Hillary’s Femdom Does Not Merit a Vote

Katy Wills, Columnist

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Two years ago I sent an email to the student body and a few specific professors, friends and listservs: “HILLARY CLINTON IS COMING TO PORTLAND” the subject line read. Teeming with excitement I signed up to help with her campaign, displayed my unyielding support on social media and applauded ferociously at her coy answer to the question, “In 2016, would you rather be called Ms. or Madame President?” I felt strongly that women needed greater representation and acknowledgement in politics and that Hillary was the answer.
Upon further reflection since that time, I have realized that representation is not an apolitical concept in and of itself. Theorist Judith Butler problematizes the value of representation of the group “women” in the feminist movement and in government. Clinton’s identity as a woman does not stand as a legitimate reason to elect her president of the United States, but it’s the reason many feminists do stand by. In light of the theory on juridical power, which makes the claim that representation without deconstruction is not a valid goal of the feminist movement, I’ve come to new conclusions about the merit of Clinton’s campaign.
Several weeks ago, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright made a powerful statement of support for Hillary Clinton. At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Albright publicly endorsed Clinton, punctuating her speech by proclaiming that, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” The quote immediately set social media ablaze with both criticism and support. Albright initially defended her statement in a TIME interview saying that, “People need to understand who has been really fighting on behalf of issues that are of interest to women.”
In an intensely patriarchal society such as the United States, and an even more deeply patriarchal government, Albright craves universal understanding for the struggle she has endured as a woman in politics. She purports to understand the issues women universally face and praises Clinton’s progress on mitigating those political issues and being a true fighter for women’s rights. Upon closer analysis, it becomes clear that what Albright is doing here is reducing women’s interests to the ones for which Clinton has famously advocated. She minimizes the meaning of living a “woman’s experience” by claiming that Clinton’s family values initiatives have universally benefitted women. Albright perfectly exemplifies a highly problematic, narrow interpretation of the term “woman” by emphatically praising Clinton’s work in this specific area. Butler takes issue with this reductionist, power-laden definition of woman that Madeline Albright uses in this statement.
We must come to terms with the way the presumed universality of “woman” as a gender, an identity and an experience actually undermines the goal of political representation. Representation is predicated on the notion of a stable, unifying categorization of woman. This aim can actually have a detrimental effect despite the feminist aim of protecting and advocating for female rights. Butler critiques this, saying: “There is a political problem that feminism encounters in the assumption that the term women denotes a common identity.” In truth, gender is constructed based on various temporally specific, intersecting planes. Butler understands that these intersecting planes such as race, class and ethnicity make their experience of gender inseparable from these other aspects of themselves. In light of the fact that my racial and class background place me comfortably within hegemony, Butler’s ideas help explain my initial, unexamined desire to see a woman elected president. Though I cannot divorce my race and class from my identity, because they are positioned within the majority, woman is my primary identifier and therefore I was initially not compelled to challenge this desire.
Madeline Albright is not the root of the problem, nor the complete culprit. Albright and Clinton operate within a system they have been forced to carefully and artfully navigate to further their careers and achieve the goal of representation they deem so necessary and important. What they must navigate now are the implications of their desire for representation and ask themselves a few questions: for whom do we fight for the women’s agenda? How do we contribute to the subjugation of some expressions of womanhood? How do we play a role in producing the power structures that we claim to just work within? Capitol Hill needs a gender makeover and until that mission is complete, they must understand that representation without deconstruction is a paradoxically dangerous initiative to fight for and is not actually inherently beneficial for feminism.