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.

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My Pinup Photo Shoot (I Still Get To Be A Feminist)

I did a cheesecake photo shoot. I was a pinup girl. If you think that means I don’t get to be a feminist or work for women’s equality or reproductive rights, come and get me.

The freedom to have fun, be sexy on your own terms, and take up space in public discourse is worth fighting for.

Hollywood noir
The Hollywood Noir Shot

My relationship with my appearance is complicated. I’ve had an eating disorder. I’ve had a baby and felt my body change. Generally, I don’t wear makeup and you’ll see me wearing heels just a few times a year. When I had a makeover earlier in my feminist career for the purpose of making people listen to me about feminism (no shit!), I cried.

But there are select awesome things that have long made me happily toss off my sneakers and glam it up. Those select awesome things are deco or noir or early sixties. (Let’s talk about hats!) I am picky, but every now and again I strike vintage gold.

There is one magical boucle coat I own; it’s teal with three-quarter sleeves. When I wear it to work, which invariably involves pushing for gender equality beyond the boundaries of what is considered polite, I have several times muttered to myself that I’m “taking it back for Grandma.”

Because, simply, Grandma looked great. And she deserved gender equality, too.

The Joan Crawford Housecoat Shot
The Joan Crawford Housecoat Shot

But wait. Isn’t fighting against the objectification of women what feminists are supposed to do? Don’t I have a responsibility not to play into that objectification by always looking as all-business as possible? There are some feminists who would say yes. But frankly, I think no.

Somewhere along the way the fight led by feminists to not be valued on the basis of your appearance in a world of impossible, sexualized standards — something that is toxic and fascist and deadly — became confused with a rigid idea that feminist women must not care about their appearance or (gasp) be sexy.

It is hateful when women are expected to be pretty or sexual, to be sure. But just as no woman is a threat to womanhood because she doesn’t care about her appearance (me on most days), so too she is harmless to the status of other women if she puts great effort into it.

As I covered in an earlier post titled Policing Personal Lives Is Not The Point: Dos and Don’ts Feminism Must Die, an emphasis on one woman’s choices for herself as a threat to all women’s opportunities is the essence of awful, sexist, and mean ridiculousness.

Whether expressed around beauty, fashion, or enjoying supposedly “light” (read: feminine) forms of entertainment, the bald truth is that the alleged stupidity of one woman is not what holds other women back.

Systemic discrimination on the basis of not just sex, but also race, class, ability, sexuality and gender identity, and other immoral hierarchies of dominance and privilege is what holds women back. Denying these oppressions exist does not allow you to escape them.

Change happens not because the arc of history wants it to, but because individuals have acknowledged uncomfortable truths and insisted on breaking convention.

The Bookworm On The Beach Shot
The Bookworm On The Beach Shot

I insist upon being able to wear a fucking swimsuit and heels, and then continue to speak credibly about politics and in particular feminist politics. I know, some of you are cringing — Erin, don’t do this to yourself.

Actually, I’ve thought long and hard about whether to share these. And where I land is that if you think a woman showing her body is shameful, you are saying that her body is shameful. Excuse you!

My body is just fine, I’m not wearing anything particularly outrageous or showy in these photos, and, my gosh, I have legs. Please explain how hiding my legs means that my life will be perfect and women will be equal.

We know that sexism is at play in these assumptions because they simply aren’t there for men. Scott Brown posed nude for Cosmopolitan, and you know what he went on to do? Run for Senate. Not in one state, but two! But it’s not the same for women. Things will change, however, when women insist on taking up space even though we are not “perfect” – a purposefully impossible standard.

Krystal Ball, an MSNBC host who previously ran for Congress, is a hero for fighting back after right-wingers released racy photos of her in an attempt to tank her campaign in 2010 (emphasis mine):

The tactic of making female politicians into whores is nothing new. In fact, it happened to Meg Whitman, one of the world’s most accomplished business women, just last week. It’s part of this whole idea that female sexuality and serious work are incompatible. But I realized that photos like the ones of me, and ones much racier, would end up coming into the public sphere when women of my generation run for office. And I knew that there could be no other answer to the question than this: Society has to accept that women of my generation have sexual lives that are going to leak into the public sphere. Sooner or later, this is a reality that has to be faced, or many young women in my generation will not be able to run for office.

The Classic Pinup Shot
The Classic Pinup Shot

I am sharing these photos because I love them. I am not ashamed of them. I refuse to let a fear of someone else finding them and ridiculing me — a fact of life when photos are digital and hacking exists — hold me back from participating in public life.

I am sharing these photos because there are lots of young women in a generation beneath me sexting. We should not judge them; sexting seems to be a fairly routine part of sexual exploration for many young people, these days. It is also a fact that many of the young women who are sexting will find photos leaked or shared with others against their will later.

If we want a world with equality, we must insist that those young women who have sexted are not then told that their futures are foreclosed because their body has been made accessible to the Internet. We don’t do that to young men. Nor should we.

I work on incredibly important issues, and I am incredibly serious about them. I am also allowed to have fun.

And, on occasion, my dear, I do.