Peggy Drexler says Sanders was responding to Clinton the way any candidate would
She says it's wrong to reduce this to sexism and view Clinton just in gender terms
Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Is Bernie Sanders sexist?
That’s the question coming out of Sunday night’s Democratic debate between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, during which the Vermont senator interrupted Clinton’s interruption of him by waving his finger and saying, “Excuse me, I’m talking.”
That kind of statement happened more than once – there was also a “let me finish” – prompting media and Clinton supporter outcries that Sanders was being dismissive and disrespectful, trying to put Clinton in her place like the sexist old white man he is.
“Women Respond to Bernie Sanders Shushing Hilary Clinton & Most Were (Not Surprisingly) Not Pleased,” read the headline at Bustle. “Such a tactic is an especially risky one when many women feel as if they’ve heard similar lines to dismiss them before,” the piece argued. “Needless to say, many women were nonplussed.”
The irony, of course, is that such arguments only serve to continue to define the election, and Clinton, in terms of gender. And that, in fact, those accusing Sanders of sexism are, in fact, the guiltiest ones.
In any other year, between any other candidates, the fact that one presidential candidate argued for his right to speak during an important debate – because that is what this was – wouldn’t be notable, never mind headline news. What debate doesn’t get testy, or at least see the participants battling for the final word? If Sanders were head to head with another man, it wouldn’t even register. But, of course, he wasn’t and, so: outrage.
This is unfortunate proof that Clinton will always be viewed as a female candidate first, candidate second. It’s also proof that many people have different expectations for how female politician should be treated, or females in general – still, in 2016, when one of those females is running for the highest office in the country.
If Clinton wins, will we have four more years of talking about her gender first, job second? If the response to last night is any indication, we probably, unfortunately, will.
It’s not Sanders who’s at fault here, but those who keep on making the point, again and again, that Clinton is a woman, thereby reducing – and it is reducing, even if it’s not intentional – her candidacy to her gender.
The truth is that Sanders wasn’t dismissing Clinton. One could argue he was actually standing up for himself. She did, after all, interrupt first. But so what if he was dismissive?
He’s a politician trying to keep the mic and make a point, and politicians routinely dismiss one another’s points. That’s politics. After all, Clinton did plenty of finger pointing, literal and figurative, as well.
Of course, when compared with the Republican debates, the whole thing was rather civil.
So in that sense, the media and social media overreaction to last night’s display of “misogyny” is not all that surprising. We’ve got to have something to write about. If we’re going to accuse Sanders of anything, it’s of giving the media the drama for which they’re so desperate.
But to call him sexist? That one’s on us, not him.