Hillary Clinton: She May Be a Woman, but She's Far From a Feminist

The current Hillary-phoria ignores the fact that her policies have not and will not empower or benefit the majority of women at home or abroad.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a "Women for Hillary" meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin September 10, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a “Women for Hillary” meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin September 10, 2015. Credit: Reuters

Since the launch of her presidential campaign, breathless supporters would have us believe a Hillary Clinton victory would be the feminist movement’s equivalent of a moon landing.

Celebrities, media figures and self-identifying feminists have leapt onto the spaceship-bandwagon along with plenty of lesser-known volunteers such as Ariel Chesler, author of a recent dispatch on the popular US website The Daily Beast, titled “Father, Husband – and Proud, Pro-Hillary Feminist.”

After describing his experience being moved to tears by a female-empowering Star Wars scene, Chesler notes that “a similar rush of emotion occurred… when I began introducing my daughters to Hillary Clinton, showing them clips of her rallies and speeches.”

According to Chesler’s analysis, Clinton and certain “superheroines” of film and television “offer us everything we’ve been waiting for” in order to dismantle the “misogyny we carry within us.” He goes on to applaud Clinton’s statement that the US needs “more love and kindness.”

But as emotionally persuasive as some might find Chesler’s tribute and others like it, this sort of Hillary-phoria conveniently ignores the fact that her policies have not and will not empower or benefit the majority of women at home or abroad. Excised from the scene is her legacy of sustaining traditions of racism and classism – two institutions that are structurally tied up with the very patriarchal system she’s portrayed as defying – not to mention, you know, her predilection for bombing other countries, which arguably isn’t the best way to transmit love and kindness.

For those interested in an unwhitewashed version of Clinton’s track record, a good place to start is False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton, edited by Liza Featherstone. I myself have a short segment in the compilation, in which I primarily discuss Clinton’s integral role as US secretary of state in ensuring the success of the 2009 right-wing coup d’état in Honduras. As American economist Mark Weisbrot has pointed out, the aftermath of the coup has been characterised by skyrocketing femicides, among other disasters.

So much for feminism.

But back to Clinton’s love-and-kindness on the home front. As the various other meticulously-researched chapters of False Choices demonstrate, Clinton has over the past several decades been on the frontlines of many a domestic assault: from the war on welfare to the war on schoolteachers to the war on drugs – themselves often veneers for what boils down to a war on poor black people, including, obviously, many women.

In a chapter titled “Waging War on Teachers,” Megan Erickson quotes the president of the Arkansas Education Association during Bill Clinton’s governorship of that state on how the Clintons were essentially a two-for-one deal: “Something [e.g. an education reform program] would come down and you wouldn’t know which of them thought of it, where Bill stopped and Hillary began. That’s why we called them Billary.”

As Featherstone and Amber A’Lee Frost summarise in their introduction to the book, Billary’s female half “played a crucial role… in demonising public school teachers – many of them African-American women – and dismantling their unions, a sexist and racist tactic that succeeded then and has set the tone in the continuing American political debates over education.”

Billary’s two-term presidency meanwhile produced a host of nationwide obstacles to existence for certain demographics. In her own chapter, “The Clintons’ War on Drugs: Why Black Lives Didn’t Matter,” Donna Murch details the duo’s hysterical “crime and punishment policies” and their “shared culpability for our contemporary prison nation” that incarcerates an appallingly high proportion of its citizenry, particularly African Americans.

Of course, no discussion of Clinton’s fundamentally anti-woman stance is complete without a mention of her relations with Wal-Mart, notorious for its union-busting, pitiful wages and particularly oppressive treatment of females. Having previously served for six years as a Wal-Mart board member, Clinton continues to receive massive donations from family members of the company’s late founder Sam Walton.

An October 12 article on The Intercept reports on leaked emails indicating that, “in a series of highly paid appearances after leaving the State Department [in 2013], Clinton praised [Wal-Mart’s] practices and spoke fondly of its founder in speeches that were kept secret from the public.”

The Intercept notes that Clinton had also “expressed disappointment that Wal-Mart abandoned its plans to build retail stores throughout India because it wouldn’t be able to meet an Indian government requirement that it buy 30% of its products from small and medium-sized Indian businesses.”

Luckily for neoliberal crusaders, however, Wal-Mart has managed to make numerous other inroads in India, and the company continues to be targeted with accusations of severe exploitation of Indian supply chain workers in sweatshop conditions. Naturally, many of these employees are women.

In her False Choices chapter titled “Hillary Clinton, Economic Populist: Are You Fucking Kidding Me?”, Kathleen Geier observes—quoting The Wall Street Journal—that one of Secretary of State Clinton’s trademarks was her penchant for lobbying foreign governments on behalf of American corporations. Geier remarks: “In several instances – as when she advocated for Wal-Mart in India, and General Electric in Algeria – the timing between Hillary’s lobbying for a particular firm and that same firm’s… contributions [to the lucrative Clinton Foundation] is suspiciously close.”

As for Clinton’s service as a dutiful advocate for mass slaughter and other forms of violence abroad, one need look no further than her giddy support for homicidal manoeuvres in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and beyond – not to mention her loyal endorsement of the carnage Israel regularly inflicts on the Gaza Strip.

And while Donald Trump is no doubt as nefarious as can be, at least he’s transparently so and has refrained from marketing himself as a vanguard of feminism or any other objectively positive phenomenon.

As it turns out, not even Clinton herself meets her own qualifications for feminism, as outlined to Lena Dunham in September 2015: “[A] feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights.” If her performance over several decades is any indication, Hillary Clinton believes not in equal rights for the masses, but in equal rights for Hillary Clinton and a smattering of other elite folks.

Featherstone and Frost write in the introduction to False Choices that “Clinton’s feminism is the sort that only benefits a handful of wealthy, white Americans – most saliently Hillary Clinton herself,” while contributor Zillah Eisenstein terms Clinton’s “brand” of feminism as “power feminism, imperial feminism, white ruling-class feminism.”

In the end, this reality stands in stark contrast to the version transmitted by the likes of Ariel Chesler – and there are many like-minded souls. In his article for The Daily Beast, Chesler alleges that, like the female character of Star Wars and other superheroines, Clinton “inspire[s] many girls and women to ‘step into their power,’ awakening the force in them and giving them new galaxies.”

But seeing as the presidential hopeful has already done more than her fair share to screw over the part of the galaxy we’ve got, here’s hoping girls and women think much bigger than that.

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso, and the Warscapes e-book Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon.