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Aug 23, 2016

Clinton isn’t just ‘one of the girls’ – powerful women do not feel your pain

Powerful women appropriate the rhetoric of liberal feminism to further their own destructive agendas.

Hillary Clinton

Last week, an article by The Atlantic’s Michelle Cottle ran victory laps ‘round the liberal internet. This study of sexism in high places was widely shared on social media and favourably mentioned in press abroad and, due to its inclusion of comments by former PM Julia Gillard, at home.

Cottle had made the claim that powerful women are subject to powerful sexism — or “misogyny”, as our caffeinated age prefers. This is true; public women do cop extraordinary and particular abuse. There is not much to argue with in this piece. But there’s not a whole lot to agree with, either.

Even if you didn’t read this “brave” post, which warned of the cruel and gendered critique that presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is likely to face, you’ve seen its substance before. Notably, during Gillard’s time as PM in which dozens of Australian writers made the claim that this downfall was largely, if not entirely, due to sexism.

Other than sexism, there could no “other plausible reason that Abbott leads (over Gillard) in the polls”, according to The Guardian’s Van Badham, a commentator possibly on vacation for those three years, which had produced many other reasons that became plausible to the electorate. Publisher and former policy adviser Anne Summers revived her own career in describing the end of Gillard’s. She wrote a book, dozens of articles and a talk, which she came to refer to as “The Newcastle Speech”, successfully marketed as a Gettysburg Address for liberal feminists.

Before Summers’ historic rebranding, the speech was called “Her Rights at Work”, and this points to its central conceit, almost identical to Cottle’s, more precisely. The idea is that women like Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard are, for all their power, just two of the girls in the typing pool.

This is an old but persistent idea in liberal feminism: all women suffer equally under patriarchy. Whether you’re Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed, or Diane Smith-Gander, Chairman of Broadspectrum Limited, you’re as likely to be pinched on the bum as any secretary. You can oversee the fabrication of weapons or the operation of detention centres, but you remain subject to an indignity identical to that borne by the women killed by your drones or raped by your contractors.

I guess you can make the argument that patriarchy is an independent system of power that simply intersects with other systems, but I don’t know why you’d bother. This notion that sexism is a one-size-fits-all hierarchy is, like other thought experiments, only useful in first year philosophy tutorials. In a world of power complexes too inscrutable to enumerate, there is, in my view, no point in saying, “powerful women like Hillary Clinton suffer sexism just like I do!” Even if one can draw a graph linking sexist GOP sniping to, say, female poverty — something for which we can certainly hold Clinton, a vocal advocate for the hollowing out of US welfare by her husband’s administration, to account — what then? What use is there in honouring Clinton as one of the girls?

[Razer: we need President Trump, to ignite a real and fiery revolution]

The use is not feminist, but political. Just as that Bill so effectively said, “I feel your pain”, Hillary communicates this sentiment through the pop-feminism she has lately come to embrace. Liberal feminism allows a powerful woman to democratise her own suffering; make it seem as though she feels it as keenly as the female minimum-wage worker whose hourly rate she refuses to tie to inflation.

Clinton may be cynical, but many of her feminist supporters are, like Gillard’s, eager to buoy this myth of shared pain. They believe utterly in the practice of “shining a light” on the sexism that is encountered by the world’s most powerful women. They believe utterly that equality trickles down. But sincerity is a guarantee of almost nothing but stasis, and in extending the Clinton campaign’s claims that Hillary feels our pain, “patriarchy” — or whatever name you want to give to the various flavours of social inequality — remains undisturbed.

The only disturbance of which liberal feminism, so perfectly expressed in the Cottle piece, is capable is to campaigning tactics. And even these don’t really change that much. Declaring your candidate an underdog (I apologise for the sexist resonance here, I can’t think of a synonym due to the virus of patriarchy) is an old strategy. Persecution is a false political virtue, no matter how true the thing it points to is. When Donald Trump says, “I am not part of the political establishment”, he is falsely telling the truth. When Hillary Clinton says, “I am not a man”, she is falsely telling the truth. When liberal feminists say, “Hillary suffers sexism” they are falsely telling the truth.

Hillary does suffer sexism. Of course she does. She also uses her suffering masterfully and there were dozens of occasions during the primaries when her Democratic rival and his supporters were charged with enacting it. All women suffer sexism. Of course we do. The British Labour Party uses this suffering masterfully to delegitimise Jeremy Corbyn and permit Tory press to report on a “culture of intimidation” for which they hold him entirely responsible.

[Razer: viva la revolucion! There’s life in left-wing politics yet]

I am not at all fond of sexism. In its social form, it diminishes the lives of my comrades. In its personal form, it reads everything I have ever written as hormonal lunacy. I am an opponent of sexism, AKA a “feminist”, but I am also opposed to the appropriation of feminism by those, male or female, so ravenous for power that they will claim the real suffering of the many as their own.

I am sorry that Julia Gillard suffered sexist attack. I really am. Perhaps Julia Gillard, who still recounts this sexist attack, is now sorry that she authored legislation that attacked low-income single mothers — this happened to pass on the day of her famous misogyny speech.

But so long as this “feminism” that holds that equality for women must begin at the top, not the bottom, stands, we’ll never know if Gillard is sorry for dudding her sisters. We’ll just keep on believing that powerful women really feel our pain.

 

 

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “Clinton isn’t just ‘one of the girls’ – powerful women do not feel your pain

  1. Dion Giles

    Hostility to Clinton is not sexism, it’s based on her record as a neoCon owned lock, stock and barrel by Wall Street financiers and her dangerous pursuit of permanent war to enforce regime changes with risk, if extended to Russia as she has threatened, of thermonuclear war. Many of those hostile to her, former supporters of Senator Sanders, have switched their allegiance to the Greens, led by Jill Stein (so hardly sexism!) since Sanders threw in his lot with Clinton.

    1. Helen Razer

      Well. To be fair. There’s some very clear critique of Clinton that is truly, if naively, based in sexism alone. But, that’s not why you and I don’t fancy her.

  2. Reverend Owen

    Just another instance of the powerful justifying their hegemony by identifying their interests with the supposed good of others.

  3. anthony mcconnell

    Yes, Clinton simply wants women to vote for her because she is one too. Its actually a good tactic. She will say anything that might make her relatable to other women. If my workplace is anything to go by, I’d say she would get the votes of ‘most’ women.
    Was in the US last week listening to some right wing radio on a road trip where they were trying to suggest that Clinton recently had brain surgery but isn’t telling anybody.
    I don’t believe it, but I actually wondered if it might be a good thing if it was. We didn’t get Sanders but Hillary Clinton, with brain surgery, might just be ok?

  4. Draco Houston

    I can tell you aren’t hype for the US presidential election. I’ve muted everyone using the I’m with Her hashtag and I’m looking for a comfy rock to live under. I may have to settle for some sand to stick my head into in This Economy.

    1. Helen Razer

      I don’t think sand will be affordable for much longer.

  5. Paddy's Hubby

    Another 1,400 emails to be released soon, but I doubt any of them will mention the list of people associated with the Clinton’s, either as staffers, interns or advisors, who have met untimely deaths. Most by suicide shooting themselves 2 or 3 times in the head.

    1. Helen Razer

      The last release was hardly greeted with shock. Wasserman Schultz just got a nice new job with the nominee. These emails could reveal that Clinton eats babies. The response will be, “Well. At least she doesn’t say mean things like Trump.”
      I imagine Assange was very disappointed.

      1. Blue True

        “Well. At least she doesn’t say mean things like Trump.”
        haha, too true. It never ceases to amaze re politics. We have Lib/Lab, the US has Dem/Repub, the Brits have Lab/Conservatives. Two supposed opposites but we all know the illuminous ones owns both sides of the argument. They play us like a fiddle. It’s becoming obvious Trump is doing his best to lose the election now, so that leaves the “Queen of the South” to mop it up. I think she could be their man.

  6. klewso

    Was it sexism when the female conservative press crucified Gillard – on behalf of their employer(s)?
    Do we really want more ‘Bronwyn Mirabellas’ – simply because ‘they’re women’?

  7. Dog's Breakfast

    “I am an opponent of sexism, AKA a “feminist”, but I am also opposed to the appropriation of feminism by those, male or female, so ravenous for power …….”

    Yes, count me in. Feminism went backwards when its statement of purpose was ‘I am a woman, therefore I am discriminated against.’ If it can’t be a bit more subtle than that, then it has no future.

    But I do believe much of what Gillard went through was sexism, in that a man behaving similarly might have been lionised as being ‘strong’ whereas she was labelled duplicitous.

    Some of the senior reporters in our august journals revealed their colours, in my view.

    On the other hand, some of that was just political, in the same way that Labor can’t get away with anything but the worst LNP government since McMahon gets slapped with a wet lettuce. Gillard’s government was a a good one by reasonable measures, and will increasingly be seen to be so with the passage of time, I believe.

  8. AR

    Leaving aside slavering rightards, there are many reasons for loathing la Klingon.
    Her gender is the least of them.

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