Reclaiming Feminism

The members of dance-punk/post-punk band, Le Tigre (JD Samson, Kathleen Hanna, and Johanna Fateman, left to right) don pantsuits in the video for their recently released, pro-Hillary Clinton song, “I’m With Her.” 

Much as I love Kathleen Hanna, I’m still not “With Her.”

I love feminist dance-punk band, Le Tigre, and was initially excited to hear that the group, which has been inactive since 2011, was releasing new music this year. Once I learned the song, titled, “I’m With Her,” is little more than a glorified pep-rally commercial for Hillary Clinton, however, my enthusiasm dropped considerably.

While it is hardly surprising that Le Tigre frontwoman, Kathleen Hanna (a pioneering force in the punk/post-punk sub-genre known as “riot grrrl,” with bands like Bikini Kill and the Julie Ruin) is supporting Clinton over the overtly misogynist, Donald Trump in the presidential election, the song’s easy sloganeering and questionable equation of Clinton with feminism is nonetheless, disappointing.

I learned long ago to tune out when my favorite bands or musicians—even the more avant-garde ones—started telling listeners how to vote, as it almost always entails voting for Democrats.

But, for a musician like Hanna, long known for her lyrical themes of feminism and radical politics, the endorsement of the corporatist Clinton-Kaine ticket is an especially bitter pill to swallow. Indeed, punk-rock was always anti-establishment, and anti-corporatist in nature.

Perhaps the Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra was correct when he declared, back on 1986’s “Chickenshit Conformist,” “Punk’s not dead, it just deserves to die/When it becomes another stale cartoon.”

The fact that, musically, “I’m With Her” is trite and uninspiring hardly helps matters. The song kicks off with a “one-two-three” count-off so requisite of Le Tigre’s earlier work. “Who do we want?” the rhyming verse continues. “We want HRC!”

Later, the band makes its corporate-ladder inspired “feminism” blatant:

“I’m with her/To the top/She [Clinton] is with us/We won’t stop.”

Not only are the lyrics uncharacteristically lazy, but the line suggesting the bourgeois Clinton is “with us” also causes me to question just how financially successful Le Tigre was in its initial run. (When I listened to the band during college, most of my peers and roommates had never heard of them.) The point being, for working-class people, the coveted Goldman Sachs speaker and former Wal-Mart director is most certainly not “with us.”

(To be fair, the three members of Le Tigre likely have more in common, economically, with small business owners, which Marx classified as “petite bourgeois.” These typically self-employed workers often straddle the line between working-class and bourgeoisie–though they usually own at least some of the means of production.)

I point to Le Tigre’s pro-Clinton song because in many ways it stands as “Exhibit A” in the slow, agonizing subversion of feminism from a genuine cultural grassroots movement for gender equality and working-class women’s empowerment, into another empty marketing scheme for the elite.

Feminism as it currently exists is little more than an appeal to the corporate state for inclusion. Millionaires like Sheryl Sandberg and General Motors CEO Mary Barra claim to speak for all women by co-opting the language and spirit of feminism. They disingenuously insist they can relate to the plight of the average working-class woman. And, through books like Sandberg’s self-help bestseller, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, they claim to offer women the “expert advice” and “skills” necessary to “have it all.”

For the corporate media the ascension of a few privileged women like Sandberg into corporate offices, reinforces their perpetual narrative that we now live in a “post-feminist” society, where the major work of feminism is basically complete. This claim, incidentally, is no different from the equally fatuous narrative of the “post-racial” society, as evidenced by the election of Barack Obama.

If only either concept were true.

Certainly, Clinton’s (now seemingly inevitable) election as the first female president will represent a significant mark of progress for some women–specifically, the wealthy bourgeoisie.

As for working-class women (and men)…? They will almost certainly continue to struggle economically in a system that essentially enslaves working-class people who have nothing to sell but their labor power.

“The truth is that Hillary Clinton does represent women’s interests—but only some women,”  Elizabeth Schulte wrote back in February in the Socialist Worker.

Women like Madeline Albright who reached one of the most powerful rungs in the U.S. government by helping to engineer starvation and destitution for the women and children of Iraq. Women like Facebook COO and Lean In guru Sheryl Sandberg, who claims that the only thing standing in the way of women winning equal pay is asking for it. Or women like Gloria Steinem, who began her career exposing the rampant sexism in U.S. society, only to conclude that personal economic enrichment was the key to equality.

Now many young women are beginning to confuse the capitalist class’ brand of pseudo-feminism with the real thing.

This is where leftists bump up against the limits of identity politics, which substitute the politics of representation with an actual program for eradicating sexism–and all forms of oppression–entirely. In the absence of a sharp, clear political framework for combating oppression and fighting for socialism, the left is stuck with the empty multiculturalism of identity politics, and its obnoxious, holier-than-thou practices of “privilege-checking,” and “call-out” culture.

These adolescent practices–which amount to little more than a circular firing-squad–are rapidly becoming the raison d’être of the left.

“Women have discovered that they cannot rely on men’s chivalry to give them justice,” Helen Keller wrote in 1916.

Keller–who was far more radical than your history teacher led you to believe–was an early crusader in the fight for women’s suffrage in the early part of the 20th century. While Keller was universally praised for overcoming her physical disabilities, her outspoken socialist, feminist, and anti-war views were met with cold reception and bitter denouncement.

Indeed, many early feminists like Keller saw a direct, inextricable link between the goals of feminism and socialism.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, for example, was a labor activist, IWW leader, and a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“A domestic life and possibly a large family had no attraction for me,” Flynn wrote in her autobiography, The Rebel Girl. “…  I wanted to speak and write, to travel, to meet people, to see places, to organize the I.W.W. I saw no reason why I, as a woman, should give up my work for this…”

Those of us in the left need to rediscover the language of Flynn and Keller. We need to understand that overthrowing capitalism and ending women’s oppression (indeed, ending all forms of oppression) are not mutually exclusive goals. They are one and the same.

None of this is to ignore or downplay Donald Trump’s abhorrent sexist remarks and history of harassment toward women. The man is repugnant and his misogynistic views should be unequivocally repudiated.

But voting for Clinton is not the way to defeat Trump or advance the cause of working-class women.

Indeed, there is very little about Clinton’s campaign that can accurately be described as “feminist.” As First Lady, Clinton supported her husband’s efforts to eliminate the federal welfare program, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1996, replacing it with the highly restrictive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Likewise, during her term as secretary of state Clinton helped block efforts to raise the minimum wage in poverty-stricken Haiti.

It is, therefore, unfortunate the members of Le Tigre are not advocating a vote for the Green Party’s Jill Stein. Politically, she is far closer to Hanna and her bandmates’ progressive views.

Stein told The Young Turks‘ Cenk Uygur back in June that she considers the assumption that Clinton is a “feminist” simply because she is a woman, “an offense to the concept of feminism.”

“Feminism is much more than [gender],” said Stein. “It’s about peace. It’s about justice. It’s about rights for women as caretakers and caregivers. … I think it’s an offense to the concept of feminism to say that Hillary Clinton and her advocacy for war, for Wall Street, and for the Wal-Mart economy, represents feminism. By no means.”


Author: Adam Marletta

Adam Marletta is a writer, activist, and coffee fiend. He has been involved in political activism since his sophomore year of college, when George W. Bush used lies and fabrications to launch the illegal war in Iraq. Over a decade later, he has only grown more radical. Adam is the former chairman of the Portland Green Independent Party in Portland, Maine, and is currently a dues-paying member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). He holds a Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from the University of Maine, and a B.A. in Communication Studies from Colby-Sawyer College. He has written for the Socialist Worker and the Portland, Maine monthly, the West End News, among other publications. He lives in Kennebunk, Maine.

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