Stop Saying Hillary Clinton Is Not Perfect

It’s time for an indefinite moratorium on Hillary’s supporters saying she is “not perfect.”

It’s quite obvious nobody is perfect. And yet there seems to be a bizarre — dare we say gendered — compulsion for many of her supporters to disavow her when they’re otherwise affirming her.

Why do we expect perfection of women? Why are we so insistent that women in the public eye do everything just so? When do we say that our political leaders who happen to be men are “not perfect”?

Don’t distort me here. I remain aggressively committed to doing whatever I need to do to ensure Hillary stands up for, prioritizes, and follows through on meaningful progressive policy change for women’s rights, reproductive justice, racial justice, economic justice, and LGBTQ equality.

I’m not afraid to call for changes in her platform. I have not been afraid to have public conversations about her commitment to reproductive rights, especially after Tim Kaine joined the ticket, even when fellow advocates I respect have winced and tried to shush me up (Note: Judging by her eventual swap of the stigmatizing “safe, legal, and rare” to becoming the first major candidate to call for repealing the Hyde Amendment, and Kaine’s improved performance at the vice presidential debate, pressure seems to work). If she becomes the first woman in the White House, I will be glad to criticize her when her actions call for criticism. But I’m also keenly aware that an orientation toward accountability has nothing to do with expecting perfection of a woman.

As this election cycle drags on in the worst ways, I am starting to believe that rejecting the calls for Hillary to be perfect is an act of self-love for women. None of us need be perfect. We need to do our best, and we need to understand that others may call on us to do our best. But expecting perfection of women is sexist, and toxic.

What Tim Kaine Should Say About Abortion At The Vice Presidential Debate

At the first presidential debate last night, Lester Holt couldn’t be bothered to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about abortion. This despite the fact that abortion is one of the most explosive political issues of our time, Hillary Clinton has staked out progressive positions on abortion never before embraced by a Democratic nominee for president, and Donald Trump has been all over the place on abortion, including some extreme places like calling for punishing women who have abortions and recently accepting the endorsement of pro-life terrorist poster boy Troy Newman.

The abortion question is a real one, and there’s every reason to expect it’s coming. But my money is on the abortion question at long last appearing in the vice presidential debate, since vice presidents are often tasked with leading the charge on social issues, for better (Vice President Biden pushing President Obama to evolve on marriage equality) or worse (Vice President Quayle picking a fight with Murphy Brown).

Theoretically, this should have been a slam dunk. As a member of Congress, Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) invented the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He is a vicious man whose willfully ignorant anti-abortion, anti-sexuality views have led him to claim condoms don’t work and driven thousands of protesters to the streets to protest his ‘religious freedom’ law designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. He’s into redefining rape so fewer people who want abortions can get them. It should be lost on no one that a woman in Indiana named Purvi Patel served over a year in prison for ending her own pregnancy before an appeals court set her free, and Gov. Pence presided over this blatant violation of her human rights and literal application of Donald Trump’s promise to punish women who have abortions.

Hillary Clinton would be a great person to answer these questions. But she hasn’t been asked. None of the Democratic primary debates asked about abortion. Which brings us to her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who is … not a great person to ask about abortion.

Tim Kaine is, sigh, personally opposed to abortion, with all the irrelevant shaming and male privilege that brings to the discussion. As Governor of Virginia he signed a bill into law that created “Choose Life” license plates that divert state monies into unaccountable crisis pregnancy centers that exist to lie to women and make it harder for people who want abortions to get them. He supports the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding for abortion. He supports it so much, he went around his boss who is a woman and coincidentally belongs to the gender most impacted by restrictions on abortion and clarified that, contrary to what her campaign said, he does not support her position of repealing the Hyde Amendment. (Please pause and think about the gender ramifications of that, because it sucks so much. Most powerful woman in the world gets to be second-guessed and disagreed with in public by her right-hand man on an issue that is deeply personal for women and indivisibly critical for their political, social, and legal equality?)

It’s clear Tim Kaine needs some help talking about abortion. Here is what he should say at the vice presidential debate:

I support the right to abortion, and I will follow the leadership of President Hillary Clinton to fight for the right to abortion.

But Senator Kaine, you’ve said you are personally opposed abortion and you do not support repealing the Hyde Amendment, contrary to Secretary Clinton’s platform and the Democratic Party platform. Will you do this work, or will you leave it to her?

As a man, I approach the possibility of serving under the first woman president with humility and awareness that I have a special role to play in teaching our country to respect a woman’s leadership. Hillary Clinton has clearly spoken about the need to repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment. I support her leadership. I understand that personal views about abortion should not drive a public policy discussion about a woman or pregnant person’s civil and human rights. We must end the Hyde Amendment.

But that’s not what you’ve said before.

I was wrong to disagree with Hillary publicly on an issue, particularly an issue as important to her as this one. It’s important and historically significant for men to support women’s leadership right now. Hillary has called upon me to serve her and our country, and I know the right way to serve our country is to follow her lead and ensure the right to abortion is accessible for everyone. That includes repealing the Hyde Amendment. It’s a shame you aren’t asking her about this. 

Expecting any less of Tim Kaine is, frankly, sexism. Abortion stigma and restrictions on abortion are rooted in sexism. Allowing a man to end-run the woman boss on a “women’s issue” is sexist. He’s got to get better.

Video: May 2016 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s To The Contrary, and discussed Donald Trump and women, sexual assault at religious universities, and the evolution of feminism.

You can watch a video of the show here:

"Trump campaigns dirty, to the point you might almost say he's running for bigot-in-chief. And so, I"m just gonna observe that I'm not surprised that 3 out of 4 women are turned off by him."


Rekindling The Flame: How Bernie Can Refuel And Help To Heal The Dudebro-Dominated Progressive Movement

Math is real. Bernie Sanders is going to lose the Democratic nomination for president. Yes, he is staying in the race and still collecting protest votes, and part of that process means pretending like he can win. But he can’t, and he knows it. We all do.

There have been aspects of his candidacy that are just on fire: The crowds, the youth, the focus on income inequality, the critique on conservative tilts within the Democratic Party, the visible changes in the campaign’s approach to racial justice in response to heckling from Black Lives Matter activists at Netroots Nation last summer. His vision is bold and that rocks. He has made more people believe government can be a force for good, and that’s an admirable and necessary lift after decades of right-wing demonization of public infrastructure and services.

But there are things about his candidacy that are crazy-making! The snide subset of online supporters who will try to gaslight you out of every possible critique one could have of his platform and campaign — like a nightmarish neighborhood White Castle that never closes, they are always there to make you feel sick by informing you the messiah already did that, and your concerns aren’t valid.

The relentless focus on Wall Street is ridonkulous. I have been joking for months that I need to print up some panties that say “THIS IS NOT WALL STREET,” because the very real assault on reproductive rights and the humanitarian crisis that has ensued is but one strong example of how not every urgent problem facing our society can be blamed on a banker. And these issues of inequality that can’t be blamed on Gordon Gekko are not a ‘distraction.’

After admiring Bernie for some time, I transitioned to full-fledged #BernOut a few weeks ago. The wagging finger while Hillary speaks; the comments about her ‘ambition’ and ‘qualifications’ that working women know all too well; the lack of support and visibility for critical races down the ticket. He has not been visibly cultivating relationships with women’s organizations, more often picking fights with them. Bernie has a gender blindspot and it’s big enough that you can drive several semis full of pushy, underpaid, and undervalued women behind him.

It is for these reasons I vom in the back of my throat a little every time I hear the suggestion that Bernie is the figurehead for the future of the progressive movement. I am tired of having white people with dicks lead the thing that gets to be called progressive, while women and people of color who try to break into the top leadership roles are painted as ‘big money’ or ‘establishment’ or ‘under-qualified.’

I am tired of seeing so many supremely qualified women and people of color doing substantive work for the white people with dicks, but never getting promoted to the public seat when the boss retires. There is always another white man who steps in to the wild applause of the good old boys, and hardworking women waiting for the turn that will never come within the party infrastructure.

There is always a 100 percent pro-choice rating for the new guy to brag about and pivot (and by the way, when 100 percent pro-choice rating means someone who never apologies for abortion and refuses to vote for any bill or budget that bans abortion funding, you let me know, and I’ll decide those words mean something other than ‘garden-variety, weak-kneed Democrat.’). The newspapers will quote economic justice advocates, who are almost always white men, who suggest that EMILY’s List and other efforts to elect women into office aren’t really progressive and kind of a relic of the past.

It’s been a few years since I was invited to an event with “the candidates’ wives” but almost all the candidates who make it past my local primaries are still white men. I’m done.

Frankly I cared and still care more about the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat in Maryland than I do the presidential. Last night Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) lost to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). In her concession speech she said that Maryland is about to have “an all-male delegation in a so-called progressive state.” This is a problem all over the country.

And now that Bernie Sanders is going to lose, it’s time for him to look around and consider his second act. Howard Dean took his loss and gave us a Democratic majority at the federal level — and while that group was far from perfect, it enabled huge legislative accomplishments.

Bernie is not that guy. He is the guy that is about building not a majority, but a movement. (Which is no knock, it takes all kinds.) Once the electoral pressures subside it’s time for him to expand that movement.

Just imagine if Bernie continued going around the country after he drops out of the presidential race, this time embarking on a listening tour. If Bernie would take the time to listen to the lived experiences of people who suffer from identity-based discrimination, and bake it into his wonderfully feisty approach to income inequality — just imagine how much better the progressive movement could be.

I don’t just want Bernie to fight for the soul of the Democratic Party; I want him to fight for the soul of a progressive movement that continues to second-tier the concerns of women and people of color. Rightly or wrongly, he is a white man and he will be more listened to when he raises these concerns. After Bernie Sanders drops out he should take on identity-based discrimination with humility, listening tours, and his trademark passion.

Video: Early November 2015 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed Hillary Clinton, egg donation, and Gloria Steinem.

You can watch a video of the show here:

How To Explain The Benghazi And Planned Parenthood Hearings To Your Two-Year-Old Daughter

What’s this? 

It’s a hearing, sweetie. And we need to talk about something important.

What do you notice about the people asking questions?

Yes, they seem mad. Really mad. What else?

That’s right. They’re almost all boys. Usually when boys grow up we should call them men.

Now what about the person getting yelled at?

Yes, she’s not a boy.

So this is not fair, but it’s true: There are a lot of boys who grew up thinking they were better than girls.


People were mean and they were wrong in the old days. They thought only boys could be strong, and only girls should take care of other people. I know, that’s not at all like your friends! Now boys play with dolls, and girls are great at running and jumping and playing baseball.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for people to let go of things they learned when they were little, even when those things are mean and wrong.

The reason why they are picking on Hillary Clinton and Cecile Richards, and not boys, is that for a lot of people, these women represent more opportunities for girls. One could be our first woman president. The other works so that girls get to pick what to do with their lives.

A lot of boys with mean and wrong ideas don’t like that. So they’re trying to put them in their place.

What I want you to notice is that neither of them are giving up, even though the questions are really mean. If someone ever tries to bully you because you are a girl, you shouldn’t either.

And I will be so proud of you. I already am.

Hillary Clinton at Benghazi hearing

Audio: April 2015 Joy Of Resistance Appearance

I discussed Hillary Clinton, abortion rights, and the women’s movement on Joy of Resistance, a radio show on WBAI Pacifica Radio 99.5 in New York City. You can listen to the show here (segment begins at 35:15):


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.

Hillary Clinton, A Pro-Choice Champion?

No one can credibly question that Hillary Clinton is a role model for women’s empowerment around the world. Further, it’s well past time for a woman to serve as president of the United States. Finally, there is always enormous pressure on feminists to line up and cart out the pom-poms during election season — and that pressure only multiplies when there is one big-time Democratic candidate, and she is a woman.

But if you ask me what I’m ready for, I stand to lose my integrity as an advocate if I don’t stick with my first answer: I’m ready for reproductive justice and I want to see it in my lifetime.

I’m ready for Hillary to step up.

Reproductive justice is a human rights framework developed by women of color that includes three keys: the right to have children, the right not to have children, and the right to parent in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive justice goes beyond issues of “choice,” and acknowledges that societies have proactive obligations to provide the means for people to live with dignity — offering quality health care for everyone, funding abortion and contraception without exceptions, and ending police violence against communities of color, to name a few. 

Is Hillary going to go there? Don’t tell me to trust her. Don’t point at the Republican candidates and their alliances and personhood bills and Terri Schiavo court briefs. And please, don’t tell me how to be a feminist and what my priorities should be.

Spring 2015 is only the beginning of campaign season; it’s still a bit chilly for cheerleading skirts, yes?

Much of my work is concerned with ending a reproductive health care crisis. This is not a side issue, and if you believe it is, I encourage you to think hard about white male dominance and how a framework of so-called bad sexuality and poor personal choices is set up, by design, to sideline just about everyone but white men in power.

That Hillary is a woman, that Hillary is a feminist, that Hillary could become president and shatter one important glass ceiling, does not automatically mean that she is going to use her backbone to reverse our gravely serious reproductive health care crisis.

Other women and men in power have not. In just two examples, the last major action of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus has been to collaborate and give its blessing to a deal House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) struck with Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to expand abortion funding restrictions by placing them in the Medicare “doc fix.” And, there is no defensible reason for President Obama to continue restricting abortion funding for rape victims around the world. What has Hillary done to indicate she’d be any different?

Before we start tripping over ourselves to applaud how great Hillary would be on these particular issues, it’s best to take a step back and acknowledge that the bar for who gets to be called a “pro-choice president” has been set extraordinarily low. Democrats and large reproductive rights organizations have conditioned us to accept that the champion is a person running for office against the person who says that rape is a blessing because then you get a baby. It’s time to break this cycle and tie labels to proactive policy outcomes.

We have a new, urgent, expanding crisis as far as access to reproductive care is concerned — clinics are closing, women are crossing the border to obtain medication to self-abort, and 231 abortion restrictions were enacted in the previous four years. Hillary needs to step up. Instead, she appears to be hiding.

She steered clear of abortion and focused on safer topics at the recent EMILY’s List gala, she left abortion out of her “No Ceilings” report on the status of women worldwide, and she had Melinda Gates (who refuses to talk about abortion) and a representative from the Catholic Medical Mission Board (which refuses to purchase or receive donations of condoms for its HIV/AIDS work overseas and acknowledges that it follows the lead of the presiding Conference of Catholic Bishops in each country where it has programs) lead a discussion on maternal mortality at the launch event for that report.

This strategy of trying not to go ‘too far’ or to demonstrate ‘cooperation’ with the opposition on abortion is not leadership. In fact, it’s a proven loser for women’s human rights. In one recent example, Hillary’s famous language about abortion needing to be safe and rare was just used by conservative lawmakers in Arkansas to pass a law restricting medication abortion.

Now, a few things:

Does Hillary support the right to abortion? Absolutely. Has she fought back forcefully against those who disagree? Yes. (Watch this epic takedown of Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) if you don’t believe me.) But reacting to bad guys is not enough, not by itself: this overall strategy is why the reproductive movement is losing.

Second, I’m not anti-Hillary. I went to Iowa to campaign for her before the 2008 election. I wept like hell when she conceded to Obama. For years I have been saying quite loudly that I believe leaders in the Democratic Party and women’s organizations failed her eight years ago by calling for her to leave the race or endorsing her opponent while she was still ahead.

But my lens is more complicated this time around.

I am a feminist activist and a reproductive health, rights, and justice advocate. And I have seen time and time again how those who want to advance “women’s issues” believe the only winning way to do so is to drop the abortion question or be as “strategic” (which really means something between non-confrontational and weak) as possible. So, I get very worried when Hillary is not embracing abortion (and yes, I mean saying the “A” word) when all the pundits say this time around her campaign will focus on Hillary’s role as a champion for women.

There’s no doubt about it — Hillary is an icon. But is she a pro-choice champion? Have we allowed that phrase to become meaningless? Who is working to expand access to abortion today?

There will be enormous pressure, rooted both in subtle sexisms and more overt ones, to not ask these questions as a feminist woman runs for president.

We can rise above that — a woman can and should expect a vigorous primary campaign season. Women can and should be allowed to have public differences amongst each other. Feminism is not just about placing women in the most powerful positions; it’s about demanding dignity for women like Purvi Patel, who is sitting in prison for twenty years on the basis of miscarriage or self-inducing an abortion.

It’s time to set the bar higher than loving Democrats and trusting they’ll figure it out, or nothing will change.

Video: March 2015 To The Contrary Appearance

I appeared as a panelist on this week’s episode of To The Contrary, and discussed the 20-year anniversary of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, assessing Hillary Clinton’s leadership for women’s rights, and whether a war on women continues. You can watch a video of the show here: