I have a friend whose 9 year old daughter is rooting for Hillary Clinton, wishing she was old enough to vote for the first woman president. That makes sense. I can even understand the 19- 29 crowd, unschooled in the events of the last 40 years, falling for Hillary. What I don’t get is women in my own age cohort who were adults in the 1980s – supporting Clinton as a feminist act.
Growing up in the sixties and seventies, I declared myself a feminist before the backlash, and never questioned the label. As a white woman I could not be a part of Black feminism or the Chicana movement, but I schooled myself enough to recognize my ignorance; to recognize that sisterhood in the United States required dismantling white supremacy.
I don’t remember if I ever believed breaking glass ceilings would be enough to end patriarchy, but If I did, the events of my adulthood, soon taught me otherwise.
Entering my 20s as a rape and sexual assault survivor, the Take Back the Night movement, fed me. When you need something so acutely you listen. I heard survivors talk about the multiple struggles of race and class, forcing me to adjust my assumptions about the path to sisterhood. I heard about abuse within the lesbian community, forced me to adjust assumptions about gender and assault.
I was introduced to the concept of systems of oppression, and to the power of solidarity.
I know I don’t know what it is like to be you, but I have chosen to orient my life so that I see the injury to you as an injury to me.
In the 1980s glass ceilings did break. A generation of women – largely white — saw doors to careers open (and salaries fall). It wasn’t long before many of us had the experience of women bosses, every bit as tyrannical as men. It wasn’t long before sisterhood with its nessecity to lift all women– took a back seat to individualist-career-feminism.
A few women reached positions of elite power, and we soon realized that elevation of a few, by itself – would not change the gender power structure. To the contrary some of these women were especially adept at protecting the race, class gender and “first world” status quo.
If we were adults and “woke” in the 80s we remember Jeanne Kirkpatrick, recruited by the Reagan administration to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick was a strong woman. Her role in the administration was vast. She went beyond carrying out policy. She had her very own Doctrine, just like Monroe! She transformed the world, in a machiavelian manner. Her theory that right wing authoritarians should be fostered and coddled by the United States because they were best bulwark against communism, justified the arming and funding of dictators in Latin America, Africa and South East Asia These dictators protected U.S. business interests in exchange for the armaments needed to protect themselves from the will of their people.
For me in the mid 1980s, sisterhood meant protesting Kirkpatrick and the Reagan/ Margaret Thatcher world order, that used militarism, impoverishment, and systematic rape – literarily – to hold women of the Global south in check, and privatization and union busting at home to destroy the lives of working U.S. and British women and their families.
Unfortunately the 1990s and 2000s only saw the codification of the Thatcherism and the Kirkpatrick Doctrine. New generation of women — Madeleine Albright, Condaleeza Rice, and Hillary Clinton, continued to use positions of power to subjugate other women.
In the 21st century working class women entered the military and police forces and we soon discovered that simply changing the gender would not transform the destructive nature of these jobs. Women in the military faced wide spread sexual abuse. In police forces women and men of color experienced sexism and racism. They found they could not change the system from within.
Idle No More founders
Feminism is alive and building today. Women are organizing. Idle No More, Black Lives Matter, Code Pink. They lead environmental and social justice and anti military movements around the world. They are embracing internationalism, advancing a sisterhood without borders,that elevates men as well. One of those international leaders was Berta Cáceres, murdered this month in Honduras fighting a coup regime, protected and coddled Kirkpatrick-style by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I remember when Hillary first burst on the national scene she declared she wanted to be an activist First Lady, like Eleanor Roosevelt. With her early work on health care and speeches on children’s rights, it looked as if she might mean she would not only she speak up, but she would also use her voice to uplift. But then HRC embraced her husband’s welfare, mass incarceration and free trade policies and the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq.
As Senator and Secretary of State Clinton showed us that international vision was in line with Kirkpatrick and Kissinger, not Roosevelt, who helped birth the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just to make it clear that was not the Clinton of the past, she bragged about her mentee relationship with Kissinger during the February 4, 2016 debate in New Hampshire.
It is up to us second wave elders to share this history, to show fifth wave 9 year olds why we feel elevating the individual career of one woman at the expense of systemic change, solidarity and sisterhood is no kind of feminism.
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control….