Bernie Sanders’ most robust group of supporters is white males, labeled “Bernie Bros” by the Atlantic, and described as “flustered, shouting, white guys.” The Bernie Bros are predominately young, white, liberal males who’ve demonstrated a pattern of sending derogatory and misogynistic messages to Clinton supporters (or anyone who disagrees with Sanders.) BernieBros express their grievances with Hillary in sexist ways mostly through their sanctimonious, lecturing, hectoring tone. A BernieBro is certain that you are not voting for Bernie because of your own willful ignorance. Their patronizing condescension mirrors the communicative weapons usually wielded by their ideological foes – those who diminish, demean, and infantilize women.
Bern The Witch
In October, an event called Bern The Witch was created on Sanders’ official campaign website. The event stayed on his official site for five months, until it was removed in March. During this time, the hashtag #BernTheWitch was used. The organizer of the event holds no remorse for the sexist, gendered slur in his event title, and said “We’re gonna burn her at the ballot box”. Bernie himself may not have known about this event, but it does not excuse him from accountability. There is no counterpart on Hillary’s campaign because there are no events organized around disparaging Bernie based on his gender. If we hold Trump responsible for his supporters’ racist conduct, should we not be allowed to argue that Bernie is setting a tone for character attacks on Hillary like this one?
The word witch carries the baggage of anti-woman historical violence. There were no male witches burned. Burning was the preferred method of killing these women because it was considered more painful. Between 40,000 and 50,000 women were murdered because of witchcraft allegations.The word witch is a sexist, gendered slur & inherently carries the anti-women historical violence associated with it.
The first woman to run for President of the United States, Victoria Woodhull, was also called a witch. That was in 1872. Why are gendered, sexist slurs still used 144 years later? Because they work. A 2010 study found that sexism directed at women in politics actually hurts them at the voting booth, as does ignoring the slurs instead of calling them out.
At a Trump rally in Chicago, Sanders supporters passed out free buttons saying “Fuck Her”, using the “H” from Hillary’s logo. They were also distributed at Bernie’s appearance in North Carolina. This is a symbol of our rape culture, where sex is portrayed as violent and violence is seen as sexy.
BernieBro Rage Pivots to Elizabeth Warren
When Bernie lost the Massachusetts primary, a BernieBro recommended rage be directed at Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has yet to endorse either Democratic candidate. Senator Warren subsequently recorded over 9000 threats on her Facebook page.
By not opting to endorse their candidate, she was treated as a pariah who betrayed some imagined cause. As Maurice Cunningham, a UMASS professor said, “It isn’t Sen. Warren’s place to throw a life line to the Sanders campaign.”
Excuse Me, I’m Talking
During a Presidential debate, Bernie interrupted Hillary by wagging his finger in her face and saying “Excuse Me, I’m Talking.” This is sexist for many reasons. First, double standards apply. If a woman tried to shush or interrupt a man in this fashion, she would be skewered by the press. Second, interrupting and over-talking happen as the result of a difference in gender rules. Women know it is rare to complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by mansplaining in a condescending or patronizing manner. Bernie interrupted Hillary three times as often as she interrupted him. He is epitomizing what we’ve been socialized to accept: that male speech is more important or should dominate. Girls are taught to listen politely and boys are taught to speak their mind. Parents are twice as likely to interrupt daughters as sons. Disruptive speech is used to establish dominant masculinity. Even male actors engage in more disruptive speech and garner twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers. In the workplace, women find it difficult to be heard when they are continually interrupted. Male bosses are interrupted less often than their female counterparts.
The way Bernie repeatedly jabbed his finger in her direction reminded some women of the aggressive way some men invade their personal space. This is not the first time Bernie’s body language has been problematic. His hands were literally in Fox reporter Abby Huntsman’s personal space so much she was forced to push him away:
Does the inability or unwillingness to examine his body language, tone, and actions for hints or indicators of sexism tell us all we really need to know?
A few decades ago, Bernie published an essay which included the following rape “fantasies”:
“A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy. A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused. A woman enjoys intercourse with her man- as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously. Do you know why newspapers with articles like ‘Girl 12 raped by 14 men’ sell so well? To what in us are they appealing?’’
This is problematic on many fronts, regardless of when he wrote it. He implies that men fantasize about raping women and that women fantasize about being gang raped. Abuse and rape are violent crimes. Women who are “tied up” are done so against their will. Yet this essay has largely been ignored. Sanders gets excused – because he’s a liberal. Normalizing and condoning sexual violence is not Presidential.
Bernie is the Senator of Vermont, one of the whitest states. His base has been and continues to be white males. In 1963 he attended the March on Washington. Contrary to popular opinion though, he did not march with Martin Luther King Jr from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. In fact, Bernie’s participation in the Civil Rights movement was brief and localized and effectively ended in 1963. What has he done since then? He hightailed it to Vermont, a phenomenon so common it’s referred to as “white flight” (when people migrate from racially mixed to more homogenous regions).
Lauren Burke from The Root pointed out that “Sanders’ record in Congress, which began in 1991 in the House and 2007 in the Senate, is not deep on the type of racial-justice work he’s discussing on the campaign trail today.” But if you talk to any BernieBro, they will beat you over the head with the infamous picture of Bernie getting arrested as if it proves he found the Civil Rights Movement. As Propane Jane aptly summarized it, “He’s running on a record of civil rights advocacy that can only be believed by people who were not actually there.
While Bernie was Senator for Vermont, the black leaders in Vermont stated they were invisible to him. A civil rights organizer said Bernie was really dismissive of anything that had to do with race and racism, saying they didn’t have anything to do with income inequality. When he was confronted by Black Lives Matter activists, he fumbled badly at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix.
In a recent Presidential debate, Bernie said white people don’t know what it’s like to live in a ghetto and don’t know what it’s like to be poor. When questioned, Bernie doubled down on his comments by saying: “I don’t want to be lectured about talking about poverty, whether it’s white, black, Latino”. This is problematic on many fronts. First, it is inaccurate: most poor people in America are actually white; in fact 8 million more. Second, it reinforces harmful stereotypes. Third, systemic racism impacts far more than poverty. It impacts education, the school-to-prison-pipeline, employment, housing discrimination, and criminal justice. It includes patterns where whites have been enriched by the labor of people of color (like the BernieBros’ demand for black votes). Sanders sees racial inequality as less important than economic inequality and he shouldn’t.
During the Mississippi primary, the BernieBros created a #MississippiBerning hashtag. “Mississippi Burning” refers to the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, the subsequent court case, and film of the same name. The hashtag was inappropriate, extremely offensive, and naturally led to outrage.
Bernie continues to alienate the coalition that elected President Obama. He has expressed his disappointment with President Obama for making “weak” deals with Republicans. Paul Krugman wrote that the Sanders movement has a “contempt for compromise,” yet cultivating those relationships is exactly what’s required to navigate legislative deals with a Republican-controlled Congress.
Bernie is running on the platform that money is the root of all evil. He doesn’t recognize or validate the significant oppressive forces of racism, sexism, and prejudice. As Ta-Nehisi Coates from The Atlantic asked, “Why should black voters support a candidate who does not recognize Jim Crow and its legacy were not merely problems of disproportionate poverty?”
The sexist pattern Bernie and his supporters follow of talking down to women as if they just don’t understand is also seen with People of Color. Janell Ross from the Washington Post pointed to the “racial cluelessness, an infantilizing and almost colonial kind of condescension about policy, and a tendency to react to anyone who points that out by supplying even more evidence of racial tone-deafness, self-ordained intellectual superiority and completely open displays of various forms of outright bigotry.”
We’ve come to expect this type of superiority from Republicans, but these are supposed to be progressives! Charles M. Blow from the New York Times also observed their grossly offensive “not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage.”
The sexism and racism of the BernieBros is fueled by feelings of dissatisfaction, emasculation and humiliation. These guys refuse to admit they’ve been handed privilege all these years by a world that puts white men on top. Sociologist Michael Kimmel, author of “Angry White Men” calls this “Aggrieved Entitlement.”
A prime example is the “Bernie or Bust” movement to either a) not vote at all or b) vote for Trump if Hillary wins the nomination. Bernie or Bust is a stance based on privilege, since the sexist, racist policies of Trump will hardly affect their white male lives. Over 58,000 people have pledged to write-in Bernie’s name in the general election if he loses the Democratic nomination. They describe themselves as “Revolting against Plutocracy.” Ironically, in reality, their stance will (as Bill Maher said) “help elect a plutocrat (Trump) who is revolting.”
1 in 10 Sanders supporters think Trump is the next best thing to their candidate and reported being motivated by an anti-Hillary feeling (sexism). These voters were white, low-income men. While Hillary’s supporters are mature adults who openly state they’ll vote for the Democratic nominee, the hyper-masculine combative BernieBros plan to take their ball and go home.
If you consider yourself a progressive, help raise awareness of the sexism and racism we’re seeing on the Left. Talk to your fellow progressives. We need to hold Bernie and his supporters accountable and help them see what they do not: that their sexist, racist behavior has no place in the progressive movement and will only continue to alienate us and push us toward his opponent.