Supporting Bernie Sanders Does Not Excuse Misogyny

The last few weeks have exposed a darker side of the progressive movement.
In recent weeks, a certain subset of Sanders supporters have exposed their own misogyny.
In recent weeks, a certain subset of Sanders supporters have exposed their own misogyny.

If Donald Trump's campaign has exposed America's "racist underbelly," then the Bernie Sanders campaign has exposed the progressive movement's misogynist underbelly. Some Sanders supporters seem to think that supporting a socialist justifies misogynist vitriol. It doesn't.

I repeat: It does not matter how progressive your chosen presidential candidate is. There is no excuse for calling a woman a cunt.

The last few weeks have been telling for leftists who were under the impression that this side of the political spectrum doesn't have a problem with women.

At the Nevada State Democratic Convention on Sat. May 14 in Las Vegas, 64 potential Sanders delegates were denied. Sanders supporters were demonstrably outraged at this -- according to the Nevada State Democratic Party, "event security no longer had the capacity to control the unruly and unpredictable crowd," and it had to be shut down. 

In response, party chair Roberta Lange had her phone number and address leaked, and received a barrage of inarguably sexist and threatening text messages and voicemails from Sanders supporters. 

While being involved with your chosen candidate's campaign is a perfectly respectable thing -- and being angry and passionate about the political process is, too -- there are ways to grapple with feelings of anger that don't involve threatening and demeaning women.

As Ed Kilgore argued in New York Magazine on Wednesday, the Sanders campaign's insistence on being "robbed" has incited unnecessary aggression from its base. The messages Lange received show that poorly-channelled anger at the political process can easily spread, causing harm to those who cross its path -- women in particular. 

The threats directed at Lange feel like an extreme case. But this sort of behavior is sadly not exclusive to this one instance. Female journalists have attested to the aggressive behavior of some Sanders supporters:

"I write about a lot of controversial subjects...but it's a tweet to a link someone else wrote about Bernie that'll get me the nastiest comments and responses,"politics writer at Elite Daily Alexandra Svokos told The Huffington Post. "Bernie is the only subject I hesitate before tweeting about in anticipation of responses."

And as a writer for HuffPost Women, I've written pretty strongly-worded pieces criticizing influential men -- Donald Trump, men in the NCAA, Woody Allen, and so on -- but no piece I've written has received such an aggressive response as one I wrote last week, calling Sanders out for using coded, condescending language to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. I was told to "fuck off" and "shut the fuck up already" for merely suggesting that Sanders -- whose policies I support, and to whose campaign I donated in its earliest days last summer, before coming to work at The Huffington Post -- think about the way he speaks to women. No one is above this reminder. 

Yesterday, Rolling Stone published interviews with some of the people who had harassed Lange after the Las Vegas convention. One man, Austin, called Lange a "corrupt bitch," and told Rolling Stone, "Stuff like that doesn't benefit the campaign, but it's not necessarily about his campaign, as [much as] it is [about] anger. And I'm not justifying any threats or anything like that, but I would justify people who were upset."

This confession is perhaps the most telling thing of all: The vitriol is less about Sanders and the election, and more about dudes needing an outlet for their generalized rage. Svokos echoed this idea, saying that the incessant comments and tweets she receives are "mostly men telling you that you're wrong and dumb." That sort of commentary doesn't exactly make for productive political discourse.

Of course, not all Sanders supporters are threatening and insulting women. Many of his most prominent supporters have been vocally opposed to the actions of their political community. For some, the misogynist undertones of many in the Sanders camp have begun to chip away at their enthusiasm for the senator's campaign.

Sally Kohn wrote about the extinguishing of her "Bern" for TIME on Wednesday. She argued that Sanders supporters share certain traits with Donald Trump supporters, and touched on the anger that Austin discussed in Rolling Stone.

"I’m not saying that all or even most of Sanders’ white male supporters are violent xenophobes," Kohn wrote, "but they are certainly angry, and in the past and present of America it is impossible to disentangle white male anger from gender and racial bias and resentment."

Kohn also wrote about the intense vitriol some Sanders supporters have for Hillary Clinton:

When you see progressive white men -- many of whom enthusiastically supported Barack Obama’s candidacy -- hate Clinton with every fiber of their being despite the fact that she’s a carbon copy of Obama’s ideology (or in fact now running slightly to his left), it’s hard to find any other explanation than sexism.

Bernie Sanders supporters protest outside of a Hillary Clinton rally in Los Angeles earlier this month. 
Bernie Sanders supporters protest outside of a Hillary Clinton rally in Los Angeles earlier this month. 

Another Sanders supporter -- progressive economist and former Bill Clinton cabinet member Robert Reich -- has acknowledged this as well. In a Facebook post on Thursday, Reich wrote: "Don’t demonize or denigrate Hillary Clinton. If she wins the Democratic nomination, I urge you to work like hell for her. She’ll be the only person standing between Donald Trump and the presidency of the United States."

Sanders -- whose response to the Nevada convention incident was arguably ambivalent -- ought to communicate to his supporters that their actions should better reflect his policies, rather than turn into what Esquire's Charles P. Pierce referred to on Monday as "an extended temper tantrum."

It would serve us all well to remember that those policies are inherently pacifist, inherently feminist, and inherently compassionate. And under those banners, in the context of his campaign -- or anyone else's -- there is no room for hatred of women. 



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