The campaign for the 2016 presidential election has been, to say the least, a roller coaster ride.
We’ve seen businessman and walking citrus fruit Donald Trump rise in the polls with his fiery rhetoric, and we’ve seen Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders closing the gap with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then falling behind, then win the state of Michigan, which polls predicted would be an inevitable victory for Clinton.
Sanders' victory came off the heels of the Flint, Michigan debate, where Sanders dug his heels in, especially in response to Hillary’s claim that he voted against the General Motors bailout. Clinton interjected with, “You know—," when Sanders bluntly cut her off with, “Excuse me, I’m talking.
Every woman watching the #DemDebate cringed when Bernie shushed Hillary this way: https://t.co/56KbfRl2Nj pic.twitter.com/sdse9H3ePC
— Mic (@micnews) March 7, 2016
Media outlets and Twitter users have debated whether or not these words by Bernie Sanders were sexist. Mic proclaimed on its Twitter feed, "Every woman watching the #DemDebate cringed when Bernie shushed Hillary this way," while Alex Griswold of Mediaite downplayed it by saying, "Anyone who has watched any debate in the past twenty-odd years ought to know that interruptions are frequent, and that the interrupted candidate often speaks up for himself.
This debate on its own would not be so disconcerting, but taking into account the words from fellow former Sectretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said at a February 6th rally in New Hampshire, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” this moment cites a more irking trend; Hillary Clinton is pitting women against men in her campaign by accusing the Sanders campaign of sexism, while ultimately missing the point of feminism.
Consulting the Oxford English Dictionary's web site, feminism is defined as "Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this . . ."
When Bernie uttered his "Excuse me, I'm talking” line, this was when Clinton interrupted Sander's response to her.
Her right to speak was not infringed upon; it was simply a reminder to Clinton, although a grumpy, condescending one, to respect his right to speak, like any woman would ask of any man.
When Sanders finished up this statement, and Clinton tried to follow up, Bernie did say, "Let me finish, you'll have your turn." He did say she would get a chance to speak. This is not the first time Sanders has been put into the "frying man" for allegedly talking down at Clinton. In October of last year, she referred to another incident at the democratic debate earlier that month: Sanders' response to Clinton's claim that he was not tough enough on guns.
"I've been told to stop, and, I quote, 'shouting about gun violence.' Well, first of all, I'm not shouting," Clinton said to laughter at a Democratic Party event in Washington, D.C. "It's just, when women talk, some people think we're shouting."
By “some people,” she likely referred men, and Sanders as well. While the statement was directed at Clinton, the actual quote from Sanders was the following: "As a senator from a rural state, what I can tell Secretary Clinton, that all the shouting in the world is not going to do what I would hope all of us want . . ." Sanders likely referred to the general debate over gun control prominent in the aftermath of the numerous mass shootings in this country.
Coming from a rural state, which has almost no gun control, I think I can get beyond the noise and all of these arguments and people shouting at each other and come up with real constructive gun control legislation, which most significantly gets guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.--Sanders, in an interview with CNN, quoted by NPR
Whether Clinton knew about this statement is difficult to tell. If this were the only time Clinton called sexism on Bernie for a statement just as likely non-gendered, then it would be understandable for Clinton to make this assumption.
To be fair, Clinton is not the only woman in politics to deal with gendered criticism. As quoted by NPR, “a Fox News guest in 2008 said, "When Barack Obama speaks, men hear, 'Take off for the future.' And when Hillary Clinton speaks men hear, 'Take out the garbage.'”
A reporter from the New York Times was presentend with a series of terms from a pro-Clinton volunteer group, which it called “coded sexism.” Terms included were "polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident..."
When asked about these terms, John Riley of Gabriel Books in Northampton said, “calculating has a slight anti-woman bent to it. You don’t hear men described as calculating."
The concern is understandable. However, a Clinton supporter took the words of Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, out of context when he said that Clinton would make a “good vice president.”
Christine Quinn, who sits on Clinton's New York leadership council, is quoted by NPR as saying she was “stunned that [Sanders], who has clearly committed his life to making the country a better place, would get sucked into this very dangerous rhetoric, which perpetuates sexist and misogynistic stereotypes.”
What stereotypes? Weaver was trying to defend Clinton against accusations of being a flip-flopper in “her shift in position on trade and the Keystone XL Pipeline,” as noted by NPR.
"'A craven hypocrite?' Weaver replied. 'That's a little bit harsh, don't you think?"
Weaver even went as far as saying, “We're willing to give her more credit than Obama did.”
Taking words out of context deliberately, and accusing Sanders of sexism, are not the tactics that a strong, independent woman would need to use, and it is sending the message to women that you have to make up things that aren't there in order to get your way.
Sanders did ultimately apologize on MSNBC for Weaver's comment, but did he really have anything for which to apologize?
Taking comments out of context and labeling them as sexism is an attempt at pitting women against men. It is a distraction. A feminist is more than someone who demands equal rights for both men and women; it must also mean equal accountability. So when it is your opponent's turn to speak, it is your opponent's turn to speak. If Clinton wants to be treated as an equal, this is her chance.