If third-wave American feminism perished with Hillary Clinton’s second presidential run, then the fourth wave shall be necessarily defined by its proponents’ efforts, successful or failed, to recapture Clinton’s cultural clout. It was painful, even humiliating, for me to compose the preceding, putrid sentence; imagine living out such a distasteful fate, one which was enthusiastically pursued by four of the six women who most recently competed for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Only Tulsi Gabbard and Marianne Williamson rejected this fatuous standard out of hand, and they were handsomely rewarded for their intellectual curiosity: the corporate media exiled them and the neoliberal bourgeoisie condemned them as contumacious heretics. What, might I ask, is a heretical woman in this instance? A non-woman? A womanly other? A woman with conditions, exceptions, or qualifications?
Maybe the more appropriate question is: who defines womanhood in the twenty-first century or in any other? The answer has been cleverly concealed by the political establishment. Typically, it is the conservative who faces accusations that he is attempting to control women, physically as well as politically. Naturally, this accusation is delivered by the liberal, who might be a woman or might be a man, but who invariably depicts the archetypal right-wing conservative as a man. If we accept the liberal’s imagery, and if we continue in the spirit of this portrait, then there is but one plausible conclusion: while perhaps not all men are conservatives, all women are and must be liberals. This subconscious apprehension gives rise to the conscious characterization of the Trumpeter as a bitter white male—the final noun being the most important word.
We can discover another, more interesting example in the interminable debate on abortion. I have noticed the liberal’s flourishing preference to describe abortion as “women’s health care issues”, as if the procedure somehow requires euphemistic costume. Less ambiguous is the language with which they frame the debate: “Men are trying to control women’s bodies.” Even if we share their interpretation of the psychic motivation of the anti-abortion lobby, a leisurely glance at the masses protesting outside of Planned Parenthood reveals an unexpected abundance of women picketing. Their commonality is their religious fanaticism, a subject that corporate feminism will never touch. Meanwhile, a surprisingly large number of men support the widespread legalization of abortion, which is probably the more important rebuttal to the liberal’s claim that men stand united against abortion rights while women uniformly favor them. Modern American liberalism is conspicuously insecure about the diversity of opinion, especially on the issues that have become the cornerstone of its political call.
For the liberal condemned to toil under Trump, there is no priority more pertinent than the moral framing of the debate. Morality is entirely on the side of the liberal, while unvarnished immorality is the exclusive domain of the demoniacal conservative. Tellingly, the political establishment has obsessively detailed the latter and forgotten the former, thereby providing an excellent case study in ressentiment, but only at the cost of intellectually bankrupting the Democratic Party. The final resource of this moribund institution is the empty gesture of self-certified superiority, of which the recrudescence of corporate feminism is probably the most significant example. Six women ran, or are running, for president in the current primaries, more than we have ever seen in the duopolistic parties. All that is missing is any explanation of how, exactly, this benefits women: forty-five men have lorded over the Executive Branch, yet impoverishment and injustice remain the inescapable reality for an unsustainable number of American men.
Four of the six women who ran for president expressed no remarkable or credible interest in fixing this broken, dysfunctional system. Kamala Harris has a long history of preying on the indigent: as the Attorney General for the State of California, she joyously threatened to separate truant children from their parents; she refused to discipline an underling who was stealing illegal drugs confiscated by the cops; and she fought to suppress evidence that would have overturned a death sentence for an innocent man. Elizabeth Warren has relied on the support of Raytheon, one of the most powerful military contractors in the world, when running for office in Massachusetts; she has supported the Trump Administration’s unspeakable sanctions on the Venezuelan economy, which have killed as many as 100,000 people; and she lied to me about her support for WikiLeaks when she condoned the persecution of Julian Assange. Amy Klobuchar was more forthcoming with me, informing me flatly that she will not defend Assange, although this statement contradicts another she had made to the New York Times a few weeks before; she was similarly straight-tongued when she approved Trump’s shameless request for an unfathomable $717 billion in military spending; and it is hardly worth mentioning that she voted in favor of the American invasion of Libya, a disastrous enterprise that has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people to date. If imperialism, tyranny, and criminal dishonesty will be the defining traits of a woman in the White House, then perhaps, for all intents and purposes, we have already had a female president.
In another sense, that appears to be the case. Kristen Gillibrand, the fourth of the women mentioned herein, built her campaign on the hypothesis that the American political system could not change, not unless a woman were elected president. “The future is female,” she told her supporters, many of them men, some of whom wondered if they would have a place in this ultra-feminine future she envisioned; indeed, one writer asked if Gillibrand had considered her own two sons when she said it. In any case, her prediction is incontestably correct: someday, a woman will be elected president, and the reaction from the corporate feminists and establishment Democrats will be one of supreme disappointment. The emotional catharsis will be incredibly underwhelming, and that is before the woman in question is inaugurated.
Four years ago, we convinced ourselves that Hillary Clinton was destined to be our next president. We couldn’t conceive of a scenario wherein she failed in the general election, so surreal and even nightmarish was the as-yet unpalpable possibility of President Trump. Accordingly, we lived for many months in a state of inflexible expectation, submerged within an assumption of inevitability. This assumption eventually displaced subconscious reality, which partially explains why so many people simply could not bring themselves to believe she lost. We spend an awful lot of time within our own heads, disengaged from the practical world to a greater or lesser degree, and many of the neoliberals and bourgeois feminists spent the summer and autumn of 2016 living in a world where Clinton had already won.
The incidental effect of that sustained reverie was to acclimate us to the possibility of a woman in the White House. If it was not accomplished instantaneously, then it was achieved by the cultural mourning that has followed: the crestfallen torment themselves with fantasies of what would have happened if Clinton had triumphed, thereby making the possibility of a female presidency so much more familiar, so much more mundane. This uninterrupted daydream, coupled with the specter of femininity that has haunted Trump at every turn, has trespassed upon their own perception, giving them an all-too-vivid, even disenchanting, preview of the future. They have already peeked at their Christmas presents, and they can’t be surprised when they are finally unwrapped—and unwrapped they will be, though it’s unlikely to happen in 2020. When the mythicized day finally comes and a female nominee stands amidst the flurrying confetti, those who have worshipped at the altar of fourth-wave feminism will wonder in their hearts, though they will never say it aloud: “Is that all?”
They won’t admit their dissatisfaction with the female candidates in these primaries, either. None of the female candidates, including Gabbard and Williamson, won over many Democrats, and now it is entirely possible that the first female president will be a Republican. The terror with which all too many neoliberals greet that scenario betrays the insincerity of corporate/bourgeois/fourth-wave feminism, and of identity politics more generally: the outcome is not the emancipation of a gender or a race, but the exploitation of sex and color as a marketing gimmick for one of the most powerful political organizations in the entire world. Hence the collective lamentation for Elizabeth Warren’s recent exit from the race, and hence the ubiquitous ignorance that Gabbard is still running.
We will not comment on the misogynistic slander to which Gabbard has been subjected on every day of her campaign, any more than we will emphasize the absurd protections Warren was afforded even before she commenced her campaign. We will end our observations for the day only with the platitudinous note that the Democratic primaries, superficial in all but their cruelty, have confirmed our widespread underdevelopment, including on the seemingly straightforward subject of gender relations. Only a rigid adherence to the accepted formula will be tolerated, and everything else is anathema. “Well-behaved women seldom make history,” the popular bumper sticker declares. Maybe the problem is that they do.