The Sexism Is Everywhere, But Handling Hillary Clinton With Kid Gloves Isn’t Feminist; It’s Sexist

No woman in the public eye symbolizes the tremendous change in opportunities for women more than Hillary Clinton. It is not in spite of this, but because of this, that she inspires passion and deep ambivalence. People love her, or people hate her. The media reports on and questions her style as if the entire credibility of constitutional democracy might rest on her cleavage, her hair, her pantsuits, her scrunchies, and now, her logo.

On substance, feminists are frequently told to judge her by the sexual mores of the man she married. Someone has yet to credibly explain how judging a woman by the actions of her partner, rather than her own actions, is feminist.

In the 2008 elections, the Democratic Party failed to treat Hillary with the respect she deserved. She was surrounded with calls to get out of the race while she was still ahead in the primary.

As one of my mentors, Olga Vives, argued with passion, even during her final days on a sick bed, the women’s movement failed to recognize the extraordinary transformative power of a woman candidate for president, and failed to stand behind Hillary during a grueling primary.

I was, with Olga, active in the National Organization for Women then. It was a contentious time.

Some women’s organizations bestowed endorsements on Obama early in the race, when their memberships were still divided on whether to support Obama or Hillary; others endorsed her, but didn’t challenge the blatant sexism of the Democratic Party pushing her out too soon.

In this vacuum, some of those women’s advocates left standing for Hillary went to ugly places. Some refused to accept Obama as a legitimate candidate, and one who earnestly continues to champion advancements for women, especially in the areas of pay equity and sexual assault; others embraced the racist strategies to defeat him deployed by the right.

One of the strangest strains was a vocal group that proclaimed Sarah Palin was both a feminist (wow, no) and the right candidate to assume the vice presidency (oh my goodness, considering what might have happened really could give a woman the vapors).

This climate presented a difficult slate of options for those of us who were ready for Hillary the first time. She was treated with horrific, condescending, get-out-of-the-way sexism by her own party, and yet the most vocal response to that was a fantasy-land embrace of Sarah Palin, an emotional reaction that amounted to gender essentialism and overlooked the antifeminist platform of her platform, party, and ticket.

My response was simply to get behind Obama, cry when Hillary spoke at the convention, and lose faith that women’s organizations will do the right thing simply because they are women’s organizations — and that the Democratic Party, its leadership, and the progressive movement should be trusted to handle feminist affairs with the current infrastructure charged with holding them accountable.

Which brings me to today.

The problem is that this time around, the treatment of Hillary from within also bears shades of sexism, albeit in a different way. It’s as if to atone for what happened, now the new rule is that Democrats are not allowed to criticize or question Hillary’s positions. Any of them. Even before the general election. Or you, yes you, are failing feminism and perhaps our one and only chance to see a woman president in our lifetimes.

This is not how politics works. Politics, and particularly primary season, is supposed to involve a robust debate of the issues and honing of positions on matters vital to the community.

There is an inherent sexism in the idea that, this time around, Hillary must be handled with kid gloves. If a woman is running for president with the blessing of the big dogs, why must we sit in the back of the classroom and raise our hands and wait to be called on?

There was sexism coming from the establishment in the past, too, in the idea that it wasn’t Hillary’s turn, that something was wrong with her “likability,” when she was a competitive candidate in 2008.

Just as there is sexism in the frame that only women can credibly challenge Hillary today. Why must Hillary play in a women’s league?

This piece is happening on both sides of the aisle.

The calls to draft Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) are interesting, because by dint of her actions, principles, and resolve, Warren symbolizes the progressive movement better than any other one candidate. But I’d also like to challenge these calls a bit from a gender lens.

First, it’s the simple matter men dominate everything, including the infrastructural leadership of the progressive movement, and even with Warren’s qualifications, it’s a bit fishy that the official energy backed by money and power has coalesced around her and no other alternative; that a woman is expected to challenge a woman from the left.

Second, some of us may remember when Jessica Williams asked her “feminist” critics on Twitter to lean the fuck away from her after she indicated she was not interested in taking over as host of The Daily Show. There’s an element of that here, although it’s nuanced.

On one hand, Elizabeth Warren has said repeatedly that she is not running for president — and the activists continue to beat the drum. On the other hand, this is sort of how politics work — the song and dance of being asked to run by the grassroots. Still, one is left with a discomfiting sense that were Warren a man, her word might be taken at her word by large progressive organizations like MoveOn.

On the Republican side, Carly Fiorina is expected to run for president, or at least make a great deal of noise. No one expects her to become president — she couldn’t even win a Senate election. So what exactly is she running for, and why is she getting so much space to air her views in presidential fora on the right?

Simple. She is running against Hillary’s campaign on behalf of the real candidates for the Republican Party — just like Jackie Sharp on House of Cards. It’s insulting to Fiorina, and it’s insulting to Hillary. It’s also insulting that the men of the Republican Party who are credible contenders are delegating the women’s work of taking down a woman named Hillary Clinton who steps out of the boundaries of traditional womanhood.

The coming election will bring with it a bevy of sexist attacks; and feminists must call them out and demand a change in culture, no matter where we stand on Hillary and her priorities. But feminists and everyone must also be free to question Hillary and examine her policy proposals as we move forward; it’s frankly sexist to silence ourselves in pursuit of elevating one woman to the top.

Video: November 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the 2014 election results, paid parental leave and advancing women in the workplace, and women as peacemakers. You can watch a video of the show here:


Video: Why I’m Voting Pro-Choice

NARAL has a nifty new video out about why you should vote pro-choice, and I’m proud to be a part of it:

Be awesome or don’t bother, friends.

Video: October 2014 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the war on women, consent on campus, and fighting breast cancer. You can watch a video of the show here:

I Waited Until The Polls Closed To Say This: It’s Insulting To Have Only Men Running On Women’s Issues

I waited until the polls closed to say this:

It’s insulting to have only men running on women’s issues.

I live in Virginia. I am a feminist. I am a Democrat. And, I am disgusted.

This is me and my daughter doing a September literature drop in Arlington for the Democratic slate. At the time, she was 15 weeks old:


We walked for hours through the heat distributing copies of a newsletter featuring the photographs of nine men the Democratic party urged Arlingtonians to vote for. No women.

You don’t need me to tell you women’s issues are front and center in the Virginia election. Nearly every ad on television has been about abortion, and/or has featured women surrogates speaking for candidates on both sides. I have been receiving invitations to attend events with “the candidate’s wives.” As I type, the races have not been called and all local and national pollsters are talking about women voters. Because, duh, that is a major part of what this election is about.

The more I walked with my daughter, the madder I got. What kind of feminist mom am I?

Every day I work for policies that will support her future. It is important to me to include her in some of my work. I want her to understand how politics work. We have not just campaigned together, we have gone lobbying on Capitol Hill together. I want her to see public service as accessible. There is a woman suffrage poster in her nursery. I have been encouraging her to run for Governor of Virginia when she grows up.

By no means do I want to send a message to her that women’s issues are important, and they are best handled by men.

By public appearances at least, the feminist infrastructure in my state supports all the Democratic men without making public comments about how wrong it is that women weren’t included — not just as wives, not just as issues, not just as voters — but on the ticket.

It is unacceptable to run on women’s issues without women on the ticket. Men can and should run in support of women’s rights, but men also need to make room for women to share leadership with them. I am new to Virginia, having moved here in March. Perhaps some will say I am naive. I made a decision to not say anything about this until the polls had closed. I considered whether to say anything at all.

It’s true that I am a newcomer and don’t know the intricacies of the Arlington Democratic politics. It’s also true that I vehemently agree that this year’s Republican ticket was dangerous for women, and I was committed to electing Democrats.

But clearly, whatever excuses I’m about to get, the continuous presence of unchecked “women are important! let’s have men lead the way!” messages and deeds is pandering and it’s wrong.

I will not remain silent through a future election cycle. It should have been a woman running against Ken Cuccinelli. At a minimum, there should have been women running down the ticket.

If Democrats want to run campaigns on women’s issues, and I agree that they should, they must immediately begin to make room for women on the ticket. Women must run. And the party must support us in our capacity as not just constituents, but leaders.

Elections! Elections! Elections! (Femfreakingtastic, Okay!)

Progressive feminist values jumped out of a cake, and they are singing our names! All of us, you and me and everyone! The 2012 election returns presented, on the whole, a night coated in awesome. Here are some of my favorite moments:

1. President Obama is re-elected.
We worked together. We knocked on doors, we made telephone calls to people who told us to buzz off, we did not get down, we just kept on going. Re-electing this president, who had been called the most vulnerable incumbent in 20 years, was no small task. When he made missteps (during his first term, as well as that disastrous first debate), feminists and reproductive justice advocates spoke up and held him accountable to being a true champion for women. It paid off this election. And this strategy of demanding accountability to work for women should be continued in his second term.

2. Mitt Romney is defeated.
Increasing inequality and division between the haves and the have-nots is a great moral stain upon our time – and Mitt would have turned that beast into a bigger one. He presented a grave threat to abortion rights, reproductive health and the composition of the Supreme Court. Mitt’s defeat also shows that all the unregulated, undisclosed money in this post-Citizens United world can’t necessarily buy an election. That’s something to celebrate in itself.

3. Marriage rights win on the ballot for the first time EVAR.
Before yesterday, every single time the civil right to marry was placed on the ballot, voters awarded same-sex couples with an inferior set of constitutional rights. Not yesterday! Minnesota defeated a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. Maine, Maryland and Washington state gave same-sex marriages the go. With the president with equal marriage rights, the majority of the population with equal marriage rights, and the overwhelming majority of the youth population with equal marriage rights, last night’s victories are a game-changer. Anti-gay bigotry has disproved itself as a successful get-out-the-vote tool, and we can expect the party that typically profits from these efforts to take notice. If you’re not smiling yet, two Maryland women got engaged at the Obama victory rally in Chicago last night.

4. The Republican party gets a No Rape Mandate to the price of the U.S. Senate.
Lots of jokes about God intending for Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock to lose, but their defeats in races that should have been winnable for the GOP are no laughing matter. Look, last night’s victories sent a clear message that it’s actual, not speculative, political suicide to say horrible things about women who have been raped. It is a validation of every person who has been raped, doubted, minimized, trashed, called a slut. We can bemoan that the conversation was there in the first place, but these defeats have the power to change the dynamics of a party that has empowered the most sexist of viewpoints.

5. We get the brink of a movement-building moment for reproductive justice.
In the past two years, more than 1,000 bills restricting reproductive rights and women’s health have been introduced in Congress and the state legislatures. Last night’s election doesn’t call an end to the War on Women (reference the election of leading anti-Planned Parenthood bully Rep. Mike Pence to Governor of Indiana) but it does present an opportunity for abating the attacks, strongly suggested by last night’s results to be a losing strategy for the House of Representatives in growing allies in the Senate and the White House. This is a great time for reproductive justice advocates to get much louder about full funding and availability of full reproductive health care, and yes, I mean calling for federal dollars to abortion care.

6. Check out these women in the Senate – a record number at 20!
Elizabeth Warren wins, presenting a major victory for what the late Senator Paul Wellstone called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” Tammy Baldwin wins, becoming the first out lesbian Senator in the history of our country. One out of five is not anything close to proportional, and no one should be satisfied here, but the bottom line is that progress is moving in the right direction and we’ve picked up some amazing new women to add to the bunch.

7. Surely there are more things to be added to this list.
So many wonderful things just happened – Tammy Duckworth elected, a voter suppression initiative failed in Minnesota, an anti-abortion rights initiative failed in Florida, there are so many more – add your favorite moments in the comments!

Mitt, Assault Weapons and Single Parents

Last night, Mitt Romney appeared to blame mass shootings on single-parent families.

His non-sequitur response to debate moderator “Don’t You Silence Me” Candy Crowley’s delightfully rogue question as to whether the Republican presidential nominee would support the reinstatement of expired bans on assault weaponry that used to enjoy Republican support is important for several reasons.

1. We have a fundamental violence problem.

Violence cuts across poverty, it cuts across wealth, it cuts across privilege. The problem is not who does it but that we as a culture refuse to confront guns, we refuse to confront dominance, we refuse to confront the reality that the only accomplishment of the sham war on drugs is the mass incarceration of African American men. Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan and his House Republicans buddies refuse to reauthorize 18 years of bipartisan support for the Violence Against Women Act. It is as dangerous to lay the blame for violence on the feet of single parents as it is to lay it on Marilyn Manson, because naming a black sheep is exactly how to pull attention away from the fact the whole farm is burning.

2. It’s time to get real about guns.

Whether you are a PhD student in Aurora, a mentally ill undergrad in Virginia, two Littleton high school students from wealthy two-parent families, an abuser whose girlfriend is trying to leave, or frankly anyone in the United States, guns are easier to get your hands on than the more popular Happy Meal toys. The Supreme Court is an outpost of the National Rifle Association devoted to trampling the rights of local governments to regulate guns. There is not a single defensible reason to have assault weapons on the consumer market. In this climate, the gun lobby sits there smugly like a Grover Norquist of mass death above the silence of elected officials. No action was taken after a sitting member of Congress was shot.

3. Basically, Mitt told those slutty women to put assault weapons between the knees.

Single parent families are part of life, and a class divide is at work. More than 40 percent of births take place outside a marriage, with just 10 percent of those attributed to college-educated women. Last night Mitt outright lied about his well-documented intention to allow employers to dictate which women can get birth control and which can’t, and it’s also unclear how his plan to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, his desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, and his running mates’ assertion that rape is a “method of conception” will increase two-parent families so there won’t be any more violence.

Let’s face it, people are driven to have consensual sex (how fun!) and half the population is encouraged to grow up with toy guns and violent entertainment until they too are big enough to carry a concealed AK-47 wherever they want.

For some time Mitt Romney has appeared to agree with those who believe a woman with an IUD is committing mass murder for years at a time. What is most frightening is that now he is saying a woman who raises children without the watchful eye of a man is responsible for mass murder in our streets, schools and movie theaters.

Todd Akin Is Mainstream Republican Party Politics

Todd Akin is no fringe on the rug. Todd Akin represents and clearly articulates mainstream Republican party politics in 2012.

Let’s look at some examples:


Akin Says “Legitimate Rape”: Akin defends his no exceptions anti-abortion rights view, saying a woman is less likely to get pregnant by a “legitimate rape,” because a woman’s body can just “shut that whole thing down.”

House Republicans Already Tested “Forcible Rape” In A Bill: The attempt to redefine rape to “legitimate” or “forcible,” particularly in the context of abortion, is an existing GOP priority. In this 112th Congress, H.R. 3 (they are numbered in order of priority) the “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act” contained these provisions.


Akin Opposes Abortion Rights In All Cases, Including Rape.

Republican Party Platform Opposes Abortion Rights In All Cases, Including Rape. Further, the latest anti-abortion rights bill introduced by House Republicans, the D.C. 20-Week Abortion Ban, had no exceptions for rape. Mitt Romney supports ‘personhood’ measures awarding constitutional rights to fertilized eggs (outlawing not just abortion but also forms of birth control), and his running mate Paul Ryan cosponsored a ‘personhood’ bill with Akin.

80 percent of people in the United States disagree with the Republican no-exceptions approach to abortion rights.


Akin Says A Woman Elected Official Is “Unladylike”: Akin trashes his opponent, Senator McCaskill, with a sexist slur: “unladylike.”

Republican National Convention Applauds A Joke That A Woman Elected Official Is Shrill: To the applause of the Republican National Convention, Governor Huckabee uses a sexist, ‘political women are shrill’ slur to compare Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz practicing a speech to “an awful noise.”


Akin Admits Arrest Blocking An Abortion Clinic, Operation Rescue Style: Akin said he was arrested demonstrating against abortion rights a few decades ago.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Chief of Staff Meets With Randall Terry: In the limited time between the election assuring his speakership and taking the gavel, Boehner’s staff met with a terrorist.


It doesn’t end there.

Out of the elected official category, Mike Huckabee, Trent Franks, Newt Gingrich, Jim DeMint, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum (and presumably his arsenal of big funders) have all jumped publicly on board. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has hinted it may take Akin back.

Because Akin is one and the same with mainstream Republican party politics, it’s critical for everyone — not just people in Missouri — to vote. Many undecided voters do not follow politics closely, and may not realize the guy painted on TV as the outlier is actually mainstream. Debunk the idea that Akin is a lone wolf, as the Republicans try to paint him. He is, dangerously, a leader of the pack.


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