Bernie Bros Made Me Finally Recognize Misogyny in America

Decades ago, Gloria Steinem had talked about the "click," moments, those aha, revelatory, eureka moments when a woman suddenly recognizes the gender discrimination she faces. I am sorry to say, I never had one of those consciousness-raising moments. Until now.
05/05/2016 09:11 am ET Updated May 06, 2017
YPSILANTI, MI - FEBRUARY 15:  Supporters of U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders  hold signs at
YPSILANTI, MI - FEBRUARY 15: Supporters of U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders hold signs at Sanders' first campaign rally in Michigan at Eastern Michigan University February 15th, 2016 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At his 'A Future To Believe In' rally, Sanders spoke on a wide range of issues, including his plans to make public colleges and universities tuition-free. The next voting for the Democratic candidates will be the Democratic caucus in Nevada on February 20th. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

I hated identity politics.

I was like Bernie Sanders, fixated on economic disparities. Fix those, I believed, and eventually, the rest of the stuff -- racism, gender discrimination -- would take care of itself.

I came to this country from my native India in 1983, when diversity and multiculturalism were buzzwords. But as a young socialist I believed that these were simply diversions created by a corporate culture to avoid dealing with the real elephant in the room -- class issues.

Which is not to say I wasn't hip to the terrible racial history of this country or that I wasn't a feminist from the age of fifteen. It's not that I didn't believe in fighting for equal rights for minorities (read African-Americans and Latinos) and for women (read every other woman except myself). But I resisted any attempt to pigeonhole myself into a racial or gender box and I wanted to believe that everything I would achieve in my life would be based on merit alone.

I thought it was ridiculous that anyone could hate me based on my skin color or dismiss me as a foreigner when I was so obviously a friendly, affable person who loved America, smiled at strangers and could talk to lamp posts. The truth is, such irrational hatred would've devastated me. And so I found ways around it. I refused to believe that any position that I didn't get was the result of latent or subconscious discrimination. I wanted to believe that when my bosses saw me they didn't see my brown skin or my gender. Instead, they saw my writing ability, my intelligence, my ambition to do meaningful work.

And I've been lucky in that the three professions I've been associated with -- journalism, academia and book publishing -- have all been liberal enclaves in a world that seems decidedly illiberal. And I've been lucky in that my education, my good English, my middle-class childhood have bestowed upon me advantages that many working class immigrants have never had.

And so I happily, blindly ploughed through my life, with no interest in labeling myself. As for those journalism positions that went to a guy or to a prettier woman colleague that the editor was trying to date? Well, so what? They'd worked at the paper longer than I had. As for those work meetings where a male colleagues talked all over me? Well, he didn't mean to. Besides, he claimed to be a feminist. And those book readings where for the umpteenth time, a well-meaning audience member complimented me, a bestselling novelist, on my "good English?" Well, I needed to squash the burn that started in my stomach and instead smile and thank them. Because they meant well.

Decades ago, Gloria Steinem had talked about the "click," moments, those aha, revelatory, eureka moments when a woman suddenly recognizes the gender discrimination she faces. I am sorry to say, I never had one of those consciousness-raising moments. That is to say, I had plenty of them. But on the behalf of others. Never for myself.

Until now.

I have the Bernie Bros to thank for this.

Killary. Shrillary. She who yells too much. And a million other slurs that I see daily on Facebook but which are unprintable in this family publication.

When the Republicans did it, it was easier to take. But these young, white men! They called themselves Progressives! Which meant we were on the same team. But who refused to see their own bias, their own privilege, even when countless women pointed it out to them. Who, instead, turned on us and said we were "only" voting for her because she was a woman. As if Hillary Clinton had no past, no history, no accomplishments before they woke up to the 2016 caricatures of her.

Let me make one thing clear. I am not at all suggesting that some of their critiques against Clinton were not accurate or that they are wrong to be idealistic and youthful. After all, I was... as recently as 2008 when I joyously voted for Barack Obama.

But because they felt the need to attack me every single time I posted anything remotely favorable to my candidate of choice, because I have spoken to countless women who have stopped posting on Facebook and Twitter because they are afraid the Bros will pounce, because some of them have turned out to be as misogynist and careless in their attacks and speech as The Donald himself, they have been part of my growing education.

But still, I told myself that surely the people that I encountered online were not a representative sample. Sanders himself seemed like such a decent man.

Until...

Until... the infamous "unqualified" speech. That swooshing sound you heard was a million female heads spinning. Because if Hillary Clinton was "unqualified" to be president, what woman ever would be? Not in our lifetime, for sure. Click.

And then the another blow. Or click. Bernie had called her unqualified because he thought she called him unqualified. And he got that information from a Washington Post headline. Which, everybody soon knew was misleading. Turns out that the man who would be president didn't bother to read the actual story. Ah, Bernie. Next time, read the damn story before you get in a tizzy, would ya?

After this, the clicks began to grow. After his flame-out in the New York primary, Sanders claiming that the burden was on Hillary to work to win over his supporters. (Imagine Hillary making this demand in 2008.) Nobody in the media demanding that Sanders release years of tax returns, as Hillary had done. One story -- one -- about Sanders paying for his chartered plane to the Vatican out of campaign funds after claiming that this was not a campaign trip. (And no one accused him of dishonesty or corruption.) No major story about the child out of wedlock, the weird quotes about rape and sexual fantasies. Imagine if a female candidate had had this past.

Just as Obama's election ripped the mask off of the racism that had simmered below the surface, something very similar is happening with sexism during this primary season. And, it is radicalizing women. This past weekend I was at a birthday party where every woman -- ranging in age from 20 to 70 -- said that even though she agreed with much of Sanders' platform, he had lost her in the last two months. I have yet to see the media cover this story.

As for this feminist, the time has come to confront her own assumptions. And to connect the dots so that I can see misogyny when it attacks me as clearly as I can when it does one of my sisters. I would never vote for a female candidate based solely on gender. But to vote for someone like Hillary because she's eminently qualified and because she's a woman? You betcha. I Am Woman. Watch Me Vote.

Thrity Umrigar is the author of six novels, including 'The Space Between Us' and 'The Story Hour,' and a memoir. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio.