“Oh, Hillary” Revisited

By Carol Hanisch

Listening to Hillary Clinton attack Cuba for human rights violations in an attempt to redbait Bernie Sanders during the March 9 Democratic Party Presidential Primary debate in Miami took me back to her similar haranguing of China during the Fourth World Conference on Women back in 1995. 

In Miami, Clinton attacked Sander’s pro-Cuba comments he made in a 1985 interview, saying:

…he praised what he called the revolution of values in Cuba and talked about how people were working for the common good, not for themselves. I just couldn’t disagree more. You know, if the values are that you oppress people, you disappear people, you imprison people or even kill people for expressing their opinions, for expressing freedom of speech, that is not the kind of revolution of values that I ever want to see anywhere.

Even if there are human rights abuses taking place in Cuba, the worst examples there, including torture, take place at Guantanamo Bay, which continues to be run by the United States. Meanwhile in the U.S. we have more people in jail than any other country in the world, the police gun down unarmed Black people in the streets, corporate and military whistle blowers are thrown in jail or have to flee the country, demonstrators are penned in and pepper sprayed, violence against women is celebrated in the culture, and life expectancy for the lowest 10% income is 13-14 years shorter than those in the upper 10% income. And that’s just for starters.

In the 1985 interview, Sanders was denouncing U.S. intervention in Cuba, Nicaragua and Latin America and praising Cuba’s advances in healthcare and education. The Cuban Revolution long ago ensured universal healthcare for all, unlike the Clintons’ health initiative, which ended up on the cutting room floor.

Sanders, to his credit, didn’t completely disavow, replying:

What that was about was saying that the United States was wrong to try to invade Cuba, that the United States was wrong to try to support people to overthrow the Nicaraguan government. … Cuba is, of course, an authoritarian, undemocratic country and I hope very much, as soon as possible, it becomes a democratic country. But on the other hand it would be wrong not to state that in Cuba they have made some good advances in healthcare, they are sending doctors all over the world. They have made some progress in education.

By the time of her remarks on China in 1995, Clinton had been under attack not only for her appearance but as an activist First Lady who didn’t bake cookies. Not feeling that this gave her a pass on her political stands, including on feminism, I wrote the following column for the Hudson Valley Woman.

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Oh, Hillary

by Carol Hanisch, September 1995

It’s hard for a feminist to be critical of a woman who has been lambasted for being strong, outspoken and successful—and for not baking cookies. However, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comments during her much publicized trip to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in China are badly in need of critique.

FFirst, there was her part in the China-bashing. The event was supposedly an international conference on women, not a media opportunity for U.S. governmental criticism of China’s human rights policies. With one quarter of the children of the United States living in poverty, with many so many hopeless and unemployed, with our prisons bulging while our schools and medical care suffer enormous cutbacks, with our streets full of the homeless, with double and triple bunking in both our prisons and in our homes—and with our history of political repression from the McCarthy witchhunts to Kent State to dead Black Panthers to COINTELPRO (to name only few)—who are we to arrogantly condemn China for human rights violations? Perhaps we should follow the advice of one Chinese official and look after our own problems.

Second, there was the attempt to replace a feminist agenda with “family values” agenda. “If women flourish, the family will flourish and if the family flourishes, the community and nation will flourish” may be true as far as it goes, but to get to the heart of why women don’t flourish, we have to talk about men and male supremacy.

“Women and children” is a tired old dirge full of potent meaning. Sometimes is has been used to imply that women are like children, vis a vis men, and should be treated as such. Mostly its use reflects the notion that women cannot and should not be separated from children in discussions of the family. It accepts that a man is no longer to be considered as equally responsible—either for his partner or for the children they create together. Women can just do it all. As a member of my consciousness-raising group put it, “Why not a United Nations Conference on ‘Men and Children!’”

When Hillary Clinton says she wants to speak for “the mothers who are fighting for good schools, safe neighborhoods, clean air and clean airwaves,” I want to ask her if men aren’t also fighting for these things—or should be—and if air cleaned up by “mothers” is somehow different than if it had been cleaned up by both sexes working together.

“Time to break the silence,” she says. The silence was broken in her lifetime 30 years ago when a cacophony of women’s voices rose up around the world demanding freedom and equality, adding to the many feminist eruptions and screams for justice throughout recorded history. Where has she been?

I’m sure there is much that could be said about the conference itself, both positive and negative, but our media has chosen to fill its column inches deploring human rights policies in China rather than proposals for winning human rights for women. We read and hear only the bland and dated remarks of Hillary Rodham Clinton rather than the voices of the women in the trenches she claims to speak for.

She would do well to take to heart the wise advice that Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders (fired by President Clinton) gave Vassar College students recently:

Organize for change. … When you start making changes, people will say the times are not right. Once you get over that hurdle, they’ll say the money’s not right. Then they’ll say the people are not right. Finally, once you get over all of the hurdles, they’ll say you’re not right. … We need leaders willing to lead, not find out which way the wind is blowing and then jump out in front of it. 

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