On Hillary Clinton’s toxic, self-serving, faux feminist #squadgoals
“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
When was the first time you heard this platitude?
Maybe it was in 2013, when Taylor Swift used it to respond to an extremely innocuous joke Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made about her when hosting the Golden Globes. “Katie Couric is one of my favorite people,” Swift told Vanity Fair, “because she said to me she had heard a quote that she loved, that said, ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.'”
Maybe it was in 2008, when Sarah Palin described a “providential moment” she had while sipping from her “Starbucks mocha cup” — the same one Couric and Swift got it from? — when the then-Alaska governor noticed the quote printed on the front and decided to try her hand at incorporating the ever malleable concept of identity politics into her plea for her fellow women to help her “shatter the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America,” the job of (lol) Vice President.
Madeline Albright, the person to whom the quote was attributed, responded at the time:
“What I said had nothing to do with politics. This is yet another example of McCain and Palin distorting the truth, and all the more reason to remember that this campaign is not about gender. It is about which candidate has an agenda that will improve the lives of all Americans, including women. The truth is, if you care about the status of women in our society and in our troubled economy, the best choice by far is Obama-Biden.”
Or perhaps it was on February 7, when Albright busted out her classic aphorism to oldsplain to foolish young Bernie broads that there’s a lot of work left to be done on gender equality (O RLY?), and that voting for Hillary Clinton — who is actively fighting against measures that disproportionately affect women, such as single-payer healthcare and a $15 minimum wage — is somehow an essential part of that work. I guess it only has “something to do with politics” when it’s coming out of Albright’s mouth. That she walked her statement two steps back and three steps forward in a subsequent New York Times editorial does not impress.
It seems that everywhere we look, women are invoking the concept of feminism for their own personal gain. From Taylor Swift’s feminist branding of her chastisement of a black man in the throes of serious mental health issues, to Beyonce’s implicit exclusion of anyone who disagrees with her embrace of capitalist respectability politics, to Swift’s “squad” of glamorous friends bravely doing battle against anyone who dares to question her, to Albright’s condescension, the concept of solidarity along lines of identity is being used to further consolidate the cultural and material capital of those who are, by all accounts, already extremely successful.
There are two games of dress-up being played: The “squad” of impressive friends-cum-henchwomen as feminism, and feminism, in turn, as a self-promotional tool. (We can talk about the noxiousness of appropriating the word “squad” from black internet slang another day.)
When Swift began to collect beautiful and famous friends who were ready to fight her foes for her at the drop of a hat, reactions were mixed. For some, the girl gang was inspiring; for others, intimidating. Everyone wanted to be part of Swift’s group of friends, but it was clear just from looking at said group that not everyone qualified. For some, the emphasis on friendship did what Swift’s prior “aw shucks” persona could not: It mitigated the sense that she was an inaccessible queen bee who was so unfairly blessed in every which way that you couldn’t help but hate her a little.
For others, it brought up harrowing flashbacks of being picked on by similar looking groups of girls in their youth. Wasn’t it somewhat suspect that Swift’s squad seemed to contain only extremely famous, wealthy and (with the exception of Lena Dunham) model-esque women? Was this “girl squad” feminism really about friendship? Or was it more about demonstrating one’s own power and importance? As Fey said in her “SNL” parody of the “Bad Blood” video, “Don’t misunderstand, bitch. Our squad is a veritable who’s who.”
At Gawker, Dayna Evans writes:
Seeing her on stage cavorting with World Cup winners and supermodels was not a win for feminism, but a win for Taylor Swift. Her plan — to be as famous and as rich as she can possibly be — is working, and by using other women as tools of her self-promotion, she is distilling feminism for her own benefit.
Lena Dunham said her experience on stage with Swift’s model friends made her feel chubby and short, and you have to wonder if someone in Dunham’s position feels that way, preteens and young women watching all this immaculate perfection probably feel even worse.
With the help of her squad, Swift uses her vaguely feminist flavor to market her albums and pretend that anyone who doesn’t like her is just being sexist. Sometimes they actually are being sexist. But other times, as with Poehler and Fey, she uses the charge of “not supporting other women” to shut down even the mildest of critiques. Sound familiar?
Luckily, Swift is a pop star, not a politician. Nothing she says or does matters in the real world. Unfortunately, she learned these tactics either directly (via Katie Couric’s Starbucks cup) or indirectly (via cultural osmosis) from the greatest squad assembler of all, Hillary Clinton.
I’ve already discussed how Clinton uses her gender as both a sword and a shield, claiming her uterus automatically makes her a progressive candidate, then crying sexism when someone says that it does not. It also bears mentioning that some of her nastiest attacks have been outsourced to her squad. And, unlike Swift’s trophy friends, who only pretend to fight people in music videos, Clinton’s crew of powerful women and men — the political equivalent of supermodels — might actually do some damage.
—When her daughter Chelsea Clinton misleadingly told a crowd that Bernie Sanders’ healthcare plan “would strip millions of people of their health insurance.”
—When her husband, alleged rapist and admitted sexual harasser Bill Clinton, tried to use the existence of online misogyny to prove that Sanders’ supporters are a pack of rabid sexists.
—When Gloria Steinem said young women only support Sanders because that’s “where the boys are.”
—When Madeline Albright implied that young women aren’t supporting Clinton because we just don’t understand feminism.
As you can see, these types of attacks can be used on women as well as men, although it’s certainly easier with men.
Other people on Clinton’s side:
—Vivica A. Fox, who, like Clinton, has stood by a man accused of rape by multiple women.
—Sheryl Sandberg, whose philosophy of female empowerment through work is so conservative and individualist that she withheld her support from a group of housekeepers for whom “leaning in” meant forming a union to improve working conditions.
I recognize that a certain amount of attacking is par for the course in American politics, and that every candidate has a coterie of friends and supporters. But there is something uniquely cloying about using feminism — a concept which must necessarily consider the rights of women working in low-wage jobs, living in countries the U.S. wants to bomb, or performing illegal sex work — to make one woman’s quest for power look like some sort of feminist victory. And to make anyone who doesn’t at the very least aspire to be in her pantheon of successful friends into a traitor to the movement. As Sarah Leonard explores in The Nation, female leadership has much less of an effect on women’s lives than paid parental leave, union-friendly policies and the redistribution of wealth. No amount of finger wagging will change that.