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Why Bernie Sanders Is the Feminist Choice

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While the backlash against female Bernie Sanders supporters has been growing for some time, it reached a head recently when prominent feminist icon Gloria Steinem explained Sanders' ever-growing number of millennial female supporters as little more than boy-crazed girls.

"When you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie," Steinem said on a recent segment of Real Time with Bill Maher.

Naturally, feminists took to the interwebs to call Steinem out on her wildly short-sighted, heterosexist, condescending and shockingly sexist statements. Disappointingly, the first female (and former) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright followed suit, saying, "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." Clearly, the message is that women who don't vote for female candidates are going to hell.

Does that apply to women who don't support Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina?

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Many feminists argue that Clinton is not only more feminist than Sanders, but the most feminist presidential choice. Some have gone so far as to claim women who vote for Sanders aren't actually feminist at all. Recently, a queer feminist I have deeply admired for years claimed on Facebook that women who don't vote for Clinton are doing so out of internalized sexism.

I'm a feminist, and I find this argument, at best, vexing.

I'm approaching 40 and have spent nearly half my life studying feminism and living a life informed by it. I've long since confronted my internalized sexism. Although I examine it, my initial instinct around men is doubt and distrust. Sure, I am proud to know some stellar men, one of whom I had a child with and married. Yet I've also desired, loved, supported and prioritized women throughout my life. My love for, and support of, women remains. It is as much a part of me as my child.

Many of my feminist friends are shocked to find out I don't support Clinton. They ask, in ways both explicit and implied, how I reconcile my feminist politics with my support for a male candidate. I find the very question to be ludicrous and ultimately un-feminist. Here's why:

First of all, it assumes men can't be feminist. This applies to both cisgender and transgender men of all sexualities. While it's true that men, especially heterosexual cisgender ones, haven't historically been supportive in significant numbers, there have always been male allies and supporters of all persuasions.

Third- and fourth-wave feminists don't need to see women in roles of power to imagine it for themselves.

The second, and biggest, flaw in this line of thinking assumes that being a woman automatically makes a woman a feminist. How can Steinem and Albright, two renowned, seasoned feminists, conflate womanhood with feminism? If this were true, how do you explain Phyllis Schlafly, Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin? The notion that womanhood alone can or does unite women across their various lived differences such as race, class and sexuality has proved to be largely ineffectual.

While I respect the work Hillary Clinton has done to overcome the obstacles she's undoubtedly faced, and while I recognize that sexism plays a part in her perception and criticism, there's also the factual matter of her political record. She has flip-flopped on issues around gay marriage and mass incarceration, which I find unsettling. She is a shrewd, disingenuous politician whose convictions are fickle at best—a trait shared with far too many of her cohort of both sexes.

As a queer, Southern, working-class white woman, it's clear that her brand of feminism doesn't serve those of us who live in the margins.

In contrast, Bernie Sanders' politics have remained consistent over the course of his political career and have always favored the underdog, even when his causes were not politically trendy or topical. My favorite real-time example of this is from a passionate 1995 speech he gave to the House of Representatives in support of queer soldiers. It's especially thrilling when you consider that this occurred shortly before the time President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. In response to criticism for their support of DOMA, both Clintons have claimed it was a pre-emptive move to protect same sex couples from the the Federal Marriage Amendment. This explanation has been widely panned by leaders within the queer movement.

Sanders' feminism is rooted in economic justice, which is hugely responsible for social equality more broadly in a capitalist society. He wants single payer, universal health care and a $15 per hour minimum wage. He wants to make college tuition free. He supports women's reproductive rights and has made paid family leave a key issue.

All that aside, this is fundamental: he wants to overturn the colossally disastrous 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, which lifted restrictions on campaign donations from corporations and unions and which has fundamentally changed the political process. For what it's worth, the incomparable Notorious RBG called it the "most disappointing" ruling of her time on the bench.

Hillary doesn't go far enough, she isn't revolutionary or feminist enough, so I am completely at ease as a feminist and a Sanders supporter, because I know I am supporting the one who wants to guarantee the most rights to the most people.

Some Hillary supporters argue that Sanders is too focused on economics, that it would mean more and be more impactful to have a female president. Impactful to whom? Third- and fourth-wave feminists don't need to see women in roles of power to imagine it for themselves. We need to access the things that will enable us to be empowered, including class stability, education and healthcare for starters.

Economic stability is my greatest goal and lack of it has been the biggest stressor in life. Because I work to support my family, and my husband stays home with our child, I live the need for this sort of economic justice every day. I make ends meet, but we don't have credit cards, savings or any real safety net. My brand of feminism does not need a female president to feel empowered. I need economic, reproductive, racial and environmental justice codified into law. I need college to be free so that my 2-year-old daughter can follow in my footsteps as one of the first and few in my family to attend college and graduate school. I'd prefer she be able to do this without acquiring the staggering student loan debt that I and millions of others have.

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Hillary doesn't go far enough, she isn't revolutionary or feminist enough, so I am completely at ease as a feminist and a Sanders supporter, because I know I am supporting the one who wants to guarantee the most rights to the most people. If it's not easily accessible to the poor and other devalued members of society, it's not really that revolutionary at all.

Supporters of Hillary Clinton claim her ascent to the presidency would be a momentous occasion for feminism, and I don't disagree with that. I, too, think having a female president would be momentous.

I think it would also be momentously more feminist if that president were Bernie Sanders.

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