Feminist rhetoric is playing a huge part in this round of U.S. presidential elections because, as I’m sure everyone is more than aware, powerhouse Hillary Clinton is a top dog in the bid for presidency. However, more often than not this same rhetoric takes on a heated tone, often veering into sexist waters which can be damaging not just for Clinton’s camp but her main rival Bernie Sanders’s following as well. The past couple months have been a literal battlefield of verbal shots that both Clinton and Sanders supporters have been firing at each other with the distinct aim of trying to define where and how feminism will fit into this coming election. Let’s take a look at some of the more memorable moments and discuss how language can affect the impact these viewpoints have.
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” – Madeleine Albright
When Ms. Albright touted this very famous, very familiar phrase at a Clinton rally, it brought about mixed reactions of delight and rage. There’s no doubt that Albright is something of a political icon and feminist. After all, she was the first female Secretary of State, a position Hillary Clinton later took on, and is well respected as a diplomat and politician. Even with all these accolades to back her up, Albright’s comment still gives many voters, and women especially, pause. The problem many see with this type of rhetoric is that it implies that women who aren’t supporting a woman like Hillary Clinton are not good feminists.
Furthermore, it discounts Clinton’s value as a presidential candidate based on her accomplishments, and aims the focus solely on her gender. Namely, it seems to tell women voters that they should vote for Hillary Clinton firstly because she also is a woman, and secondarily because of her abilities, political standing, or competence. Some view this type of feminist rhetoric as dangerous because it limits women to gender and doesn’t broaden the scope regarding female and male equality.
“I don’t vote with my vagina. It’s so insulting to women to think that you would follow a candidate JUST because she’s a woman.” – Susan Sarandon
It’s well-known at this point that actress Susan Sarandon is a big Bernie Sanders supporter, so it should be no surprise that she tweeted these very words while weighing in on what exactly she thinks about the Hillary Clinton campaign. While she’s certainly not the first (or most likely the last) person to make gender an issue in this presidential race, her choice of language can offer several conflicting interpretations. On one side it can be argued that Sarandon is very much correct. Women should no more vote for a candidate because of her genitalia than men should for a man for that same reason. In fact, a man would be considered sexist if he claimed to vote for a candidate based on his male gender.
However, these same words can have an adverse effect on Clinton supports – and especially female Clinton supporters. Although Sarandon’s words offer some truth, they also cast women who are ardent Hillary Clinton followers in a negative light by portraying them as not willing to look into the deeper issues or as silly for not seeking out a candidate who aligns with their values. In a way, rhetoric like this is insulting to these same women because it makes it seem as if the only issue they truly care about is the fact that Clinton is a woman and they are incapable of seeing past that.
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Undoubtedly the rhetoric, language, and words being used in these campaigns are unlike any we’ve seen before in presidential races. Whether we’re talking about Trump’s tendency for sexist remarks, Clinton’s penchant for dropping the gender card, or Albright’s and Sarandon’s fascinating choice of words, feminism is playing a very different role this time around. And while these words do tend to affect how many women voters make their choices, they also serve to create a negative divide and animosity between campaigns. As vital members of a democracy, it serves each of us well to do our own research into each candidate’s policies and take a good, hard look at where they stand regarding women’s issues. Don’t let yourself be influenced by rhetoric from either side, make your choice based on what you think is best for you!
What are your thoughts on the feminist rhetoric prevalent in the presidential race? Do you think it does more harm than good?