I know I’ll never find the perfect band, but I think Yo La Tengo is as close as I’ll get.
Yo La Tengo – Gentle Hour
Lately something’s been bothering me, and I’ve had serious trouble finding it elaborated much more eloquently and thoughtfully than I could do myself (a nice break from my normal routine of having what I think is a decent thought and then finding it elaborated eloquently and thoughtfully in a million different places), so I’ve taken it upon myself to attempt to elaborate it in my sort of brutish, Godzilla-raging-through-Tokyo kind of way. Not the best way to approach these issues, I know, but since the very few people who actually read this know my heart, I’m not worried. I’ll get right down to it: In many of the feminist blogs I check regularly, lately I’ve noticed a wave of totally uncritical and, in my humble opinion, kind of misplaced gushing over Hillary Clinton, be it for her artful handling of overwhelming sexism in public political discourse, her record of advocacy for the rights of women and girls, or her seemingly effortless sense of cool:
Now, I believe all three of those absolutely deserve praise (especially the last one – as a fellow source of effortless cool, I can relate), but I don’t think that even the sum of these justifies turning a blind eye to any one of the very problematic aspects of Hillary Clinton’s career, especially considering the implications they have for women and girls, who are the prime focus of the bloggers in question. I’ll come back to this in a second. Part of what brought this to my attention was the fact that I found unconditional praise for Clinton in the most unexpected places. In an uncharacteristically obsequious article written a few months ago by probably my favorite feminist blogger since I started caring about this stuff, Sady Doyle offers a glowing, deferential review of Hillary Clinton’s legacy:
“But, without Hillary, where do women stand? Which other figure can reflect women’s ambitions, and their fears about the price of ambition, in such a profound and iconic way? There are many women in the political arena, but few as powerful and as historically resonant as Clinton.”
Ironic hipster praise via funny memes posted on a tumblr is cheesy, harmless fun, but the total absence of Sady Doyle’s usual refusal to give progressive figures a pass is troubling. I totally loved it when she took Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann to task for their entirely ill-advised, thoughtless dismissal of Julian Assange’s rape accusers. It was courageous of her to face the wrath of progressives blindly defending Moore and Olbermann, not to mention the inevitable hoards of internet trolls, so I was really in awe of her bravery throughout the ordeal. She and other feminist bloggers have proven before that simply sporting the progressive label is no exemption from their sharp, thoughtful criticism. So in the twilight of her career in one of our nation’s highest offices – a time generally noted for reflection on the good, the bad, and the ugly of a politician’s legacy - has Hillary Clinton really had no part in any activity worthy of criticism up to now? Well, let’s get one of the biggest ones out of the way first: Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war resolution, defended the vote for years, and has participated as the chief diplomat in an administration that, although having facilitated U.S. military withdrawal from the region, continues to sell warplanes and other tools of violence to the Iraqi government and maintain a massive super-embassy in its capital. The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned a dictatorship in which a modicum of security existed (if you were willing to keep your nose out of politics; I’m not saying Saddam was good, just in case anyone wants to throw that in my face) into a dystopian warzone in which militias armed and trained by various countries fight each other in the streets, all in the shadow of an unstoppable, $600 billion per year war/rape/torture machine. As if the total lack of law and order wasn’t enough, in an interview with Guernica Magazine in 2007, Iraqi feminist Yanar Mohammed noted that the constitution put in place by the new U.S.-backed government totally threw out the secular aspects of the old laws and incorporated a highly Iranian-influenced constitution:
“There are other articles, articles 39 and 41, which would refer family law to religion. [Note: Previously, “personal status law” gave women favorable treatment on divorce, custody, inheritance, etc., in Iraqi civil courts. The new constitution would allow women to choose Shiite, Sunni and other systems of religious jurisprudence instead of civil law.] So if a woman wants to marry or divorce, it’s in deference to Islamic Sharia. If she is Christian, to Christian laws. Or you could also go to previous personal status law. In this way, the tribal lifestyle is being reborn. A woman would be forced by all of her tribe to follow whatever system they tell her. The constitution has put women in a position where no one will protect them from religious cliques. If a woman is the third or the fourth wife and she has no rights inside her home and, on top of that, there is domestic abuse in her house, she is doomed. Under Islamic Sharia law a woman must accept beatings from her husband. Under Islamic Sharia, she must not revolt because she is the third or fourth wife.”
Additionally, even a superficial glance at the web pages of Iraqi women’s organizations reveals a grim picture of life for women in Iraq after the U.S. invasion – just check out the titles of the articles at The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq’s (OWFI) website – see especially 15 and 16. The Iraq War has been a horrifying ordeal for Iraqi women, and Clinton had a complicit role in it from the get-go, yet I can’t find this fact mentioned in any post about her on any of the blogs I read. Here’s something more recent, and something in which she was more directly involved: the U.S. halted military aid to Egypt temporarily last year due to a new law requiring the Egyptian military to take steps toward increasing basic democratic freedoms. Clinton, tasked with assessing the measure of democratic reforms and thus approving or not approving the resumption of military aid, carried out her duty thusly:
“Mrs. Clinton did not certify that Egypt had met the democratic standards that Congress set. Instead, she waived that requirement.”
Nice; you mean the same ruling military council responsible for the beating, imprisonment, and rape of women activists? The same ruling military council that subjects female detainees to humiliating, dehumanizing strip searches and virginity tests in a broad attempt to marginalize them and prevent them from participating in the Egyptian political process? This is a government deserving of our military aid? Should I go on? How about Bradley Manning, the transgender soldier and whistleblower who helped expose many of the atrocities resulting from wars for which Hillary voted and and supported in addition to illegal acts by Clinton herself, having now spent almost two years suffering inhumane conditions in nightmarish indefinite detention while awaiting trial? As the unjust treatment of Manning continues, Clinton makes speeches extolling the virtues of open government and in support of LGBT rights. I could literally go on for days with examples like these. Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Latin America are all topics that warrant their own entire posts, but I’m finding myself worn out. At this point, you might surmise that the discussions on these blogs are largely about women overcoming incredible institutional misogyny and patriarchy in our political system and national discourse and therefore do not make an issue of Clinton’s politics or the broad status quo she has worked to uphold. Dude, you might say, the role of these bloggers is more that of a media watchdog, pointing out sexism and unfair double standards; they are not political or human rights bloggers and thus do not touch on the nuance of these issues. These are all fair points. However, I would point out that many of these feminist bloggers as well as a great deal more I have yet to discover have argued before that since women are often directly and disproportionately affected by them, issues of war, disaster, occupation, famine and health issues are also women’s rights issues and thus cannot be separated from these discussions. If they indeed are women’s rights issues and belong in these discussions (an idea with which I’m in absolute agreement), why then are they mysteriously absent from discussions about Hillary Clinton? That’s really the amazing thing to me: some of my favorite feminist blogs actually touch on these very topics, yet completely omit mention of Hillary Clinton’s prominent role in them when she comes up later on the same blogs. I realize how very few women are involved at the highest levels in our political system, and how grossly unjust that is, but I don’t think this means that the few we have should just be blindly extolled while their failures – really big ones, in this case – are simply ignored, especially when those failures are also pressing issues of women’s rights. Hillary Clinton might be every glowing thing these bloggers say she is, but she is also a politician participating at the highest level in internet censorship, the rapid expansion of the national security state, the suppression of democracy at home and abroad, and the propagation of brutal imperialist violence. Her meaningful successes deserve mention, but any discussion about her must include these very grave failures.