Cade Leebron on finding common ground with Hillary's campaign
RECENTLY, AT A friend’s bachelorette party, I got into a fight with a kind-of stranger about rape culture. The stranger was the host of the karaoke night we were attending (decked out in bachelorette-themed regalia, which, as my friend had prophesied earlier, worked like this: “we put it on, and then the movie happens to us”). He made a joke about Take Back the Night, and I, several drinks into the movie version of my life, put down my whiskey-coke and marched right up to him to explain why, precisely, it wasn't funny. He somehow didn’t appreciate that. We argued for an awkwardly long time, until finally he said “Who's even thinking about rape culture right now?” (Which, you know, he was the one who made the rape joke, into a microphone, in public, but whatever.) I replied “One in four women.”
By one in four, I meant the often-quoted statistic that one in four women is raped in college in the U.S. Which isn’t quite the same as just “one in four women” overall (the statistics there may be, in fact, even worse). But having been one of those one-in-fours (I was raped on my third day of freshman orientation), it’s a statistic that remains pretty stuck in my brain.
It’s apparently not good form to bring it up in bars, though, and if you gesture to a group of college women while talking about it, everyone gets awkward, but they can’t really explain why. Here is why: we are, as a culture, mostly fine with the idea of rape in general, but when you put that idea onto an actual woman, rape becomes a specific and human issue instead of a punchline or vaguely threatening cloud. It’s easier to not have to think about it that way. (See: the fantastic CollegeHumor video about rape culture, featuring bears.) So one in four is a number that some of us bring up in public, and other people avoid whenever possible. I’m in that first group, and I tend to gravitate toward other people who are as well. Like, for example, Hillary Clinton.
A friend of mine is working for the Clinton campaign, and when he knew I was feeling undecided about the primary elections, he texted me the link to her campaign platform page about college sexual assault. At first, I was annoyed. I’m not that easy, I wanted to say to him, and there is more to me than my rape. Plus, I was sure Bernie and Hillary must have pretty similar policies on campus rape. Hillary’s campaign is frequently referred to as corporate, and I wanted to say that it didn’t really matter to me that one of Hillary’s campaign staff-people somewhere had made the (sensible, in my opinion) choice to have a page on her website dedicated to an extremely pressing issue. So much of my headspace is dedicated to campus rape. And that’s not just because I’m a rape survivor. It’s because so many of my friends are. It’s because now, as a grad student, I teach undergraduates, and I worry about what they do after my class ends. It’s because I’ve spent the last six years of my life on college campuses, and the posters about consent in the bathrooms are still hanging there, but the statistics they report have stayed the same. If it takes up so much space in my brain, the two major candidates from my party of choice must also be thinking about it, right? But then I did a bit of web research.
It’s often said that Hillary and Bernie have more in common than not, and usually I agree with that. On a lot of their platform pages, their rhetoric is pretty similar (though Bernie tends to go for the Brothers and sisters stuff and Hillary’s language is occasionally more centrist). But on the issue of campus rape, Hillary has an easy-to-find webpage with well-researched thoughts on campus sexual assault, and Bernie has nothing. Zero. Nada. One in four. Instead, I found an article about some off-hand comments Bernie made about the campus rape epidemic, which went directly against policies survivors have asked for.
The thing is not that I’m a one-issue voter. I care about disability policy and welfare reform, about immigration and student loan forgiveness. There is more to me than my rape. If Hillary Clinton were Donald Trump plus a fantastic campus rape policy, I would not vote for her. But I think this slice of her platform is symbolic of something larger: Hillary does not dodge issues. She doesn’t, say, bring up Wall Street when Wall Street has nothing to do with the question (see: Bernie, I’m talking about Bernie). When she’s asked about racism while in Flint, MI, she does her best to come up with an honest and heartfelt answer. She stays on topic. She has her buzzwords, but she doesn’t use them to derail conversations.
And sure, sometimes she puts her foot in her mouth. But when she does (see: Nancy Reagan & AIDS), she is immediately called on it. Meanwhile, Bernie, that perfect Socialist Jewish angel who can do no wrong (which is how I would love for someone to describe me one day, just as a side-note), is rarely asked to apologize for his mistakes. In my experience, his supporters instead make excuses for him, saying that Hillary has a larger staff and Bernie doesn’t have the resources to know about the issues. Often, he does seem to be a bit clueless about all kinds of things. But just to be clear, we are talking about a man who is running a national campaign for president, a man who has raised more than $200 million to support that campaign, a man who has been in politics for decades.
Recently, a friend who supports Bernie told me that he would have an equally strong campus rape policy if only he had the time to do the research. Apparently, I am expected to support Bernie based on the platform he could potentially have rather than the one he does. Hillary, meanwhile, is cut no such slack: when she course-corrects after a blunder, the research by campaign staff it took to get her there signals that she is inauthentic. Why should I see Bernie for who he might become but punish Hillary for actually changing? She is willing to do work, to have difficult conversations. She’s willing to talk about campus rape.
Here is what it’s like to be a young woman and a Hillary supporter: on a regular basis, I have interactions with people my age who treat me like I must be a fucking idiot. Many people (huge surprise: it’s often men) have attempted to explain “the American political system” and “structures of power” and “how our political parties actually work,” to me, which would be insulting regardless, but I happen to have a degree from a top university in (get this) American Government & Politics. Of course, because our world is gendered beyond belief and teaches women that stating our credentials is bragging or irrelevant (see: every critique of Hillary’s credentials), I don’t like to mention the whole degree-in-politics thing if I can help it.
Instead, I do a lot of listening. I’ve had men tell me that Bernie is actually more concerned with so-called “women’s issues” than Hillary is, and that Hillary being a woman shouldn’t matter to me. How intriguing, right? It’s very true that as a woman, I’m not looking for meaningless (or counterproductive) representation of women in politics (see: Carly Fiorina, Sarah Palin, etc). I’m looking for substantive representation, for female politicians who work for policies that benefit women. I’m looking for a campaign website that has a section devoted to, say, campus rape. The stakes here are not low. We are (in case you have somehow forgotten) talking about one in four. That seems like a statistic that our politicians should be tackling in their platforms. There’s only one Democratic candidate like that out there, brothers and sisters. So yeah, #ImWithHer.
CADE LEEBRON graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in Government and is now pursuing her MFA in nonfiction at The Ohio State University. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Rattle, Electric Literature, The Manifest-Station, and elsewhere. You can find her online at www.mslifeisbestlife.com or on Twitter @CadeyLadey.