In the Face of a Huge Gender Gap with Trump, It's Time for Progressive Men to Get Behind Hillary
As the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump shapes up, we continue to see Clinton and the women who are supporting her exiled (with apologies to Liz Phair) in Guyville. As presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton says about this historic election, “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us and this is our moment to come together.”
Yet, we are not all coming together. Bernie Sanders has not withdrawn, despite Clinton’s securing the delegates to win the nomination. Twenty-two percent of Sanders supporters say they’d rather vote for Trump than Clinton. Male Sanders supporters continue to troll and threaten Clinton supporters and the media covering her.
Clinton’s imminent nomination is a huge step for women and for feminism, and feminism is part of a progressive agenda. But you wouldn’t know it in Guyville, where white men continue their long history of failing to fight for feminist advances. Even among those white men who do support Clinton, there is a pronounced lack of enthusiasm and activism. Hillary seems to be left to be elected by everyone but them.
According to NPR, the gender gap could be the largest it has been in any modern election. In what is shaping up to be a “titanic clash of the sexes,” 54 percent of female voters prefer Clinton, while only 35 percent of male voters do. Even male progressives lag, despite that this election is a referendum on a wide agenda of imperative concerns and there is good cause for all progressives to be excited by the prospect of Clinton’s nomination. She is not a perfect candidate. No one is. Brittney Cooper makes the point, “I also don’t believe that we can claim to support a progressive agenda if we have not empirically proven that we trust a woman to lead our country or that we will support one.”
In 2012, 72 percent of Democratic women voters identied as feminists, but only 40 percent of Democratic men voters did. Last year, among millennials, 62 percent of Democratic women identified as feminists but only 32 percent of Democratic men.
I spoke to Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, about the gender gap and the upcoming election. For more than 30 years, Smeal has been on the front line of virtually every women’s rights victory. She asks, “How can you call yourself a progressive if you aren’t standing for women? More and more progressives of all genders are realizing that this is true.” She points out, “That’s part of why we are seeing the number of those self-identifying as feminists climbing,” despite the disparity between the genders in doing so.
Yet we still live in paternalistic, patriarchal Guyville, full of men who will happily mansplain to you about electoral politics and why Hillary is a bad idea. In her piece for Slate, “Men Explain Hillary to Me," Michelle Goldberg laments that the Sanders campaign has, “unleashed a minor plague of progressive white men condfidently explaining feminism to the rest of us.” She adds, “They seem to believe that their class politics exempt them from taking sexism seriously. They certainly don’t care about female leadership.”
In New York Magazine, Rebecca Traister writes, “It’s not just what the progressive guys say about Clinton, her supporters, or feminism itself, it’s also what they don’t say. Where are the fierce male Hillary critics grappling with any anxiety about two centuries of all-male executive power in a country that is 51 percent female and in which women’s bodies are heavily patrolled by federal and state legislation?”
This is not post-feminist America. Millennial men turn out to be just as sexist as the generation of men before them, and men remain on the sidelines of most feminist battles. Twice as many women as men identify as feminists, and feminist women do not demand men join them, even as we dream of a righteous world for our children. Why are we OK with letting our progressive brothers have a pass?
What if we didn’t? What if we said we would not enter into partnerships, have sex with, or socialize with men who weren’t active feminists? I still believe the greatest weapon of the oppressor is the complacency of the oppressed. Why are we not openly outraged that men seem to be yawning on the sidelines as we work to elect the first woman president?
Clinton, as has been pointed out in countless reports, “has struggled in many ways to generate enthusiasm and excitement about her candidacy, even though electing a woman to the White House for the first time would be a momentous historical occasion.” This problem comes in large part from a failure of progressive men to embrace and work toward feminist goals. Transformation of the power structure — which we’ve heard a lot about this election year — must include electing a woman president.
This is about the election, but more broadly it is about calling men to be as active in and committed to their feminism as women are. That means identifying openly as intersectional feminists, voting a feminist agenda, supporting feminist causes, and beating back sexism. This is not women’s work. This is everyone’s job.