. On May 18, NPR politics reporter Tamara Keith included some of the messages in her report on the convention chaos. Most had to be bleeped for language. But one chilling message calmly called for Lange’s public execution. "People like you should be hung in a public execution to show this world that we won't stand for this sort of corruption."
Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) requested an apology from Sanders. None was forthcoming. Although Sanders had previously said months ago there was no place for such behavior in his campaign, rather than call it out Sanders took aim at the Democratic Party in his speech at a California rally on May 17, right after he won the Oregon primary and Clinton won Kentucky.
The violence in Las Vegas, where chairs and punches were thrown by Sanders supporters and photos of a Hillary delegate face-down and unconscious on the floor were widely disseminated on social media, followed incidents the week before in California where black and Latina Hillary supporters were harassed and shoved by white male Sanders supporters protesting a rally for Clinton. After that event Sanders told reporters that his supporters were exercising free speech, but he would not approve of interrupting an actual speech by a candidate.
Sanders himself has been interrupted and heckled by Black Lives Matter protestors at a few of his rallies, but never by Clinton supporters.
I, like every woman journalist I know, have been on the receiving end of the kind of abuse Boxer, Lange and the unnamed women at Clinton’s California rally experienced. Like Joan Walsh, Joy Ann Reid, Melissa McEwan, Propane Jane and myriad others, I’ve been called a shill, I’ve been told I am on Hillary’s payroll (alas, I am most definitely not), I’ve been called a "corporate hack."
At the root of the name calling is the same thing that rankled when I was a 16 year old college student and card-carrying Communist in love with equality and Angela Davis: misogyny.
The misogyny is thick. So thick. There’s a racial slant to it, as voters of color have overwhelmingly chosen Clinton and Sanders supporters are overwhelmingly white and black women have led this election in ways the mainstream media has ignored.
But what is so hard to accept as I see people who should be embracing the first woman president, who should be looking hard at Clinton’s thorough and wonky and oh-so-prepared proposals for how to make America more equal and egalitarian and fair, is that the Left of which I have been a part since my literal birth and infancy as a Red Diaper Baby, looks so like the Right to which I have been opposed for just as long.
When the New York Times ran it’s story on Donald Trump’s misogyny on May 15, no one was surprised. The sheer volume of interviewees – more than 50 – was the only surprise. When Melania Trump announced in an interview on May 16 that "Donald is not Hitler," many of us thought, "If you say so, but..."
But Sanders? Sanders isn’t Trump. Sanders is supposed to be the lefty good guy. The one with the feminist ally credentials. And yet instead he’s the only one of all the candidates who ran for president–more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans all but three of whom have withdrawn–with no women in the top ten positions in his campaign. (Clinton has 6, Trump has 3.) Instead, Sanders is the only candidate to call Hillary Clinton "unqualified," when she is the best qualified candidate in decades. Instead, Sanders is the candidate who, on the eve of the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and less than a month after 14 people were shot, three of them killed, at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, called Planned Parenthood "part of the Establishment."
Sanders is of my parents’ generation of Socialists. That old school of have the ladies make the coffee. Reams of his essays from those years are acutely misogynist but we’re told to ignore those because they were written in the 1970s. Yet Sanders’ one arrest for a civil rights protest in the early 1960s has taken on a mythic quality among his supporters, many of whom attacked Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the iconic civil rights figure, for his support of Hillary Clinton.
Why is the possibility of a female president–the first in 279 years–so threatening? Why the misogynist attacks? The first time I was ever called the c word on social media was when I reported on the Netroots Nation conference in 2015. That conference was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protestors. Sanders walked out on them and Sanders supporters on social media said BLM–which was founded by black, queer women–were paid by Hillary Clinton to attack Sanders.
It was a ludicrous charge, but when my article on the event posted, dozens of Bernie Bros came out of the social media network to attack me as a shill (I wasn’t even for Hillary at that point) and a corporate hack and a c***.
America has changed a lot since I was a 16 year old Communist. Feminism is deeply entrenched in America’s social fabric. And so, in many respects, is socialism with a small s. But what has not changed – and this we see deafeningly on the Right – is men’s (#notallmen) fear of women having power. Especially political power.
What’s really behind Sanders’ fixation with Hillary’s speaking fees? It’s that a woman should have that level of power that she can command $250,000 for a speech. Even though that money is far less than her male counterparts. The previous Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, commands only slightly less than Clinton and she wasn’t also a senator and First Lady and author of several best-selling books.
Hillary Clinton has been a locus for misogynist attacks for decades–since she was listed among the top 100 lawyers in the country back in the 1970s. There is literally no one else in American politics who has done the myriad of things she’s done from going undercover to reveal racism in education to her now classic speech in Beijing as First Lady on women’s rights.
Trump attacked Hillary as having "nothing but gender" to promote her campaign for president but millions of women understood Trump’s comments another way: No matter how accomplished a woman is, what she achieves is never enough because she will never be male.
And that’s where misogyny brings us: Women will never be men. We will never have the privilege nor the access. We will never be paid as much and if we are paid equal to men, it will be questioned.
Melissa McEwan wrote about this inherent misogyny back in January, before the voting had even begun. She made strong links between the racism tossed at President Obama and the misogyny tossed at Hillary Clinton. But this struck a cord that Sanders and his supporters have continually ignored as they talk about revolution and The Establishment. "[Clinton’s] presidency would be more than symbolic, just as President Obama's has been. And her presidency would be a challenge to the establishment, sheerly by virtue of her gender. And the gender of literally all of her predecessors. In this country, we tell little girls (at least the decent among us do) that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up, but there are still so many spaces which women have never inhabited. And the most visible of them all is the presidency. Because of an "establishment" that keeps us out."
As the end of the primary season approaches–less than a month of voting remains–and fewer than 90 delegates stand between Clinton and the formal nomination to the party, the reality that Sanders will not be the nominee has struck both him and his supporters. But instead of accepting that reality, both have taken the most misogynist turn. Daily I see Clinton referred to as "that c***" on social media. Daily I get trolled by Sanders supporters telling me that she has stolen the election, when in reality it’s Sanders who has suggested the will of the voters – Clinton has 3 million more votes than he does – be overturned in his favor.
And it brings us back to the harsh reality that women are paid less because we are considered to be worth less. Women’s issues are considered separate and distinct from the nation’s issues even though we are 52% of the population because we are second-class citizens. Women are dismissed and demeaned no matter what they have achieved because it’s believed they slept their way to power. And the list goes on and on and on.
For Sanders to ignore this reality, for him to tout being called an "honorary woman" by Gloria Steinem while calling Hillary Clinton unqualified is a paradox that can only be explained by how deeply entrenched misogyny is in America. We expect it from the Right. But it’s come out of the Left closet as clearly as if Hillary Clinton were expected to make coffee for the male candidates for president.
Newsweek politics reporter Kurt Eichenwald summed it up succinctly in his column on May 18 when he wrote, "Violence. Death threats. Vile, misogynistic names screamed at women. Rage. Hatred. Menacing, anonymous phone calls to homes and offices. Public officials [all women] whisked offstage by security agents frightened of the growing mob. None of this has any place in a political campaign. And the candidate who has been tolerating this obscene behavior among his supporters is showing himself to be unfit for office. So, Senator Sanders, either get control of what is becoming your increasingly unhinged cult or get out of the race."
Eichenwald never mentions misogyny, but that's what this is.
Men fear women taking over. Men fear women being more accomplished than they are.
So many years have passed since I was that 16 year old Communist. But so little has changed for women. Maybe Hillary Clinton will get the chance to change all that. But until then, we are all still—Right or Left–metaphorically making coffee and baking cookies and waiting for our turn to speak and be heard.
Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and A Room of Her Own, a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review and a columnist for San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. Her reporting and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, Ms Magazine and Slate. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her new novel, Ordinary Mayhem, won the IPPY Award for fiction on May 1, 2015. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians and her next novel, Sleep So Deep, will both be published in 2016. @VABVOX