Merely having a woman in office does not automatically translate into a better situation for women.
Hillary Clinton is now being heralded as the “feminist” presidential candidate. Such branding of a ruthless war-mongering politician who merely happens to be a woman, is hugely problematic for a wide range of reasons. Unfortunately, this “feminist” espousal is not merely something that has been produced by Clinton’s campaign machinery and picked up by the approving corporate media, but it has also been sold well to women’s organisations.
This is not a new phenomenon. During Clinton’s 2008 bid for President, the National Organization of Women endorsed her campaign reportedly for her “long history of support for women’s empowerment” and more than 200 notable women, including the likes of Gloria Steinem, calling themselves “Feminists for Clinton” issued a statement that she was the best candidate. Even as their endorsement half-heartedly addressed her crucial senatorial vote in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq that left about a million Iraqis dead and their statement maintained a silence about the fate of Iraqi women caught in this bloody mess, it was quick to highlight the “scandalous presence” of prejudices against women in the campaign. They appeared to have collectively forgotten the fact that even though Hillary Clinton was at the receiving end of sexist attacks and misogyny, it did not make her a feminist.
Now, in the context of her second bid, her gender credentials have once again been deployed to boost her presidential campaign.
Victimhood is an alluring position from which to run for office, however, it does not erase the truth that Hillary Clinton does not have a feminist track record of any substantial character and that she has taken political decisions with catastrophic consequences for women around the world during her tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. Whether it is her past association with Walmart that still refuses to pay minimum wage to its employees, her personal friendship with the Saudi regime known for its human rights track record and its unimaginable treatment of women, her role in the US imperialist enterprise and meddling in the Middle East, her staunch support of Israel’s genocidal aggression against the Palestinians in Gaza strip—none of these are remotely feminist activities.
Hillary Clinton’s self-proclamation as a feminist is not going to alter the lives of the women whose existence have been thrown into disarray by US drone attacks, and it is going to be of very little comfort to these women to know that these bombings are the result of a “feminist” mind that worked on foreign policy.
Kshama Sawant, Seattle Council Member and a member of the Socialist Alternative, in an interview with Democracy Now said that Clinton’s record “speaks for itself”, besides pointing out that someone with such a record could not even “remotely claim that they were upholding the interests of women and children”. It is in alternative spaces and media outlets like Democracy Now, Racism Review, CounterPunch and Jacobin magazine that we find the only traces of criticism against the appropriation of feminism as a campaign tool by the Democratic Party and the Clintons.
Even as the world debates Hillary’s credentials as a feminist, and the effect she would have in addressing women’s issues, we know from the Indian experience where women have wielded power and have occupied the offices of prime minister or chief minister, that merely having a woman in office does not automatically translate into a better situation for women. Just a look at some of their reactions to rape (only outdone by what the male politicians spoke) will highlight this absence of correlation. Sheila Dixit, who was the Delhi chief minister during the December 16 gang-rape, said, “one should not be adventurous being a woman”, while the present External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called rape victims “zinda laash” (living corpses). No Indian feminist would sully her own credentials by calling either Sheila or Sushma feminists. So, to watch American feminists bend over backwards in cheering for Hillary Clinton is as hilarious as it is politically naïve and misplaced.
The liberal and corporate feminist groups would do well to look beyond their own narrow interests and stop doing a disservice to American women by blindly endorsing Clinton. This time around, they should learn from the misgivings of the past, and instead ask unsettling questions to hold politicians accountable, so that an incoming president does not perpetuate the same capitalist, racist and imperialist agendas that have become the trademarks of the US Government.