My wife and I attended a panel discussion last Sunday with Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of the Democratic nominee presidential hopeful, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Chelsea was accompanied by the famous and beloved Superstore and former Ugly Betty star, America Ferrera and also uber- television entrepreneurial juggernaut, Lena Dunham , creator and star of Girls. The event was meant to highlight that millennials, particularly female millennials, are supporting Hillary Clinton. Obviously the event was meant to counteract the prevailing media notion that millennials are not supporting Hillary—whether or not they are female. And certainly some millennials are not—but, as this event pointed out, many are.
Ferrera opened and talked about her immigrant parents saying that she would not have been able to receive an arts education if not for someone like Hillary fighting for better public schools. She was one of the children who needed the free lunches, coming from an immigrant home of six children. If not for political progressives who care about public school education, something Hillary has been working on for decades and why she is supported by the American Federation of Teachers, someone like America would have been left out, not just left behind. She spoke eloquently of how often a revolution, particularly in countries in Latin American where revolution leads to an upheaval that does not benefit the working class is not in fact beneficial to all and proclaimed that we need, “an evolution, not a revolution.”
But it was Dunham who drove home a point many women feel acutely as we speak up for Hillary Clinton and our passion for her aspiring presidency. She said, “We are not ill-informed voters using our vaginas to vote.” Dunham says she’s received so much vitriol for supporting Hillary for the Democratic party; it surpasses anything she has received from the American right wing, “Members of the Democratic Party have spoken to me like I was a …child.” She insisted that she was done “being polite about it.”
If people want to ask questions about why we’re with her, we want to answer those. But we also want to make it clear that this has never been an issue of ‘I’m going to vote for the candidate who I think can beat the bad guy.’ I’m going to vote for the candidate I’ve been dreaming of stepping on that stage for my entire life.
In Clinton’s remarks to the U.N. 4th World Conference on the Women Plenary Session, delivered September 5, 1995, in Beijing, China (an address American Rhetoric places in its top 100 speeches), Clinton famously said, “…human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.” She also cautioned the audience, “Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.”
What did she want them to hear —
over a decade ago at that crucial conference on the world’s women?
These were her main points—and all are still salient today:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
Hillary Clinton is a feminist. The definition of feminism I often use in my classes is that saying popularized by Gloria Steinem, and attributed to activist and academic Cheris Kramarae, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” The above statements by Clinton are feminist statements that attribute personhood to women. They need to be heard in order to be enacted upon.
Nelle Morton, theologian, wrote in The Journey is Home, that women often “hear each other into speech.”
For Lena Dunham, a sexual abuse survivor, and myself, also a sexual abuse survivor, Clinton is very much that person, along with countless other feminists, who helped hear us into speech. She is the candidate we have been dreaming about.
In early March, Senator Bernie Sanders repeatedly shut down Clinton in a presidential debate. The internet was awash in cyber-conversation over whether or not it was sexist for him to do so. I believe that when Bernie Sanders was criticized for telling her, to “stop talking,” it was often excused not because it was not wrong—but because it was familiar. We are not used to having a woman talk and be heard. And because we are not used to it—even though many of us heard that debate and cringed at his finger pointing and in point of fact shushing her, we are not sure if we have “the right” to fight back against it, or rather if we are “right” in doing so.
We are often still hearing each other into speech.
The United States is still seventy-five percent Christian according to a Gallup poll taken Christmas Eve 2015. Often considered the most important book in the world, and certainly the most important book for Christians, is the Bible. The King James version of the Bible is “the most recognizable piece of literature in the world today.” In fact as I write this blog I am in a hotel room. There was one book provided to me when I arrived in this room, as it is in most hotel rooms in the US, the Bible, the King James version.
What does this recognizable piece of literature have to say about women?
Let’s look at Corinthians- 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 King James Version
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.
35 And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
Or Timothy- 1 Timothy 2:11-15 King James Version
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
Or perhaps here in Ephesians– Ephesians 5:22-33 King James Version
22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
As many of us have learned to do, we do interpret the Bible differently—trying to gain from it its wisdom and leaving its sexism behind. Hermeneutics versus exegesis. And still—the above quotes are there in the book and in many other places a well– women are told that their place is in silence, or as mouth pieces for their husbands’ ideas, or as bodies to breed their progeny. And there is a grievous and long history of these Biblical laws being used to keep women very firmly in “their place.”
I was recently quoted in a blog here by my “academic son” John Erickson. We were on a plane together following a trip to his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, OshKosh, where I did a reading of my book, Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars and Theology before Stonewall. It was Super Tuesday and we had just heard that Hillary took Ohio—she would go on to take all five states that night. On hearing that she took Ohio I surprised myself by not just tearing up, but bursting into tears. Of joy. I heard myself say to John, from the deepest part of my being, “…it seems like it’s possible …that a woman can be President.” I was, in that moment, hearing myself into speech—from hearing the results of the primaries, and also being with an avowed feminist who was listening to me hear myself into speech.
We have been trained as a nation to not hear women, to expect them to be “shushed”, to be silenced. well We have been trained to undercut them, to put them last and to not hear them speaking unless they are mirroring the voice of “their husband” or father figure or other sanctioned male authority. To hear a woman into speech is a radical act. To hear a woman into speech as she speaks for herself and other women changes the listeners into speakers as. The poet Muriel Rukeyser wrote in 1968, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” This quote was so radical in it imagining it became the title of a host of other books and organizations.
Am I voting with my vagina? Am I voting for her just because she is a woman? Yes and yes. Am I voting for her because she is a feminist? Because she has decades of fighting for women under her belt? Yes and yes. Am I voting for her because she says that which has been not said? Because she says it until we hear it? Yes and yes. Because she talks about rape and domestic violence and exploitation of women worldwide as common? Because she makes us hear how horrible that common-ness is? Yes and yes. And yes again. I am voting for her because she is telling the truth about her life—and about so much of my life and other women’s lives that I know intimately and those I don’t know intimately but have read about and know.
She is telling the truth about our lives. #ImWithHer
And I want the world to be split open.
Marie Cartier. Dr. Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine. She is also a published poet and playwright, accomplished performance artist, scholar, and social change activist. She holds a BA in Communications from the University of New Hampshire; an MA in English/Poetry from Colorado State University; an MFA in Theatre Arts (Playwriting) and an MFA in Film and TV (Screenwriting), both from UCLA; and an MFA in Visual Art (Painting/Sculpture) from Claremont Graduate University. She is co-chair of the Lesbian-Feminisms and Religion session of the national American Academy of Religion and co-chair at the regional level of the Queer Studies in Religion session, founder of the western region Queer Caucus, and a perma-blogger for Feminism and Religion. She is also a first degree black belt in karate, Shorin-Ryu Shi-Do-Kan Kobayashi style, and a 500 hour Yoga Alliance certified Hatha Yoga teacher.