Project Wonderful

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a #BernieBro

I thought I had closed the book on the Bernie Bro phenomenon and was feeling quite satisfied when I got two messages from male friends who are supporting Bernie insisting that my take was unfair because it failed to address the over-use of the "Bernie Bro" label. Clinton is after all, a politician and cries of sexism should not be used to shield her from legitimate critique.

I think it is very telling of the current state of the progressive community that in order to have my complaints of sexism validated I need to be so obsequious and specific. A wise Facebook picture I was recently tagged in said, "expecting marginalized peoples to disregard their own emotions to calmly educate you is the epitome of entitlement." Whatever Bill Clinton did, or Gloria Steinem said or a Clinton supporters tweeted, the Bernie Bro phenomenon is a problem, and a cancer on our community and it needs to be addressed by all of us, full stop.

Having said that, CampaignSick is a blog about campaign life, elections, and women's political power. So let's talk.

Simply criticizing Secretary Clinton does not a Bernie Bro make. It should be noted that by that standard I would be a Bernie Bro. The insufficiently addressed problem with Bernie Bros is not even the nature of their attacks on Hillary. At least to the extent that is reasonable to expect, those have been acknowledged by mainstream Bernie supporters. (Yes, those are a thing.) It's the Bernie Bros' attacks on me and my reasons for supporting her. It's their insistence that an aspect of the electoral system that doesn't yield their desired outcome must be rigged against them. Although not overtly sexist this last part is certainly male entitled, not to mention ironic since the system was designed by and for white men.

When we apply the Bernie Bro label indiscriminately we weaken our own argument. Contrary to a response I got from a Twitter follower, the Bernie staffers I caught having a pizza party at 7:30 two days before the caucus were not Bernie Bros, they were just being little punks. (Kids today, amiright?) That would be like a Bernie supporter responding to my post about a staging location director accidentally giving me lit with the wrong polling place by calling her a corporate shill. I believe the constraints of gender have played a large part in Hillary's less progressive decisions, but there is nothing sexist about a Bernie supporter saying, "not good enough!" Hillary's gender does not exist in a political silo and it is a ridiculous and counterproductive bar to set to ask us to unpack the invisible backpack of gender and conclude that it excuses any and all distasteful behavior on the part of professional women.

Before Bernie Sanders' candidacy looked competitive people said, "well it's good that the primary won't be a coronation." Of course Hillary Clinton or any woman is not entitled to run unopposed by dint of her gender. However political context being what it is, it seems as if a coronation is the only way we can ever nominate a woman. Please read this excellent piece on the un-discussed gender dynamic in the race to learn more about why I feel that way. It makes me feel incredibly sad and frustrated and powerless. I've been a girl/woman for 31 years and politically sentient for about half of them. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be 81, to have fought for equality your whole life, to be this close to a woman holding the highest office in the land and see the possibility that it might again elude you. But it doesn't excuse Gloria Steinem implying that young women who support Bernie Sanders are doing so to meet boys or because they don't know any better. Which is, in fact, sexist.

Having done this for 10 years, I should not be surprised by extreme thoughtlessness even from Democrats. Then again, maybe the only way to do this for so long is to have unwavering faith in the moral arc of the so-called target universe. When you are a woman and you fight for equality in the public space, it is intensely personal. It is demoralizing and it is pervasive. There is barely an interaction personal or professional where I don't see gender at play. For this reason it is sometimes hard to see the line between "it's sexist" and "you're sexist," but nobody wins when women are trivialized or reduced only to that one identity. The reason I take this primary so personally is not because I so greatly admire Hillary Clinton, although I do. It is because more so than on her, or Wall Street, or Citizens United, it feels like a referendum on women in public life.

And right now, were it within my power, I would hand Bernie Sanders the nomination on a silver platter if it meant that we would once and for all be treated with respect.

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