My Outrage at Gloria Steinem and Madeleine AlbrightPosted: February 9, 2016
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a strong sense of what was and was not fair. I learned the definition of sexism at the ripe age of 8, and it was my first exposure to the cruelties and injustices of the world. I’m ashamed to admit that this revelation came from early exposures to my own heritage, and I’m even more ashamed to admit that I learned about sexism through mainstream American media as I grew up in this country.
I remember learning about a hideously primitive tradition called “Karva Chauth” through Bollywood movies. I learned that it was an Indian holiday where married women fasted all day until their husbands came home from work, at which point they performed a pooja (religious ritual), all in the hopes of bolstering their husband’s longevity.
I remember learning about menstrual seclusion, about rape, and about sexual harassment soon after. I remember seeing pregnant women on screen receiving the “good wishes” of “may you have a son” from their elders. And no, these themes were never utilized for the purpose of intelligent social commentary; just for entertainment, and to reinforce the patriarchal status quo.
I remember learning that the western world wasn’t much better, hypersexualizing women in the entertainment industry, targeting women to advertise everything from skin products to diet pills, and building a history of hiring women workers as “cheap labor.” To this day, there exist examples of unequal distribution of wealth between men and women from companies to hospitals to entire female-dominated industries that are considered “less prestigious” by society, presumably because they just don’t offer the kind of salary that would make them competitive in our market-obsessed world. Female-dominated professions like teaching, social work, nursing, and other care-taking roles that require an enormous amount of emotional labor have been undervalued by American society (both perceptually and monetarily) for centuries.
Suffice it to say, I learned from a very young age that being a woman in this world is a vulnerable thing. And I grew up extremely conscious of the stereotypes, judgments, and criticisms the world makes of women and that women make of each other. Sexism was my first and harshest wake up call to the sirens of social justice, and it is social justice that has emerged as core to my identity, and I’ve chosen to dedicate my energies to the pursuit of justice to this day.
So that’s why, when Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made sexist and manipulative comments on national television this weekend, I was outraged. Outraged that I couldn’t both be a feminist and an ardent supporter of Bernie Sanders, who I believe is hands down the best candidate for women. But Gloria Steinem, who was and continues to be a “revolutionary feminist icon”, would have me believe that I’m supporting Bernie because “the boys are with Bernie.”
Her comment is not only sexist, it’s also agist and heteronormative. It blacks out an entire group of women that identify as LGBTQ+ and it’s patronizing to the young. But the biggest irony of all is that the notion that women are only as good as their appeal to men, that women “chase men” because they’re desperate for attention and approval, and that women can’t, or choose not to, think independently of men for fear of being rejected, is a classic sexist argument that has been made about women through the ages. Hell, just this past July my ex-boyfriend told me his traditional Indian mother, upon obsessively perusing the Facebook pictures of her son’s new girlfriend, thought I seemed “smart enough to know how to get a guy like [him].” I applaud Gloria Steinem, whose comment has somehow remarkably found its way into the patriarchal dogma of traditional Indian mentalities.
Meanwhile, Madeleine Albright insists that there is “a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other”, another comment aimed at the large group of young women who support Bernie Sanders. I found this particularly amusing as someone who has a strong spiritual foundation. Here, she not only confirms that we’re going to hell, but that hell exists at all. I, for one, don’t believe in hell, but what does my voice matter as a young, non-white, non-Christian woman? It doesn’t. For Madeleine Albright, the only thing that matters is that I take orders from a bigoted and exclusive elder who parades around with the high title of “feminist” as she campaigns for Hillary Clinton.
To the Madeleine Albrights and Gloria Steinems of the world: shame on you for calling yourselves feminists, because you’ve forgotten the foundation of feminism itself. That foundation actually goes beyond feminism and into the core of all the world’s major religions, which is the belief in equality. What does this mean in spiritual terms (and to feminists)? That we are all human, that we all sweat when we work and bleed and cry when we’re in pain; that we all smile and laugh in life’s most joyous moments; that no matter what form we may take as black, brown, white, red, male, female, or something in between, we all suffer in the same ways, and for that, we all deserve to be treated equally.
When Anderson Cooper asked Bernie Sanders about his religion during CNN’s New Hampshire town hall last week, Bernie revealed that he understood the concept of equality in a profound way. He said,
I believe that, as a human being, the pain that one person feels, if we have children who are hungry in America, if we have elderly people who can’t afford their prescription drugs, you know what, that impacts you, that impacts me…So my spirituality is that we are all in this together…
This is, by far, the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever heard any politician say in my lifetime. Because it signals to me that Bernie is thinking–he’s really digging deep–and going beyond the form that we take on in this life because he sees the humanity in all of us that goes beyond our bodies. He understands that the symbol of having a black president hasn’t eradicated police brutality or race-related discrimination in this country, just as having a female president will not eradicate violence against women and the de-professionalization of female-dominated occupations. Why? Because Bernie Sanders goes beyond the surface, and he understands that the root of our problems lies in the greed and dishonesty that pours into our political system in the form of money, through male and female politicians, including Hillary Clinton.
Bernie Sanders is the best candidate for women because he is the only candidate who has fired up the base without taking money from special interests. Not from Goldman Sachs, not from private prison lobbyists, not from private pharmaceutical companies, not from the oil and gas industry. He is the only candidate who has exposed how much power these special interests have over the political process. Hillary Clinton is unlikely to crack down on large corporations who benefit from tax evasion and other loopholes that, if closed, could have a HUGE impact on women by funneling billions of dollars back into our economy.
Bernie Sanders also understands that war begets more war; violence more violence. He knows that we’re already spending trillions of dollars on defense, and he wants to end the self-righteous, power-hungry behavior of the American military-industrial complex. Hillary Clinton wants to exercise that power; first having voted for the war in Iraq, then coercing President Obama to drop bombs over Benghazi, and most recently, advocating for a no-fly zone in Syria. Take a moment to imagine what we could do with all the money that’s being stored, untaxed, in the Cayman Islands, and all the money that’s wasted on our defense budget.
With these trillions of dollars, we could:
- Create jobs in disenfranchised communities which have high rates of male-on-female domestic violence. Studies show that feelings of shame–of deep and painful rejection–are the strongest drivers of violent crime. In particular, heterosexual men, who face immense societal pressure to be financially successful, and who also lack job prospects and recognition by society (generally, poor men of color) are much more likely to resort to violent crimes as an outlet for their anger¹. And disenfranchised women who depend on them for financial support are at their mercy.
- Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour (women make up over 75% of the U.S.’s low-wage workforce)
- Invest in universal healthcare coverage, which includes increasing the budget for mental health. This is crucial in a country where twice as many women as men suffer from depression.
- Invest it in our public schools that have struggled on a tragic (and strategic) property tax-based system, that largely impacts low-income communities and strips schools of basic resources and facilities (and, 87% of the U.S.’s public school teachers are women. Think about how this could impact the teaching profession).
- Fund paid family leave, which includes maternity and paternity leave. Finally, we could show some respect for female workers’ roles as mothers and caretakers; a respect that has been long-dismissed by corporations and other employers in this country as somehow insignificant and invaluable.
Those are just a few of the ways that Bernie’s policies and modeling will directly benefit women. And Bernie is free to do all of those things because he isn’t bought and paid for.
But, how, you ask, is Bernie Sanders going to achieve these things with a broken political system? Sure, maybe he’s got fewer ties to the big banks and corporations that exploit the middle class, but he’s never going to achieve his goals with the Congress he’ll inherit, and he can’t be the best candidate for women if he does nothing in office.
Wrong. Bernie Sanders’ entire campaign has risen from the margins because he knows that power doesn’t transfer well from the top down–I think of awful education policy decisions like NCLB and Race to the Top immediately–power is strongest when it comes from the ground up. And like burning, volcanic lava erupting from the core of the Earth, the American people have risen up from the ground indeed, and answered his mighty call to start a political revolution.
Change only comes when we mobilize the masses and demand that politicians in this country do their job. Bernie Sanders has this power of the people on his side. Hillary Clinton does not.
To those Gloria Steinems and Madeleine Albrights of the world, you should be proud of the young women who can see the connection between economic inequality and the burdens facing American women. You should be proud of us for seeing beyond a surface-level detail like Hillary Clinton’s gender. And you should be proud that we came to this conclusion through the intelligence of our own minds, instead of through the manipulation of the corporate media, which would have us believe that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for women, simply because she is one.
Well, she isn’t. And I’d be damned if your shallow comments would have convinced me otherwise.
- Gilligan, James. Preventing Violence. (2001).