We need to scrutinise Clinton's actions against the high standards to which she claims to aspire and ask what feminism has to do with it
With Hillary Clinton now running as the Democratic Party's official nominee, there has been much discussion about the glass ceiling finally shattering now that a woman is running for president on a major party ticket for the first time in US history.
"I can't believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet," she told the convention crowd in Philadelphia last month after she was introduced with shattering glass sound effects.
But this accolade needs to be qualified on a number of levels.
Firstly, Senator Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to be nominated to run for president, at the 1964 Republican National Convention (she eventually lost out to Barry Goldwater).
And in 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm became the first woman to run for the Democrat nomination. She also broke another barrier, that of being the first black politician to run for president for a major political party.
Repeated mention of Clinton's success reminds the world just how patriarchal the US still is
Repeated mention of Clinton's success also reminds the world just how patriarchal the US still is. After all, there are currently 21 elected women heads of state, and there have been many more in recent history.
These 21 women do not include royalty, whereby women can lead without "running" for the position and are simply born, or marry, into it. The countries currently headed by elected women range from Chile to Croatia, from Bangladesh to Germany, from Senegal to the Central African Republic. It shows how the US lags shamefully behind most regions of the world on this matter.
Finally, over the past few decades, there have been nine women Muslim heads of state, presiding over Turkey, Kosovo and Indonesia among others. Bangladesh has had not one, but two female heads of state. Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto served two non-consecutive terms, and was campaigning for a third term when she was assassinated.
Clinton dilutes the term 'feminist'
It is easy, then, to agree with Clinton’s assertion that it is time for a woman to be president of the US.
But it is certainly more problematic to claim that her nomination is a feminist accomplishment. This is because Clinton’s record, her documented policies and her credentials dilute the term “feminist” to the point of making it virtually meaningless.
I am genuinely wary that my criticism may be used to dismiss or minimise Clinton’s qualifications. However, I would maintain that, whatever differences one may have with Clinton, she is fiercely intelligent, as well as highly qualified for this particular position, namely commander-in-chief of a hyper-militarised imperial power. The vitriolic attacks on her reveal a pervasive sexism to which no male candidate will ever be subjected.
I wince at the words her misogynist detractors use to describe her. Imagine if, as is the case with her Republican rival Donald Trump, she was standing at a debate podium next to her third spouse, a significantly older or younger husband, with children by three different men.
The vitriolic attacks on her reveal a pervasive sexism to which no male candidate will ever be subjected
The insults hurled at her are anything but gender-neutral, revealing again the misogyny of a society where sexism is the norm. Just as the brilliant, highly qualified and charismatic presidential candidate Barack Obama had to face full-on and vile racist hatred, so Clinton is putting up with unadulterated misogyny. Within the system, she is a victim while her opponent, like scum, is buoyed by crass vulgarity and rises to the top.
No, I am critical of Clinton not because she is a woman, but because she claims to be a feminist. Yet she has repeatedly shown an utter disregard for the circumstances of marginalised and disenfranchised communities.
The denial of the Israeli occupation
Her views on Palestine, which has historically proven to be the litmus test separating racist politicians from those who believe in the full equality for all, are case and point.
Clinton’s Zionism is long-standing, unflinching and, even on the spectrum that runs from “liberal Zionism” to “hawkish Zionism”, is firmly with the latter.
While other US politicians have expressed some recognition of the unfortunate circumstances of the Palestinian people, Clinton's backers last month shut down mention of it, despite it being a 50-year reality recognised by the rest of the world, including Israel itself.
This censorship is consistent with the complete dehumanisation of the Palestinians which Clinton has expressed every time Israel is in the news. Last year, during a wave of knife attacks on Israelis, Clinton again completely ignored the oppression of Palestinians.
Instead, she expressed her concern for Israelis, who must constantly watch for “lurking” Palestinian terrorists. She did not stop to consider why a few young Palestinians, including a 12-year-old girl, would wield knives; nor did she acknowledge that 70 percent of the attacks happened within the West Bank, meaning in occupied territory, against the occupier. But then, that is in keeping with her denial of the Israeli occupation.
Clinton’s Zionism is long-standing, unflinching
A young Palestinian student, Layali Awwad, sent a letter to Clinton denouncing this one-sidedness: “As first lady, you famously declared, ‘Women’s rights are human rights.’ That’s something I strongly believe, too,” Awwad wrote.
“When you chose to speak about my homeland, not once did you mention Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinian women and children. Even worse, you described us as lurking terrorists motivated only by 'incitement,' as if the Israeli military occupation does not exist.”
In 2014, Clinton again expressed full support for Israel as it was engaging in a massive military assault on Gaza. During that operation, even the mainstream US media, while otherwise supportive of Israel, repeatedly commented on the disproportionate number of women and children killed by Israeli fire.
Nevertheless Clinton, a supposed feminist, once again expressed sympathy for the attacking power. Responding to a journalist’s question about Israel bombing a UN school where homeless civilians had taken shelter, she naturally began with her formulaic “Israel has the right to defend itself" reply.
Fifteen people were killed in that bombing and more than 100 injured - but to her the “women and children” were merely a complication.
We can go back to every instance of Israel violating international law and the human rights of Palestinians and Clinton will invariably be on the side of the oppressor, the illegal occupier, the racist regime. This is not what feminism is about.
Feminism? Not about getting a bigger piece of a toxic pie
Feminism is not only concerned with women and children, but also seeks to eliminate various systems of structural violence. And while the examples above are from Palestine, we can look elsewhere, around the globe to see how detrimental her hawkish political interventions have proven, from Pakistan to Libya, Honduras and beyond.
Shortly before she was assassinated in her own home, indigenous activist Berta Caseres singled out Clinton for her role in ousting the country’s democratically elected president in a coup that turned Honduras into one the most violent places in the world. For Clinton, this ousting, this dismissal of the lives of indigenous people who suffered from the coup, is an example of “clear-eyed pragmatism".
Clinton proudly locates herself in the Israel camp, on the side of racism and injustice
Ultimately, one needs to hold Clinton to the high standards and values to which she claims to aspire. Yes, it is high time the US joined the rest of the world in electing a female head of state. A seasoned politician buffered by extreme privilege, Clinton has the tough skin to take the blows coming at her from all directions.
But even if she becomes that first American female president, she will sadly not be a “feminist” president. Feminism is not about getting a bigger piece of a toxic pie: it is about changing the ingredients of that pie. Feminism is incompatible with racism: dismissing the lives and humanity of some people, to secure the privilege of others, is racist.
The question of Palestine clarifies the distinction between liberals and progressives, “pragmatists” and radicals. Supporting Israel as it violates the human rights of an entire people reveals an unquestioning comfort with, and acceptance of, the expendability of certain groups of people - the indigenous, the dispossessed, the colonised, the brown and black - so as to accommodate on a global scale the rich, the colonisers, the elite.
Clinton proudly locates herself in the Israel camp, on the side of racism and injustice. What’s feminism got to do with that?
- Nada Elia is a Diaspora Palestinian writer and political commentator, currently working on her second book, Who You Callin' "Demographic Threat?" Notes from the Global Intifada. A professor of Gender and Global Studies (retired), she is a member of the steering collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Hillary Clinton delivering remarks during the evening session on the second day of the Democratic National Convention on 26 July 2016 in Philadelphia (AFP).
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.