The Personal is Political in 2016 Presidential Election: The Sexual Politics of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump


Dr HerukhutiBy Dr. Herukhuti

I started writing this article on July 31. Looking at the histories of the Democrat and Republican nominees at the time, I knew that sex was an important lens through which profound evaluations of the nominees would come into focus. I wrote the following lines and then prematurely stopped to attend to other responsibilities, “The feminist axiom “the personal is political” acknowledges the reality that our individual, personal actions–even the most intimate and private ones–can have consequences on society. It also suggests that those actions are evidence of our values and their political leanings.”

Fast forward two and a half months and I awake to what some news sources are calling an “avalanche of accusations” in the 2017 presidential campaign. Through several media outlets, multiple cisgender, women have alleged Donald Trump sexually assaulted or harassed them within the last 15 hours. This after Donald Trump brought back into media attention women who have alleged Hillary Clinton participated in the discrediting of their allegations that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, sexually assaulted or harassed them.

In political jargon, this set of stories is what’s called an October Surprise–a term to describe when political operatives use the most damaging research they have about their opposing candidate to discredit them during a pivotal period in the campaign, the weeks before election day. I don’t know who finds it surprising that Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are sexists, misogynists and patriarchal. Maybe they are the same people who find it surprising that the United States was founded upon the imperialist colonization and theft of land from Native American communities and labor from African communities.

But apparently and sadly, there are a lot of people who are willing to ignore or deny Hillary Clinton’s role in quashing Bill Clinton’s record on women and issues affecting women (e.g., Sister Souljah, Lani Guinier, Joycelyn Elders, welfare reform, Rwanda, Haiti, Jennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, etc.) in the interest of her own political ambitions.

These latest sexual assault scandals in the political world come at the same time as people are still discussing the ethics and politics of seeing the film Birth of a Nation given the sexual assault allegations made against its writer-director Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin. The film is based upon the life of African American, revolutionary leader, Nat Turner, who led a spiritually-inspired, militant overthrow of the racist regime of colonial Virginia. Turner’s work ended without achieving his aims. The growing debate about whether supporting the film also registers as support for Parker’s and Celestin’s actions threatens Parker’s aims for the film.

I observe all of these spectacles as a sexologist, sex educator, and social justice activist. For me, they demonstrate the consequences of the lack of comprehensive sex education in the United States, which makes learning about how to experience, manage, and express sexual desire a trial and error process for most people. They demonstrate the consequences of a toxic masculine culture that teaches boys and men to express themselves through violence, aggression, domination, and destruction. They demonstrate the consequences of a vulture capitalist society that commodifies everything, including pain, trauma, and corruption, to sell to a population that needs something, anything to distract it from the impact of living in an economy, society, political system, entertainment and cultural environment of death.

Since 2010, I have been advocating for Goddard College, where I am on the faculty, to develop an undergraduate and graduate program in sexuality studies. Each time, I’ve proposed the programs someone responsible for reviewing the proposal has questioned the need for them and their relevance in creating a more socially justice and ecologically sustainable world. As I look around the world, the answers to those questions are clear as day. In the next 7 days, I will make another attempt at encouraging the College to build a sexuality studies program. If you know the value of such a program, voice your support for it by emailing or calling Goddard College’s Academic Affairs office at academicaffairs [at] goddard.edu or 802-322-1612. Tell them about the people you know who would benefit from studying sexuality at the intersection of social justice and ecological wellness.

 

 

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