Bernie Sanders’ (D-Vt.) rise from relatively unknown senator to viable presidential candidate could not have been possible without the help of his loyal supporters. These supporters, mostly younger, including many students, women and minorities, are attracted by his relatively progressive politics and promise of change. However, while many of Sanders’ backers pride themselves on being progressive, their actions in promoting his campaign often suggest otherwise.
The term “Bernie bro” describes supporters of Sanders that are primarily young, white and male. These men have a reputation for being obnoxious and overzealous, and often misogynistic. It should be acknowledged that the term has been used in an overly generalizing way by anti-Sanders sources in order to sweep a majority of Sanders’ followers under such a label, therefore dismissing them all as sexist. This is obviously not true. Generalizing all of Sanders’ voters as Bernie bros erases the identities of his many supporters who are not white men, and are in fact attracted to his policies, which are more appealing to women and minorities. Supporting Sanders is not sexist in itself, but it is true that many of his voters do display misogynistic behaviors, or employ sexist rhetoric, especially in their criticisms of Hillary Clinton or her supporters.
I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton should be entitled to the presidency solely because she is a woman, nor I do believe that her policies have the best interests of all women at heart. However, I do think there is an appropriate way to talk about Clinton, and that we must be more aware of the ways in which we criticize her, because she is woman. Legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton concern actions, statements, and policies. It is possible to decry her violent militaristic policies and corporate leanings without resorting to irrelevant and sexist comments. However, many of these Bernie bros do.
It is so easy for criticism to slip into old misogynistic tropes, such as insulting the way Clinton looks, referring to her as a witch and making jokes about her husband and personal life. Calling women frigid or deriding their appearances as old or tired are all timelessly sexist comments that are unnecessary and counter the “progressive” label that Bernie bros love to give themselves. One could argue that all presidential candidates are mocked; yet that would ignore the historical precedent of certain comments that stem from centuries of deep rooted and violent misogyny and that have long been used to demonize powerful (especially older) women and prevent women from gaining autonomy.
Although it is easier to focus on obviously misogynistic comments of the GOP candidates and supporters, a surprising amount of the sexist comments has come from the left, too. The zealousness of many of Sanders’ followers surpasses his own, and it is likely Sanders himself would not approve of their demonizing tactics. Though Sanders prefers to call out Clinton on relevant issues, members of his campaign and followers often do not. Most recently epitomizing this are Paul Song’s comments, implicating Clinton as one of a group of “corporate whores.” This term is extremely loaded and unnecessary, betraying the misogynistic face of many Sanders supporters. It is important to critique Clinton’s corporate ties, but there is no need to resort to gendered slurs. Even if Song was not referring to her specifically, the use of this term tells of misogyny in itself. The nasty rhetoric increasingly employed is beginning to be reminiscent of the GOP candidates and debates, which most Democrats assume moral superiority over.
While many male activists are eager to decry Wall Street vultures and the evils of larger-than-life corporations and banks, their sympathy for the 99 percent does not extend to women. These “bros” are only doing themselves (and the campaign they so fervently back) a disservice by being so obnoxious that they alienate many women who would otherwise vote for Sanders because of his more progressive politics concerning women around the world. They are derailing Sanders’ campaign by proving Clinton’s claims that feminists should vote for her above other candidates and that much of the opposition to her candidacy is due to her being a woman as opposed to her harmful views and policies. The unrealistic idealization of Sanders and the condescending mansplaining to female Hillary Supporters has created reactionary doubt within some female Sanders supporters about whether they are being unnecessarily harsh to Clinton and whether they want to be associated with such a campaign. If Bernie bros really want Sanders to win, they will take note of what he has to say about gender equality and recognize that women deserve equal respect have the ability to make political choices for themselves, whether that be running to be president, or voting for one.
Katy Habr is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. On the Margin runs alternate Wednesdays this semester.