View from the Heartland Sunday, July 24, 2016
By Barbara J. Miner — Honoring the Wisconsin tradition of common decency and progressive politics.
Misogyny and male privilege: Time to take a stand
Dear Bernie supporters: We need to talk. Specifically, we need to talk about misogyny and male privilege.
If there was even the slightest doubt, the Republican convention has made clear that Trump will use no-holds-barred misogyny to try and take down Hillary. And it will get quite ugly — perhaps even uglier than the Republicans’ race-based attacks on President Obama.
Chris Christie’s Salem-Witch-Trial “lock her up” speech at the Republican convention was perhaps the most menacing and demagogic speech I’ve ever seen at a convention.
Unfortunately, there are disconcerting signs that some Bernie supporters are willing to take up the “lock her up” chant.
It’s especially important during the coming months that Bernie and his supporters take a stand against misogyny — both blatant sexism a lá the Republicans, and also the more nuanced and subtle forms of male chauvinism and privilege.
The Black Lives Matter movement has done an admirable job of raising consciousness around issues of racism and white privilege. But calls to discuss misogyny and male privilege among Sanders supporters have, too often, been dismissed as an overreaction to legitimate criticisms of Clinton. That’s a mistake. Such concerns need to be taken seriously.
Learning from feminist consciousness-raising of the 1960s and 1970s, the left/progressive movements need 21st Century discussions that explore how misogyny and male privilege are far more nuanced and complicated than raw, intentional sexism. For instance: when out-of-control anger and rage is disproportionately directed at a woman, that’s bullying. That’s male chauvinism. And, to many women, it’s downright scary.
My sincere hope is that Trump loses in November, the Republicans are forced to focus on rebuilding their party— and progressives harness the energy and ideas of the Sanders campaign to strengthen existing movements for social justice and to create new ones.
As we build and strengthen our movements, we need to ensure that race and gender are not merely subsumed into calls for economic equality. One need merely look at Europe to see how economic populism, on its own, is not enough.
Precisely because Sanders has proclaimed socialist ideals, I hold him to higher standards. Similarly, because Sanders supporters will be part of any new left/progressive movements, I hold them to higher standards.
“Hillary the child-eater”
I’ve been concerned about sexist strains among some Sanders supporters for months, but it never seemed the right time to bring up the topic. But when, in the midst of the Republican convention, some pro-Bernie Facebook pages remained focused almost exclusively on criticizing Hillary — sometimes with memes that differed little from the Republican onslaught of attacks — I realized that there is never a good time to talk about such a complicated and emotional subject.
At the very time that Trump was speaking at the convention, one of my Bernie Facebook pages had pictures of Hillary eating a baby, of a George Washington meme saying he would “bitch slap all of you,” and calling for people to “grow a pair of nuts and take back your government.”
Yes, the examples are extreme, and maybe they were put up by Republican trolls. But that’s a poor excuse, because posts on the page have to be approved by an administrator before they go public.
And yes, it may be a small percentage of Bernie’s supporters who make such attacks. But misogynistic anger, rage, distortion and double standards need be condemned forthrightly whenever they occur. To turn a blind eye allows such a culture to fester and potentially infect the entire movement.
Go back to October 2015, when a post on the official Sanders campaign website called for a “Bern the Witch” event to watch a debate a few weeks before Halloween. Anyone could register a campaign event on Sanders’ website and to its credit, the Sanders campaign took down the notice (but not until five months later, in March.)
Joe Smith, who posted the event, was asked if he thought “Bern the Witch” was sexist. “No, not at all,” he said.*
Fast forward to May and the infamous Nevada Democratic Party caucus.
Did Bernie supporters throw chairs at Hillary supporters? I don’t know. I’m one to discount Facebook facts unless I can independently verify the information. But I did see more than one on-line video where “bitch” was shouted at Barbara Boxer. And it was impossible to not see the many articles about the harassing texts and voicemails sent to Nevada State Democratic Party chair Roberta Lange, reportedly ranging from name-calling (“cunt,” “bitch” and “criminal”) up to and including death threats.
Days later, Sanders released a statement on the tumultuous events in Nevada. Oh how I wished he would have forthrightly condemned the out-of-bounds behavior by his some of his supporters. Instead, he began by saying that the Democratic Party needs to understand “that millions of Americans are outraged at establishment politics and establishment economics.”
Then, after all-but condoning rage, he half-heartedly distanced himself from the Nevada ugliness. In a nearly 500-word statement, his only reference to the name-calling and threats was, “Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals.” It was one of the most disappointing moments of Bernie’s campaign.
And now we see some Bernie supporters echoing the Republican mob mentality and demanding, “lock her up.”
Bernie and his supporters need to take a stand against misogyny — both blatant sexism, and the more nuanced and subtle forms of male chauvinism and privilege. The time is long past.