On Hillary Clinton and the silence of her supporters

Cassidy Ellis

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Full disclosure: I was paid by the Feminist Majority for one month earlier in this semester to campaign for Hillary Clinton in advance of the Alabama primary election.

I recently read a Huffington Post article encouraging people who support Hillary Clinton to speak up and become more active on social media. This article resonated with me because my own support for Clinton has been somewhat silent. Outside of an occasional Facebook post or tweet here and there, I largely do not voice my desire to see Hillary Clinton become the (first woman) president of the United States.

Similarly, when I was hired by the Feminist Majority to work on some Clinton campaigning in Alabama earlier this semester, I had a difficult time identifying Hillary supporters on campus. We seem to be a quiet bunch. It’s important to address this silence because it highlights some serious issues in this presidential nomination race, especially considering that the majority of Hillary supporters are women.

First, though, we must consider the the sexism Clinton is encountering within the race. Though it’s only recently become a topic of discussion, she has faced sexism all along. After all, no one’s asking Sanders why he shouts at his rallies. (I attended the one in Birmingham on MLK Day, and there was quite a bit of shouting.) We appreciate Sanders for his disheveled, “down-to-earth” appearance, but if Hillary showed up to a debate or rally without being primped from head to toe her demeanor would be labeled “unprofessional.”

Many argue that Hillary is “too establishment,” and they support Bernie because he is “not a part of the status quo.” But, let’s consider what we mean by “establishment politicians.” Historically, this group has been made up of wealthy white men, often from the mid-atlantic region. Those who critique Clinton for being an “establishment politician” don’t consider the challenges she had to (and continues to) overcome as one of the first prominent women in politics. While those like Sanders could rely on their social privileges (particularly of being white and a man) to navigate around the good ‘ole boys in politics, Clinton had to navigate through them, through a system that was built to keep people like her out. How can a person who the “establishment” was created to exclude fundamentally represent it?

According to a poll published earlier this year by Media Matters For America, the largest base of Clinton supporters are women and the largest base of Sanders Supporters are men. Specifically, the poll found that 70 percent of college-aged men support Sanders while 28 percent of college-aged women support Clinton. This is an important fact when considering the silence of Clinton’s supporters because few discussions have addressed the sexist rhetoric utilized by people who support Sanders.

Women combat sexism on a daily basis, especially on college campuses. It is highly probable that one reason for the silence of Clinton supporters is sexism, specifically the fear of being patronized by “Bernie Bros” online and/or in person. Often when speaking in support of Clinton, our progressivism is called into question. As if only “real” progressives support Bernie. We have to acknowledge how this is problematic because it leads to the conclusion that the only “real” progressives are white and male. Though it can be argued that this problem begins and ends with “Bernie Bros,” all Sanders supporters who are not speaking out against the underlying theme of misogyny throughout the campaign are implicated.

Further, internalizing the sexism we see Clinton facing also contributes to the silence. Again, how can supporters, particularly women supporters, be expected to speak up if they’re consistently met with sexism and paternalistic responses?

Equality and social justice are centerpieces of the Democratic agenda. If supporters of Clinton and Sanders cannot engage each other without using rhetoric that perpetuates sexism or even racism and homophobia, how can we be truly social justice minded? If we shame like-minded people into silence over our choice of candidate, how does that make us different than the people whose politics are based on superiority and elitism?

We have to be able to converse with each other respectfully because there’s too much at stake in November to alienate and silence other Democrats. So, fellow HRC supporters, we must speak up and be heard! Women’s voices have been silenced in politics for far too long. It’s time we make noise.

Cassidy Ellis is a graduate student studying communication studies.