|Sanders speaking at Democratic Women’s Leadership Forum|
By Rachel Elfenbein
I am voting for Bernie Sanders and I am a feminist. Since my mother first told me as a child about her many struggles to become educated and enter her profession, I have been a feminist. Her struggles and the struggles of the many women who have come before me have inspired my feminist activism and solidarity. It was these early stories and my own experiences of gender-based oppression as a growing young woman that spurred me to become politically educated and involved. The third wave of feminism was instrumental to my political education, as it taught me about how different women experience sexism differently because of the intersection of their gender with their race, class, and sexuality.
Third wave feminism also taught me how feminism is and should be for everyone. Just as racism isn’t only the problem of people of color and its eradication requires white people to change their beliefs and behavior, sexism isn’t just a women’s issue and the end to sexism requires real commitments by men to treat women equally. Sexism is a problem of masculine domination, and its eradication therefore necessarily requires men not to exercise their power and control over women but to ally themselves with the social, political, and economic interests of women. We do feminism a serious disservice if we believe only women can be feminists, as that is tantamount to arguing that women- the victims of gender-based oppression- are responsible for changing their oppressors and ending their own oppression.
My feminist political education has led me to act in solidarity with women and men of all races to end gender-based violence. When I recently worked as a domestic violence counselor in the poorest large city in America, I spoke day in and day out to women who suffered from gender-based violence, poverty, and lack of police and legal protection, women who were forced to choose between staying with their abusers and being out on the streets with their kids. Because our government and our economy neglected their needs, many of these women were stuck dealing with interpersonal and structural violence, just trying to find solutions for their immediate everyday survival. I spoke to women who had fled their situations of violence only to end up living in temporary public shelters with their children, because after paying for childcare, their minimum wage jobs did not pay them enough to put roofs over theirs and their children’s heads. I spoke to many more women who could not even access shelters to escape their abusive situations because almost every day the shelters for women and children in the city were full. Because the violence at home was so dangerous, some of these women chose to risk sleeping in public parks, transit stations, and emergency rooms. But more of the women I spoke to who could not access public shelter chose to stay with their abusers because their only income was public assistance (food stamps and/or income assistance) and that public assistance was far too little for them to be able to survive financially on their own and with their children under their care. The absolutely brutal irony of their stories of everyday poverty and violence were that they occurred in the richest country in the world and were in part caused by the regressive welfare reforms enacted in the 1990s by the Democratic government led by Bill Clinton.
I am voting for Bernie because he does not believe the establishment Democratic Party approach of incremental policy changes will be sufficient to end such everyday tragedies that women and their children experience at the intersection of interpersonal and structural violence. Rather, he believes we need to rein in the power and the money of the capitalist class so that our government can move toward ensuring the wellbeing of all in our country. Bernie is fighting to expand public programs and services for the poor and working class, the majority of whom are women. As a feminist, I am voting for Bernie because his support for a $15 per hour federal minimum wage, public health insurance for all, universal childcare and pre-K, and the expansion of social security, violence against women services, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program is a progressive stand for women and our children. I am voting for Bernie because, while he doesn’t believe the government should intervene in women’s reproductive choices and control our bodies, he does believe that the government should intervene in the economy to support women’s welfare and the welfare of all.
As women, we confront many struggles at once because sexism is multi-faceted and intersects with our different experiences of exploitation, racism, and heterosexism. We do need to break that proverbial glass ceiling and put women into leadership positions in our society. But that is not enough to create a more just society for all women, nor does it guarantee that those in power will represent the interests of poor and working class women. Even when we have more women at the top, the majority of women will continue to remain at the bottom of our capitalist economy because they do most of the necessary caregiving work of children, the sick, the disabled, and the elderly—work that is unpaid or underpaid. Some feminists have called this side of our society that falls far below the glass ceiling the “sticky floor” because of how our economy tends to keep women in the lowest paid and most precarious positions. As a nation, we need public policies that work to raise up that floor, that raise the basic standard of living so that not just a few women get ahead but all women can live in dignity. It is because of my belief in this kind of feminism that I am voting for Bernie Sanders, as his political record and presidential campaign stand for such visionary progressive policies.