Actress/social justice activist Susan Sarandon and businesswoman Carly Fiorina don’t have very much in common politically. Sarandon is a registered Democrat and staunch liberal who supported an admitted socialist for president. Fiorina, on the other hand, is a conservative Republican who ran for president in 2015 alongside 16 other candidates. Sarandon is pro-choice. Fiorina is pro-life.
But noteworthy things each woman has said in response to the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton have done more to advance the cause of true feminism than the supposed champion of feminism Mrs. Clinton ever has.
Sarandon and other female Bernie supporters found themselves to be the subjects of intense scorn and backlash over the last several months from fellow feminists because they had the audacity to pick the male “progressive” candidate over the female. In February, Sarandon took to Twitter to express her outrage:
Actress Susan Sarandon says it’s “insulting” to tell women they should back Hillary Clinton for president because of her gender.“I don’t vote with my vagina,” she tweeted Wednesday. “It’s so insulting to women to think you would follow a candidate just because she’s a woman.”
“She failed me,” Sarandon said last month of Clinton’s [Iraq] vote. “That wasn’t just a mistake. It was a disaster.”
In an appearance on the pro-Hillary daytime talk show “The View” in April, Sarandon told the hosts that there had been a lot of “shaming” of women who had decided to support Sanders over Clinton, and much questioning of their feminist credentials.
In February, Fiorina, who has faced the same ridicule other Republican women often have from Democrats because of their decision to align with the GOP, posted a gracious exit speech on her Facebook page with a special message to young female voters:
To young girls and women across the country, I say: do not let others define you. Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you’re a woman. That is not feminism. Feminism doesn’t shut down conversations or threaten women. It is not about ideology. It is not a weapon to wield against your political opponent. A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts. And always remember that a leader is not born, but made. Choose leadership.
In June 2015, Ms. Fiorina went on “The View” to push home the point that a pro-life woman isn’t any less of a woman than a pro-choice woman, and in a very public November feud with View hosts decried how conservative women are held to a different standard than liberal women in the media.
The infighting between liberal women over who to support has happened in the past, but to a lesser extent. Oprah Winfrey faced criticism from other women over her endorsement of Barack Obama over Clinton in 2008. Bernie supporters were treated full force to the experience this year – most notably by the Clinton campaign – and didn’t like it. Thankfully, one of their most vocal allies – Sarandon – wasn’t afraid to speak out about it and call it for what it was: shameless hypocrisy.
True feminism is a philosophy where you don’t judge a woman on the basis of her sex, but rather her ideas, what she brings to the table, her life experiences, and also – as Martin Luther King, Jr. would say – the content of her character. Women who don’t like another woman’s political stances shouldn’t be guilted or shamed into supporting another woman just because she has the same lady parts – and definitely not just because she stands to make history.
Most women, including this writer, will happily admit it’s gratifying to support other women, to help lift them up to be all they can be in hopes that they’ll be able to lead fulfilling lives and be strong role models to future generations of women. But only if it doesn’t come at the expense of compromising your own values, principles, and standards. After all, an untrustworthy, unlikeable person is still an untrustworthy, unlikeable person, even if they do happen to be a woman.
(I wrote this piece, which was originally published at IJR in July 2016)