I could say that the new essay collection False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Verso) edited by Liza Featherstone is a largely serious but very readable policy study of Madam Presumptive Nominee. And, I’d be right. Any even-tempered wonk or international relations hobbyist will find pleasure and instruction in its pages. There are those mild many to whom this work will offer a good afternoon in the company of lettered writers who, their leftism notwithstanding, are not half as annoying to read as, say, me.
But, this week, I don’t feel like advancing the rational non-fiction reader’s enrichment. This is not a review for those happy, sane people eager to learn. This is a form of therapy for those of us who will lose more than all our shit the next time we hear that Clinton’s recent victory is also a victory “for all women”, followed by some quotation mashup about fish, bicycles and how men all want to kill us when we laugh at them, or something.
“But doesn’t Clinton have a really bad record on foreign policy, corporate welfare, incarceration and public education?”
I prescribe this book as palliative care to my comrades whose hope is dying. I recommend this book as short-term pain relief. I suggest inserting this book into your tortured person by any pass possible. Read it and shut your big mouth up for a minute, because the moans of the You Go Girl sisters only grow louder when you enter their orgy of representational politics and say something like, “But doesn’t Clinton have a really bad record on foreign policy, corporate welfare, incarceration and public education?”
They will only say “Well at least she gets things done!”, that you are a “Bernie Bro” and that your “sexism” is in itself more evidence for the need of inspiring women like Hillary to ascend.
What is wrong with so many people of the feminist present? Surely, if one is enthusiastic enough about Secretary Clinton to applaud her win, one is also a little familiar with her political past and current policy commitments, few of which do not harm the majority of her countrywomen, some of which have brutalised women of other shores.
Headlines should alert many feminists to the fact that this neoliberal hawk is using their movement as a positioning statement and not as a policy guide. But, I guess they’re too blinded by the colourful pantsuits to notice she was such a frequent customer at Lockheed. Those of us who did notice when Clinton seemed to be up to some economic or actual butchery can take False Choices to bed and cry in greater detail. And the chapters by Donna Murch and Yasmin Nair that assess Clinton’s past and present policy on incarceration, which demonstrate that Black Lives Matter to her only as electoral utility, are likely to produce tears.
The power vacuum created by Clinton in Libya is currently being filled by Islamic State, a fairly un-feminist organisation as I understand it.
What is most immediately likely to produce a result for us Australians is HRC’s foreign policy. Clinton’s State Department, visited in a chapter by Medea Benjamin, makes Kissinger’s look like a scene from The Mikado. Hillary may not have known the details of Gaddafi’s extrajudicial assassination, achieved in part with a sodomising bayonet, when her response was caught on camera. But, she certainly seemed happy to take credit for it when she laughed, “We came! We saw! He died!” “That sent a message that the US would look the other way at crimes committed by allies against its official enemies,” writes Benjamin.
A person of the hard right is, of course, at her liberty to applaud this “hard choice”. But, the feminist who counts the welfare of other women among her interests might not be happy to learn that the power vacuum created by Clinton in Libya is currently being filled by Islamic State, a fairly un-feminist organisation as I understand it. And, then there’s all those brown women’s bodies in the Mediterranean. And those children dead by drone strike in Pakistan and Yemen. “Obama’s top diplomat was a forceful advocate for military intervention in that nation’s civil war,” Benjamin writes of Syria, and didn’t that war, whoops sorry “Moment of American Leadership”, turn out marvellously well?
HRC’s foreign policy choices may have been hard, but they were hardly productive. Her role as Secretary of State is frequently cited by feminist writers as a qualification for office. Over a section on foreign policy False Choices reminds us to ask just what kind of leadership this qualifies her for. In my view, and in the more reliable one of foreign policy analysists, her hawkishness qualifies her not as a fearless realist, but as a pretty shit ideological interventionist. Who has been pretty shit for some time. In the book’s preface, we are told of the likelihood that it was Clinton as First Lady who convinced her husband to invade Kosovo. “Gail Sheehy reports that Hillary broke eighteen months of not speaking to Bill over the Lewinsky affair just to tell him he had to bomb Kosovo.” I LOLed.
Why? Why is the “progressive” west so currently convinced that any critique of an action taken by a woman is a critique of our gender itself?
But, did I laugh from a legitimate fear that the hegemon is likely to be led by an illogical aggressor? Or, did I laugh because I’m A Sexist? Oh, probably, Helen. Why do you hate women and why can’t you celebrate this wonderful day when we can all tell our daughters, “Look! Look at the lady who killed so many other daughters in Arab and gulf states?” Seriously. This is the shite that actual feminists are actually saying with their human woman mouths. This is why the publishers of False Choices felt the need to print “Is this book sexist?” in big bold letters on the back cover. This was about the only thing I didn’t like much about the book—well, if we don’t count the reminder that the world is about to be advanced to the next level of neoliberal shit.
Why? Why is the “progressive” west so currently convinced that any critique of an action taken by a woman is a critique of our gender itself? Actually, this question is addressed with good recourse to humour and theory in Catherine Liu’s essay Neoliberal Fictions. It’s a marvellous piece which uses Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird to illustrate a self-fancying white liberal ideology that deigns to occasionally soothe the black, the illiterate, the poor. I would also name Nair’s among my favourite essays in this pessimistic miracle, but I shouldn’t, as I know her a little. Which is fun for me, but also depressing. It means the global community of non-liberal feminists is really that small.
And, it is small. Not to adopt the persecuted posture preferred by Clinton’s supporters, but at some point in the last 20 years, being a feminist opposed to identity or representational politics became terribly unpopular. Like, way more unpopular and less profitable than being the sort of feminist who writes Why Women of Colour Have the Right to be Represented on Game of Thrones.
The uncritical demand for women’s rights and representation has become of far greater interest to feminists and feminist commentators than their reality. This was baldly illustrated in our own nation when, on the day of her powerful “misogyny” speech, Julia Gillard also happened to see punitive legislation on single parents (i.e. mothers) pass through the Senate. This current appetite for representation above reality is fed by Hillary who delivered the first of many empowered victory speeches last week at Planned Parenthood. She supports a woman’s “right” to choose the terms of her fertility but, as Maureen Tkacik describes in an essay on abortion, proposes no means to make either termination or parenthood affordable.
But. You know. You Go Glen Coco etc.
Why is the choice of Wall Street also the choice of putative feminists? How can One Woman’s Brave Struggle possibly mean anything at all if it signifies no intention at all to alleviate the real struggle of real women? When did the experience of sexism become in itself a rationale for leadership and plaudits?
When the feminist fuck did this happen?
Did I miss some sort of talkshow event at which HRC gave away new compact cars for the modern-woman-on-the-go? Was I not informed of a discursive transition in which we no longer assessed potential world leaders for what they might do, but largely as inspiring celebs who gaily defy their “haters” like Taylor Swift? Was I absent on the day that bright and well-regarded Australian feminist Jane Caro set her long interest in public education aside to champion a policymaker whose devastation of US schools we can trace.
In her essay Waging War on Teachers, Megan Erickson describes Hillary’s “commitment” to education. Caro might insist that Clinton has “fought for the rights of women and girls all her life”, but what she overlooks is a history, started as Arkansas’ First Lady, that vilified teachers, welcomed Walmart executives into policy discussions and ignored evidence. Erickson writes, “Hillary Clinton believed and continues to believe, along with corporate education reformers, that the biggest crisis faced in America, and in its schools, is a crisis of values, not a crisis of inequity”. And this is a recurring theme in a book that examines many of Clinton’s platforms. Clinton, a late-capitalist mix of Nanny Statist and neoliberal, believes that it is people who need to be better. Not policies.
If only we could see that This One Inspiring Woman played a disproportionate role in such misfortune.
Clinton’s time has finally come. A very popular feminism, which has now taken hold in all major media outlets, believes that it is bad values and not bad policy that impedes a nation. They are ready to receive her. If only we weren’t racist. If only we weren’t sexist. If only we saw each other for the beautiful humans we really are!
Oh. Bugger me with a bayonet. If only we’d return, even occasionally, to first principles and see that it is not the poor character of individuals that leads to mass incarceration, refugee crises or unemployment. If only we could see that This One Inspiring Woman played a disproportionate role in such misfortune.
Anyhow. I feel I’ve earned another afternoon with this pessimistic book, which is absolutely full of fun new ways to despair. So, I’m off. Meantime, you enjoy your refreshing representational glass of HRC, whose presidency will prove every bit as useful to your gender as a can of coconut water. I’ll find some hemlock, which is the fate of the “sexist” who refuses to celebrate HRC.
False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton is edited by Liza Featherstone and is available in paperback in Australia on June 16.
You can buy the book here.