Bernie Sanders Is a Progressives’ Great Male Hope


Find a man to stop her.

The Great Male Hope

In 1910, the writer Jack London revealed white America’s fear of changing racial dynamics. The Heavyweight boxing champion at the time was Jack Johnson, an African American, who kept winning fights with white boxers. ​Nervous white people in the ​boxing world, and in the ​media, ​felt they needed to stop this black man from infiltrating their club. They convinced a ​retired white prize-fighter, James Jeffries, to come ​down off the farm and​ beat Johnson.

In the run up to the match, billed as the fight of the century, Jack London wrote, “It’s up to you, Jeff, to save the white race.”

Jeffries was​ known as the Great White Hope who would set things right in a ​changing America. Many people thought that a white man beating Johnson would symbolize that whites were still on top. 

Today in the first quarter of the 21st century we find ourselves in a similar place: another perceived as an outsider – a woman – is knocking on the door of the Oval Office. It’s Hillary Clinton and she not only has all the liberal credentials, she has the most experience of all the candidates running. But there is resistance in the Democratic ranks. One reason given is vague:​ “I want a woman president, just not her.”

Any man will do

A woman in the Oval Office symbolizes change. And this one, Hillary, would bring tremendous change. She has experience with bi-partisan legislation, she has fought successfully for women’s rights (even globally), she is consistent on her votes for gun control, she has fought for the environment and she has garnered the respect of Republicans in Congress.

Americans have not yet let women into the Oval Office. We complain about the maleness, but we haven’t mustered a groundswell for change. We seem oddly comfortable with the gridlock.

But time has a way of shaking our comfort zones and we all know it’s past time for a female president. Both of Hillary’s presidential runs are pushing us into the future, but some are clinging to the past. I believe that many progressives have not been and still are not ready for gender equality in the presidency, and they​ now believe they have found their James Jeffries to hold the male status quo.​

I can hear almost hear their agitated thought process: “If she is destined to be the president, find a man to stop her.” It feels like any man will do.​

Enter Senator Bernie Sanders, their great male hope, their Savior. Hailing f​rom the white state of Vermont,​ Sanders is a bit of an odd choice for progressives. He voted against the Brady Bill five times and voted to keep gun manufacturers and sellers safe from lawsuits. True, he has a pro-choice voting record, but he has not led on the issue of women’s rights as Hillary has, nor has he stepped out in front on global women’s rights as her record proves she has. Yet, when Sanders shakes his fist and screams revolution, progressives get dewy-eyed. Some say he speaks for them.

It is truly a first when Democrats jettison solid records on gun control in favor of speeches about revolution.

​It is similar to seeing an SUV sporting a Che Guevara sticker.​

I watch his supporters symbolically wrap their arms around him as if he was their father come home to protect them from the female insurgent who dares to compete for the power seat.

A woman president is a sea change in our minds that shifts our consciousness into a place it’s never been before.

I recently watched people get excited about Barbie dolls gaining weight because it better reflects who we are as real people. Will we have to wait for gender diversity in the Oval Office because some want old Ken right where he is?

The Future is Female

Many say Hillary Clinton is part of the system. I disagree. Hillary’s background in creating change for women globally would be a first for the Oval Office. She changed our awareness about trafficking when she was first lady. What could she change as president?

​Many Americans tacitly accept the​ male ceiling in the Oval Office. Like an attic filled with old photographs and trunk​s​ of stuffed animals the past is a safe and traditional space, it made us who we are. We know our roles​.

For some, deep inside, they are fine with the fact that men are presidents and progressive women are agitators. This is the way it has always been. ​I believe that unconsciously some fear that if we change the gender of our president we ​might fail.

There is a second wave feminist sentiment now popularized on a tee shirt; The Future is Female. If so, then why are so many drawn to a male candidate for president? Is it because the female future they envision is confined within a male defined framework, as the U.S. presidency has always symbolized?

It’s a paradox. They say:

I believe in feminism, but I don’t want this feminist in the White House.

I believe in women’s rights, but I don’t want the only candidate who has actually fought for them in the White House.

I believe that Wall Street has too much power, but I don’t want the woman who warned Wall Street about derivatives to be President.

I believe in gun control, but I don’t want her.

​I want change, but I don’t want real change.​

Like the white men in the boxing world who searched for a rescuer, have pro​gressives found their Great Male Hope?

James ​Jeffries​, the white hero, ​lost that famous fight against Jack Johnson, the black insurgent. After the fight Johnson said he knew he had won by the fourth round, because he looked at Jeffries and saw, “The old ship was sinking.”

What’s sinking in the 2016 campaign? The idea that only men should be presidents. 

Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films,  in visual effects, and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed by Women Make Movies and she has public screenings scheduled for Women’s History Month. Jennifer was named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project. To schedule an interview with Jennifer or book her as a speaker, she can be reached at Jennifer is also a contributor to the new Amazon bestseller, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.

Image via Flickr/DonkeyHotey/CC License


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