The Problem With Chelsea Handler’s Call For Women To “Do Better”

Photo: Chelsea Lauren/WWD/REX/Shutterstock.
Chelsea Handler is sick of women — particularly white women — undermining women's rights. In a letter posted to Thrive Global, she discussed the 2016 election, in which 48.2% of women voted for Clinton and 46.2% — including 53% of white women — voted for Trump. "94% of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, because unlike white women, black women don’t take their rights, liberties, or justice for granted," she wrote. "They honor how hard people fought for them, and they are fully committed to honoring the very people who risked, and in many cases lost, their lives fighting for ability to count." Handler, a Clinton supporter, argued that we missed our chance to help further gender equality during the election. And in her view, this ties into a larger issue: "We don’t just have a problem with men supporting women in this country; we have a problem with women supporting women." Fair enough. Misogyny, racism, and other forms of oppression get internalized, and even oppressed groups can be guilty of it. But this was where she lost me: "Forget the jealousy. Forget the competitiveness. We are stronger together. Find a woman you have nothing in common with and give her a hug. Then hug yourself. Then roll up your sleeves and stop looking in the mirror." This seemingly feminist call to action evokes a stereotype of women as catty, self-centered, petty, and superficial. "We have to stop ourselves from the snide comments that come easily and out of jealousy that are simply a projection of our own insecurities," she continued this characterization. "Let’s stop it with the dialogue about how women look or what they wear, or if they’ve gained or lost weight. We are more guilty of this with each other than most men are." With these paragraphs, the voting statistics Handler cited went from an indictment of white women's ignorance to a reflection of women's overall animosity toward one another. But catfights and woman-on-woman feuds are a tired, sexist trope, and they're not really what was behind Trump's election. Many white women voted for Trump for the same reasons many white men did: Because our country has problems with racism, misogyny, and bigotry across the board. Not because women like to tear one another down. In fact, more white mena full 63% — voted for Trump. Women are not, as Handler suggested, women's greatest enemy. Though it may be tempting to disproportionately blame women themselves for not supporting women, furthering gender equality is everyone's responsibility. When Handler cites H. L. Mencken's definition of "misogynist" as "a man who hates women as much as women hate one another," she's neglecting that misogyny is a systemic problem, and women are the victims. Misogyny does not exist because women are staring at themselves in mirrors or gossiping about one another's bodies. These things are the results of misogyny. Misogyny exists because of patriarchy. The tendency for women, particularly privileged women, to vote against feminist causes is worth condemning. But let's not pretend this happens because of our Mean Girls impulses. We deserve more credit than that.

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