The now viral comment rapper Killer Mike made at a Bernie Sanders’ rally that “having a uterus doesn’t qualify a woman to be president” constitutes crass sexism; reducing a very qualified Hillary Clinton to a body part. That Killer Mike quoted another woman in advancing a sexist argument doesn’t make it less sexist. Worse is the disrespect to Clinton’s achievements. Few women or men could match up to her qualifications. Which begs the obvious question – why does having a penis make a man qualified?
Barbara Lee’s nonpartisan research foundation has consistently proven that:
“[W]omen running for president must show their expertise in traditionally male-dominated areas like the economy, while also showing their prowess on “women’s issues,” like health care and education — plus, everything else. For women candidates, the devil really is in the details.”
“If Sanders were a woman running for president, he would need to be more than a one-issue candidate. To be sure, income inequality is a critically important problem to tackle, but if he were a woman he’d be dinged for harping on the same single issue without showcasing a leadership track record on everything else.”
Due respect to the curmudgeonly Senator, if he were a woman, he’d have gotten the hook months ago. No female could get away with his narrow focus, scruffy appearance or atonal bellowing. Yet men grant each other a credibility women need to earn. And women often automatically grant men more credibility than they grant each other.
I thought after learning of Killer Mike’s quote, Senator Sanders would disavow it, yet his spokesman, Michael Briggs, repeated the same argument and dismissed the complaint as “gotcha politics.” But can you capture women’s votes when your campaign objectifies someone who has earned the title of America’s most admired woman a record-breaking 20 times? Some of Sanders’ fans may not care for Hillary. Millions do.
“A uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States. You have to have policy that’s reflective of social justice.”
This does not change the point of my piece. Hillary is still being reduced to a “uterus” and the comment is even more insulting because Hillary has an excellent record on social justice, starting with her work for the Children’s Defense Fund. Her efforts “were also a major catalyst for the enactment of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” She went undercover at the age of 24 in Alabama private schools to expose segregation so those institutions would lose their federal funding. All that when she was just getting out of law school. The list goes on …and on from there. The “uterus” reference has no place in any discussion of Hillary Clinton’s record or considerable accomplishments.
Perhaps Amanda Marcotte put it best:
“When you sneer that Clinton has nothing to offer as a candidate than her uterus or vagina, this is what women hear you saying: That being the valedictorian at Wellesley, a Yale-educated and highly accomplished lawyer, a women’s rights activist, a policy expert who helped set the stage for universal health care, a U.S. Senator and the Secretary of State isn’t enough. That even with this long list of accomplishments and a lengthy history of advocating for progressive causes, Clinton still is told she has nothing to offer but her uterus.
If Clinton’s remarkable career isn’t enough to prove that women can be worth more than a “uterus,” what chance do the rest of us have?”
Killer Mike’s quote (from Jane Elliott) presupposes Hillary Clinton demands anyone vote for her on the basis of gender. She does not. Such an argument is an attempt to distract from and disqualify all the reasons she is ready to be our Commander in Chief. Hillary’s gender is a perk of perspective and life experience, yet she knows all too well that in the battle for votes, the woman is easily taken for granted. Look no further than 2008. Then-Senator Obama’s narrative of the first black president was celebrated as historic. Not so for Hillary. As the first woman after 43 men, she was just standing in the way.
The Onion perfectly satirized her conundrum by telling this women of historic achievement that she needed to be “more inspiring.” After Hillary has jumped through every hoop, she’s still not “exciting” enough; she’s “shouting.”
Society remains conflicted in its determination of what is acceptable or desirable conduct for a woman. We scrutinize a powerful or ambitious woman’s every move and are comfortable passing judgment on every part of her personal, physical and professional presentation. A man faces no such hurdle. In demeaning a woman’s achievements by reducing her to a uterus, women not drawn to Clinton may giggle along in agreement, but they are by extension devaluing themselves.
If I rejoice that a woman I disagree with or dislike is on the receiving end of destructive treatment, I may look less seriously at sexist transgressions. If they abuse her, someday they may abuse me in the same manner if I become likewise inconvenient. I won’t have redress against their tactics since I gave permission for their earlier behavior by my silence. Devaluing one devalues all.
The “uterus” argument is but a convenient way to keep women out of the halls of power.
*photo courtesy Jim Livesey*