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Clinton’s Nomination: A Feminist Milestone?

Editor’s note: This post was co-authored by Mahroh Jahangiri and Dana Bolger.

At long last, it’s happened: Hillary Clinton has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, the first woman in U.S. history to do it. 

We’re skeptical that it’s the feminist milestone many claim it to be.

Indeed, we don’t believe, as a post on our own site claimed yesterday, that one can reconcile intersectional feminist principles with a “celebrati[on] [of] Clinton’s nomination as a gender equity milestone.” That post, which reminisced on Muhammad Ali’s revered legacy, pined for the day when Hillary Clinton’s own might become similarly “glorious” — the day when we might all look back and say “we were there when.” It asked, as many feminists across the country today are asking, “How long will it take for Hillary Clinton’s accomplishment today […] to make us beam with pride?”

Our answer: As feminists, hopefully forever.

Clinton is U.S. political establishment, business as usual. She defends a burgeoning surveillance state and supports military interventions abroad with gusto. She voted for the Iraq War, her State Department devised the legal reasoning that justified the expansion of American drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians, and she has encouraged U.S. support of undemocratic and brutal regimes in Haiti, Honduras, Egypt, and Israel. Far from being anti-feminist, as some might claim, our opposition to Clinton’s candidacy is rooted in a deeply feminist critique of her domestic and international policies, many of which have hurt women at home and abroad. One can (and we do) decry the unjust sexism Clinton endures in American politics without for a second turning her into a progressive visionary that she, quite simply, is not.

A Clinton nomination is a milestone if all that matters is how high a woman can rise within an oppressive power structure. Indeed, to suggest that an intersectional feminist lens can allow for a celebration of empire and violence is simply, as Alex Press writes, to invoke the language of the left without “placing these words back in the context from which they came: the struggle against capital and for the oppressed.” Further, to suggest, as many have, that some women of color’s support of Clinton implies the support of an intersectional movement is to uncritically link identity to political ideology.

It’s fitting to close with the words of Muhammad Ali, whose transformed legacy yesterday’s post invokes as a model for what the author hopes will be Clinton’s own. Ali, who was a radical Black Muslim with deep anti-racist, anti-imperialist commitments, sacrificed career and popularity when he refused the draft, stating:

I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over [….] I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.

If the Muhammad Ali of the 1960s were alive today, he wouldn’t be celebrating the “greatness” of the Clintons of the world. He’d probably protest them. Greatness, after all, isn’t based on the constraints one faces under conditions of oppression: it’s about the choices one makes within them. Ali chose to risk his livelihood to oppose a state whose racism, violence, and imperialism he found intolerable. Clinton’s choices have placed her squarely within the U.S. political establishment, the as-is, the status quo. She is the state Ali refused to serve.

Fifty years from now, as our country and the feminist movement reflect back on Clinton’s career, politics, and choices, we hope her legacy will be seen with clearer eyes: not as greatness but as this country’s business as usual. We’ll hang our heads and think, “we were there when” we elected a candidate who killed thousands, and called her a feminist to boot.

Header image via.

Mahroh Jahangiri is the former Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools. She cares about the ways in which American militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally. You can say hi to her at @mahrohj.

Mahroh Jahangiri is the former Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization working to end gender violence in schools.

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