Breaking Glass Ceilings, Reinforcing the Corporate Agenda
One hundred years ago, women lacked the right to vote. Sixty years ago, women were mostly relegated to the role of housewife, with only a narrow range of occupations offered as alternatives to escape a life focused entirely on cooking, cleaning, and raising the children. Next year, the U.S. may see the election of its first female president, breaking through the final glass ceiling for women in U.S. politics.
Much as the election of Barack Obama was a historic marker in the fight for racial equality, to many the election of Hillary Clinton would represent a historic step forward in women gaining acceptance as equals to men in U.S. society. But what would be the tangible gains for women if Clinton were elected?
Unlike Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton is not an unknown entity. She has a long record in public office as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State from which we can gain insight into what a Clinton presidency would mean for women – and, in particular, working-class women.
As First Lady, and as recently as 2008, Clinton supported welfare “reform,” which gutted a New Deal program that provided assistance to impoverished families with children. The new program limited welfare payments to just five years and allowed states free rein to develop welfare programs that further restricted access. The new restrictions were meant to motivate people off the welfare rolls and into jobs. But, by allowing states that had reduced the number of welfare recipients to use the federal money for other purposes, it essentially incentivized state governments to cut off aid to poor families. At the time, three officials in the Department of Health and Human Services resigned in protest, citing concerns that the bill would significantly increase poverty. And it did just that.
When the economy tanked in 2007 and 2008, states – looking for money to deal with budget deficits – tightened restrictions for welfare to cut families from the welfare list, and the number of families without jobs – and, once their limit was reached, without cash assistance – increased dramatically.Women with children were particularly hurt. One in four single mothers – roughly four million women and children – was without a job and without aid during the recent recession, twice the previous rate (NY Times, 4/7/2012).
Hillary Clinton has also championed “open markets” – and, though she has recently come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to mounting pressure from unions and environmental and social justice organizations – as Secretary of State she was one of the original drafters of the trade deal. Free-trade deals and open markets discourage unionization and lead to lower wages for U.S. workers, which disproportionately hurts women, who make up a larger portion of the low-wage workforce and are already unequally paid.
On all these issues, Hillary has been a consistent advocate of the neoliberal policies – based on free trade and cutting down the size of the public sector – which have dominated the Democratic Party for decades.
The Democratic Party lip service on abortion rights could fill a small library. And what they say to defend women’s rights actually shows how successful the right wing has been in framing the debate. Hillary’s mantra, “keep abortion safe, legal, and rare,” is a good example of this.
The reality is that access to safe abortions has dramatically decreased, particularly in Southern states. A new study revealed that up to 240,000 women in Texas had attempted self-induced abortions (Guardian, 11/17/2015). And as the accompanying article on the Whole Women’s Health v. Cole case going before the Supreme Court explains, the threat to reproductive rights is becoming even more serious. The activists in #ShoutOutYourAbortion who pushed back on the right’s campaign against Planned Parenthood have the right idea. The only way women’s rights will be defended and advanced is through a fight. In fact, it will require mass struggle, something the corporate Democrats consistently oppose.
Hillary 2.0: Feminist Outsider
The 2016 election cycle is occurring at a time when deep hatred of politics as usual and an anti-establishment mood is reaching fever pitch. These symptoms of the recession and unequal recovery create quite a dilemma for a career politician bankrolled by Wall Street. To complicate matters, Clinton is facing a serious challenge from the left from Bernie Sanders, whose core demands speak to the needs of working-class people, but also shuns corporate donations and has raised nearly $30 million from over one million donations averaging $30.
Increasingly, Clinton has had to use her gender to drum up support for her uninspiring campaign and to provide cover for her corporate-style politics. During the November 14 Democratic debate when Sanders posed the question, “why has Wall Street been the major campaign contributor to Hillary Clinton,” Clinton responded with, “I’m proud that, for the first time, a majority of my donors are women: 60%.” As if those women somehow cancel out the influence of millions from Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers.
She’s even tried to outrageously claim that her gender automatically makes her an outsider: “Folks want an outsider in this election … Who can be more of an outsider than a woman President?” (The Today Show, 10/5/2015). You could make the same argument for Republican candidate Carly Fiorina. As Clinton herself said, “people need to hold women’s policies up to light and determine what their answers to problems would be before deciding to support them” (Time, 10/12/2015). Indeed, Clinton’s gender, used with maximum effort by the campaign, should not distract working-class women and students from the substance of her policy proposals.
Despite Clinton’s claim to be a feminist – and, now, an outsider – her record in office and her campaign platform reveal her to be a consistent supporter of corporate interests, with a splash of lofty feminist rhetoric on the side. Her past support for welfare reform, mass incarceration, charter schools, traditional marriage, and imperialist intervention and war are not blemishes on a long record fighting for women and the poor. They represent her political ideology, and her gender won’t cover up the fact that they have resulted in and continue to cause the suffering of women and children here and across the world.
In contrast to Hillary Clinton’s corporate feminism stands the example of socialist Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Kshama, the only socialist, working-class representative on a council with eight Democrats – two of them women – has used her election campaigns and council position to advance the interests of workers, and she unfailingly brings the voice of working-class women into the debates on wages, benefits, housing, and education. In just two years, her unapologetic working-class feminism won a $15 minimum wage and millions more for social services, including year-round funding for a women’s shelter.
From Condoleeza Rice to Hillary Clinton, the ascendency of women to leadership roles has not, in and of itself, lessened the sexism, discrimination, unequal pay, and violence women continue to face in U.S. society. The election of Hillary Clinton may break the final glass ceiling in politics, but her corporate-approved agenda will not assist the feminist movement. It will only reinforce the corporate agenda.
What working-class women and families need are unapologetic fighters for a pro-worker agenda. In this presidential election, a victory for Bernie Sanders, who calls for a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, strengthening union rights, paid paternity leave, and equal pay for women would significantly advance the interests of working-class women and their families.