Sexism in the Sanders and Corbyn Movements

The Democratic Socialist party and Labour movements of the United States and the United Kingdom, respectively, have often been criticized for their inability to speak to women’s issues. Both movements highlight the idea that the challenges facing the twenty-first century can be solved through redistributive, pro-worker economics. However, in today’s age when diversity and equality of LGBTQIA+ people’s rights have come under fire from the worldwide resurgence of nationalism, social activists have found the progressive movements’ white male leaders- Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn- unequipped to lead a socially-radical counter-movement. Both men fought campaigns against women of their own party for the right to lead and to headline their party’s ticket in national elections. While Sanders lost his race, Corbyn won and went on to gain seats from Theresa May’s Conservative party. The initial primary fights left both men battered with questions over how their increased insistence in their economic messages could represent the minority populations which the left has clung to in recent decades.
The debate between economic and social issues has become a constant game of cat and mouse between the neoliberal and new-Labour elements of the respective US and UK parties, as compared to the more unabashed left wing factions of the same. The more centrist facets of these parties characterize the left’s call for change in the party as a move away from the failsafe support that modern liberals have had for minority groups. The left insists that support for minority groups ought to focus on economics, as minorities from both countries are overall, statistically, worse off economically than the white populations within both the United States and the United Kingdom. That response, while powerful in its own way, does ignore unavoidable systemic cultural racism. Progressives should be more mindful to defer to those voices within their party that speak up on such issues.
In the United States, for one, Hillary Clinton often remarked during the primary that the country could not afford to become unfocused on social issues, often suggesting that Sanders’s focus on the calculative bottom-line of economics ignored the real and personal connection between Americans’ identities and experiences. This simple point was underlined after the early primaries had taken place. Following the super Tuesday states, where Sanders performed abysmally among black communities, the charge against him was solidified. Since those early days of obscurity- when name recognition counts for so much- Sanders’ favorability among African-American voters stands at 73%. In the UK a year earlier, Labour began a leadership election. Both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper called for attention to be paid to women’s issues, inferring that their perspectives would allow them a valuable perspective were they to become party leader.
Sanders asserted earlier this summer that a ‘bigtent’ approach from Democrats would allow room for pro-life Democrats to win in more conservative areas of the country. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton made clear in her post-election book, What Happened, that the pro-choice stance on abortion should be made an ideological litmus test for all potential democratic candidates. This explicit point shows how far leftist men still need to come if they wish to represent the broad coalitions their ideas supposedly support.
One example of Labour’s disconnect with the language of their feminist members lies in Corbyn’s recent speech to the Labour Conference. He said, “young working class women have been subjected to the most repugnant abuse. The response lies in making sure that everybody’s voice must be heard no matter who they are or what their background.” It is disappointing that this quote was stated at Labour’s most recent Conference. Surely, Corbyn should be able to easily denounce letting rapists have a voice, lest their twisted minds propagate in our society. Certainly, we must learn how such people came to such a wretched place as they have, but one would hope that the weight of our attention be placed on supporting survivors and creating the no-ground given culture towards rape that our society demands.
Nowadays, politically active Democrat voters continue to dig their teeth in over the old Sanders-Clinton divide, recently refueled by claims from former DNC chair Donna Brazile that the DNC and Clinton’s campaign for America ‘rigged’ the primary in a written agreement. The character assassination that Brazile has been subject to since has been brutal and undoubtedly sexist. Likewise, as the revelation of the rape and subsequent silencing of Bex Bailey develops, Labour officials had better not just hide behind conservative incompetency, but look its worst side squarely in the face to ensure atrocities never happen, nor be subconsciously tolerated, again.
From Brexit to Trump, the left has faced huge setbacks, but an unapologetically intersectionalist-progressive movement may be the US and UK’s best hope yet, if we can but conceive of it.

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