NICOLA Sturgeon’s appearance at the Women in the World summit in New York inspired much back-lashing, chest-beating and knuckle-dragging. Ex-Tory MSP Brian Monteith led the man-opausal charge, using a column in The Scotsman to complain that First Ministers shouldn’t strut about promoting women’s rights in other countries. “If there is one recognisable Scottish trait in public life it is that we do not like our politicians getting too big for their boots,” he humphed.
More reasonable opponents will surely admit that Sturgeon deserves credit for using her experience to encourage women in politics. After all, she takes endless stick simply for being a woman. I’m personally impressed and inspired by how she has risen above the jackals who can only see her as animated hair and legs, and I think she has every right to share those experiences for the benefit of young women of all nationalities.
However, I’ve always said that getting women into power shouldn’t be the sole or even the main goal of feminism. If feminism is to have any meaning beyond careerism for the rich, it must mean broad support for oppressed people across the world. Here, there is a major divide between liberal feminists – who think “leaning in” is enough – and the rest of feminism.
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Sadly, when Nicola Sturgeon described herself as a “fan girl” for Hillary Clinton, she fell squarely on the wrong side of this divide.
Depending on your perspective, Clinton either epitomises everything good about liberal feminism or everything wrong with it. She is the only professional politician to appear in Harper’s Bazaar’s list of 25 “inspiring women who shaped feminism”. Marie Claire similarly put her among the 20 most important feminists of all time, alongside Margaret Thatcher. These magazines, which cater for the tastes of upper-middle-class women, the self-described “pantsuit nation”, see Clinton as an untouchable, historic icon of women’s rights.
I take a different view. Where we elevate Hillary Clinton to god-like status, we demean the feminist cause. Her main career achievement can be summed up in one sentence: she weaponised feminism against the left, particularly the anti-war movement, in the service of the neoliberal American state. She used feminist rhetoric to justify the destruction of the American welfare system, to justify the invasion of Iraq and to justify the mass incarceration of Black men.
This much isn’t even controversial. In a book titled The Case for Hillary Clinton, the author notes that, “She has been an unequivocal supporter of the war and the military; she supports the death penalty, is a deficit hawk, and was an early supporter of welfare reform”.
Of course, the author means all of this as a compliment. But every one of those decisions was devastatingly harmful to women.
Clinton is often rightly criticised for voting for the invasion of Iraq. But that criticism doesn’t go far enough. Without fail, Clinton is not just a supporter but a cheerleader for “intervention” in the Middle East. She practically wrote the book on using feminist rhetoric to justify invading countries in the name of human rights.
Let’s be clear, without liberal support the War on Terror wouldn’t have gone ahead. The role of Blair and the Clintons tipped the balance in favour of invasions. Hillary, who famously promoted the Iraq invasion as a “business opportunity”, has blood on her hands.
It’s not just Hillary’s unconditional imperialism that’s troubling either. On every issue, without fail, she has a record of supporting oppressive causes. Take obvious feminist issues, like gay rights. Clinton only renounced her longstanding opposition to gay marriage in 2013. Previously, she’d held that marriage was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” Of course, this didn’t stop her travelling the world lecturing that “gay rights are human rights” as part of an interventionist foreign policy.
Or take racism against black people, a standard issue for any American feminist. Hillary was a leading supporter for a change in Democrat policy that targeted white conservative voters by promising to put more black men in jail. Under her husband Bill, the Democrats duly delivered. Bill still somehow enjoys a rapport with black leaders, but his reign was an unmitigated disaster for the black community in America.
On Hispanic rights, Hillary has been little better. She declared herself “adamantly against illegal immigrants”. Interestingly, that’s illegal immigrants, the people, rather than illegal immigration, the process. She supported a fence with Mexico, which differs from Trump’s “wall” only by a question of degree.
Hillary was also quite happy to whip up racism against Barack Obama when he dared to stand against her for the Democrat nomination for president. “Senator Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again,” she gloated. Note the equation of “hard-working” and “white” here, surely designed to turn Obama from “a” black candidate into “the” black candidate. Thankfully, she failed. Obama won, and the rest is history. But she did “feminism” no credit.
Last, there’s class. The Clintons – unlike that other American dynasty, the Bushes – aren’t part of blue blood America. Bill is from a working-class background; Hillary’s father was a small businessman.
However, Bernie Sanders was right to call Hillary the Wall Street candidate. Indeed, Clinton has herself bragged about “representing Wall Street” in her role as New York Senator. The Clintons have pulled in billions from big business for their election campaigns and for their Foundation. Hillary herself has estimated wealth of $30 million, before her husband’s money is included. “Public service” has been kind to them.
The Sanders campaign helped expose a problem in Clinton’s plan for presidency. She had endless links to the establishment and to big money, but little grassroots support. Bernie, the white, male septuagenarian socialist, proved far more inspiring to young women and was undercutting the presumed Clinton victory. Hence, the efforts to turn Clinton into a feminist icon. Sadly, such efforts proved ineffective in defeating Trump, and even less effective in popularising feminism.
True, much of the criticism Clinton gets is unfair. She’s a woman who wants to get to the top. Who cares? I’ve got few problems with women who want to get to the top. Pushy careerist men are far worse, and far more numerous.
Judged as a career politician, Hillary shouldn’t be held to higher standards than men. Her male rivals are often equally flawed. The problem isn’t Clinton, but the insidious control of democracy by money, media and militarism.
However, let’s not place Clinton on a pedestal just because Donald Trump is a pig. She’s no icon of the oppressed. Feminism should mean championing the voiceless in society. While Hillary pays lip service to cultural-studies jargon, her actions have damaged campaigners against racism, bigotry and war. Her apologies for this record are half-hearted at best. Clinton stands for a feminism co-opted by the billionaire class. We can and must do better.