Kamala Harris is No Feminist Hero
She is only the third woman ever to get nominated for the role. She is the first Asian-American woman and the first African-American woman to do so. And given Trump’s mishandling of Coronavirus, with over 196,000 dead, she might actually have a chance of becoming Vice-President of the United States of America. But while breaking the glass ceiling is a personal triumph, despite what some pieces in The Atlantic might suggest, Kamala Harris’ nomination as Joe Biden’s running mate is sadly no feminist victory.
Given her track record, there is no sign that Harris’ achievement will trickle down to benefit average working women in the US or around the world.
While Harris can be applauded for a handful of good policies, such as supporting legislation together with Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey which would give $2000 a month to any American making up to $120,000 a year during the pandemic or being a stark defender of abortion rights, she can be criticized for much more than she can be praised for. Her identity as a woman of color has certainly not stopped her from enabling destructive policies against black and brown communities, immigrants and sex workers. Like Hillary Clinton, Harris is no feminist hero, but simply a woman in a position of power. While there are many reasons to deem her a faux feminist, the glaringly obvious one is her disregard for the credible sexual assault allegations against her running mate.
Joe Biden has been accused of inappropriate touching by multiple women but the most harrowing story comes from a former employee of his, Tara Raede. Not only does Raede allege that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 while she worked for him, but she also explains how her life and career were ruined by him after she was fired. Her story was corroborated by Reade’s neighbor Lynda Lacasse who said in a Democracy Now! interview that Reade told her about the incident in late 1995 or early 1996.
However, Harris has not offered her support to Tara Reade like she did to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Brett Kavanough, the man nominated to the Supreme Court by the Trump administration, of sexually assaulting her when she was a teenager. Harris not only explicitly told Dr. Ford that she believed her, but also during her failed presidential run Harris said that she believed Biden’s accusers too. However, more recently she has only said that Tara Reade has “has a right to tell her story”. Harris even doubled down during her VP nomination acceptance speech at the DNC and said “I know a predator when I see one”, implying that Vice-President Biden is not one.
Furthermore, Kamala Harris’s record as District Attorney of San Francisco (2004-2011) and as Attorney General of California (2011-2017) is not much better. During the Democratic presidential debate in July 2019, Hawaian Senator Tulsi Gabbard pointed to a number of damaging things that Harris had done during her time as a prosecutor, such as putting over 1500 people in jail for low-level marijuana violations and keeping people in overcrowded prisons incarcerated longer than necessary so as to have greater access to cheap labor. Moreover, Harris has a troubling record of prosecuting parents for their children’s truancy i.e., punishing parents and guardians when their children have been absent from school without an approved reason. Many have criticized her for this part of her record, since these laws predominantly affected poor and working class parents.
“So the criticism of this law is that when children miss a lot of school, a lot of times, the reason for that is not totally under the parents' control. Maybe the parent or family moves around a lot because the parent has lost a job. Maybe the child doesn't feel safe in school,”
says Huffpost’s Molly Redden.
But above all, Kamala Harris’ legislation on sex work has probably had the biggest impact internationally. During her Senatorial mandate, Harris co-sponsored the set of laws called SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act)/FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act). Their supposed goal was to stop sexual exploitation and human trafficking. However, it was through SESTA/FOSTA that Backpage got shut down. Backpage was a popular website through which sex workers from all over the world could cheaply advertise their services and most importantly could use to vet potential clients. Some have hailed Kamala Harris' nomination as a feminist victory. But according to Cleo Constantine, the Democratic candidate for Vice-President is a woman responsible for legislation that continues to have destructive and even deadly effects on the lives of sex workers all over the world.
“Backpage allowed workers, especially marginalized workers, especially workers who worked on the street, to have a platform where they could advertise for a reasonable price. That meant that a lot of people didn’t need to work in brothels and didn’t need to work for pimps anymore,”
In 2019, Senator Harris said publically that she had changed her position on sex work and that she now supports decriminalization. However, when her words are examined more carefully, one understands that she actually believes that selling sexual services should be decriminalized while buying them should be illegal.
“Harris is actually a Nordic model feminist,” Cleo clarified in regards to what Harris’ actual position on sex work is. “As someone who has worked under the Nordic Model, it is scary and certainly not safer because it just puts pressure on clients to not see sex workers, which makes us more desperate and more likely to see more dangerous clients.”
“What I find really insidious about Kamala Harris is that she was cheering when SESTA/FOSTA was passed even though a lot of sex workers said this is going to get us killed. I think it’s very bittersweet for US sex workers now since they have to choose between a Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris ticket. Kamala Harris has blood on her hands. Many sex workers not only lost huge portions of their income, but were killed because of legislation that made it much harder for them to vet their clients,”
Cleo’s account further shows that Harris’ policies have already negatively impacted people all over the world. Unfortunately, self-described “top cop” Kamala Harris has successfully used her blackness and minority status in order to create the aesthetics of a progressive veneer while simultaneously pushing for brutal policies on many fronts. In a time when the media increasingly pays attention to so-called “identity politics”, politicians with minority statuses can sometimes be valorized even when they are destructive. That is precisely the case with Kamala Harris, a career prosecutor and politician who is neither progressive nor a feminist: She is simply a woman in a position of power that seeks to gain even more power. Just like a lot of male politicians.
There is certainly an argument to be made about voting for Biden and Harris in the face of four more years of an administration that has not only let thousands die from a deadly pandemic, but has recently been discovered to be doing hysterectomies to women detainees at ICE detention centers. In the face of such overtly eugenicist practices, it is difficult to judge anyone for voting for “the lesser of two evils”. And yet, we must remember that under the Obama-Biden administration, as a government agency, ICE was not only alive and well, but more people were actually deported during such a centrist Democratic rule than even during Trump.
This is not about making an argument to not vote for Biden and Harris, but rather that electoral politics are unlikely to save the most vulnerable. A Biden-Harris victory will only take us so far. Thus, we must look beyond electoralism and look to grassroots leaders and movements -- like #BlackLivesMatter -- so as to push for a truly inclusive feminism and liberatory world for all.
Perhaps this idea is best summed up with a striking sentence found in Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser’s Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto: “We have no interest in breaking the glass ceiling while leaving the vast majority [of women] to clean up the shards.” (Cinzia Aruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, (London, New York: Verso, 2019), 13.)