This week, the Senate succeeded on partisan lines in passing a bill known widely as the “Republican Tax Scam,” a widely and unanimously decried piece of legislation that exploits the working class to expand the wealth of the top 5%, strips millions of people’s healthcare, and tanks the country’s economy while it’s at it, all at the service of the party’s wealthy donors.
The bill cleared the Senate floor after it was given the go-ahead by so-called “moderate” Republicans, one of whom was Senator Susan Collins, considered a ‘hero‘ by centrist Democrats after her vote to block Republican Obamacare repeal legislation. Senator Collins apparently ‘blasted’ coverage of her approach to the bill on Tuesday, decrying it as ‘unbelievably sexist‘ for a variety of reasons, including newspapers alleging the fact that she was ‘duped’ despite her experience in politics and negotiating, and noting that she ‘didn’t cry’ when confronted by protestors. She claimed that by contrast Jeff Flake, another allegedly ‘moderate’ Republican had received no such coverage.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: every woman, in every situation, is a victim of sexism. That’s because sexism is embedded in systems and institutions, and doesn’t pick and choose who it affects or when it comes in to play. Conservative women aren’t excluded from the impact of sexism, and their coverage in the media will fall into sexist tropes, just like the coverage of all women falls into sexist tropes. And it isn’t excused or okay or any better when it’s directed at conservative women because it comes from the same place and encourages the same behaviors that end up affecting women on all parts of the political spectrum. It’s no doubt that the fact that Collins is a woman affects how she’s treated, and that Flake is covered very differently by the press.
But that doesn’t mean Collins can get to deflect attention on the fact that it was her vote that helped pass a monstrous piece of legislation that plunders poor and working-class women and their families by pointing to that sexism. Here’s the thing about the systemic nature of sexism: this means that it isn’t individual actions that together constitute the patriarchy, but material conditions that put women at a disadvantage structurally to men. The bill that Collins’s support has helped come closer to becoming law will hit working-class women hard, possibly the hardest, and thereby exacerbate institutional sexism. It is disingenuous and hypocritical for Collins to call out sexism without examining how her behavior, and the behavior of the party she represents, are committed to making life worse off for a significant majority of women. Collins is trying to use feminism — like Kellyanne Conway before her, and Ivanka Trump, and like countless other women in positions of power — in a selfish and self-serving way, and ignore that feminism is a social movement aimed at lifting women as a collective, and not as individuals. If Collins really cared about sexism — as opposed to using it as a cheap political tool to score brownie points with liberals for the devastating impact her vote will have on the American working and middle class — then she would work to dismantle patriarchal structures, not uphold them by servicing the Republican party’s rich white male donors.
In 2018, we cannot let rich, powerful white women working to uphold structures of our oppression co-opt our social movements and act as wolves in sheep’s clothing. We must refuse to let powerful white women use cries of sexism to absolve themselves of responsibility from the terrible impacts of their actions. We must have the courage and conviction to stand by our criticisms of women in power while still recognizing that sexism is ubiquitous and we must always work around patriarchal discourses. In 2018, we cannot let Susan Collins use cries of ‘sexism’ to get away with destroying the lives of millions of poor women.
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