Former Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally left the executive office of the state of New York after a barrage of accusations of sexual harassment. While this was the final straw, the past year has seen a cry growing among even the left that Cuomo might have used a Trumpian tactic of appearing as a hero to his base, while actually poisoning the very causes he claimed to stand for. In a little more than a year, he has gone from Covid savior of New York to the guy who the hospital lobby used: “…to order elderly COVID-19 survivors out of their hospitals and back into nursing homes, leading to thousands of needless and gruesome deaths among New York’s most vulnerable elders.” Now, we also know him as a man who presented himself as a feminist but harassed the women around him.
Two of the 100% positive Yelp reviews of my local CPCThe Jacobin details Cuomo’s feminist public persona that stood in contrast to the allegations against him:
Though Cuomo is pretending to be an unsophisticated knucklehead who doesn’t understand that times have changed, he’s long been a savvy exploiter of empty neoliberal feminism. Years ago, he started the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) — which the New York Times described as a “political shell company” — in order to defend himself from primary challenges from progressive women like Zephyr Teachout. The WEP is a fake organization boasting no actual feminists of any prominence. The governor’s cooptation of Time’s Up, for all its problems a group of actual activists, was much more sinister.
To celebrate this death sentence for viable children, Cuomo lit the One World Trade Center bright pink; as empty a gesture to equality as I can imagine for a man who went about his days harassing and belittling women behind the scenes. It represents the way in which Cuomo could buy the allegiance and silence of elite feminists against the women that he oppressed.
Abortion advocacy, at its heart, is the pinnacle of empty neoliberal feminism. This is not to ignore that many abortion activists in the country and around the world are marginalized people–the poor, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks–just as there are in the pro-life movement. But of all the concerns that feminists of all stripes might bring to the table, nothing gets elite feminists more energized–and thus pouring more money and support into a cause–than abortion. This means that while marginalized feminists might fight for a whole range of things, from equal pay to maternity leave, from reducing the maternal mortality gap to providing support for victims of sexual violence, rich, white women with a lot of power throw in their support only when they get a sense that they won’t be allowed to kill their kids in utero. And by throwing their support in on this one topic, they diminish the wherewithal to address all of these other issues and, as exemplified by Expose Fake Clinics, sometimes actively undermine them.
As another Jacobin article details, the idea that elite feminists may be working against the interests of other feminists and women outside of their bubble is not a new one. Hilary Clinton has long been seen as a flag bearer of an elite feminism that:
“…was the feminism of the professional-managerial class, of relatively privileged women — middle- or upper-middle-class women who are highly educated and mostly white — who are trying to get ahead in the worlds of business or the military or the media. Their project was to climb the corporate hierarchy, to be treated in the same way as the men of their own class, with the same pay and prestige.”
What do Lizz Winstead, Lindy West, Alyssa Milano, and Cuomo-enabler Ms. Kaplan all have in common with Hilary Clinton? They are all highly ambitious, public figure upper-middle to upper-class professionals who, in their career trajectories, came to believe that the ability to kill their unborn children was required to reach their level of influence, power, and status. They now use that power to maintain the status quo for themselves. So The Daily Show’s co-creator creates the Expose Fake Clinics group, a social media influencer who aborted her child on her way to becoming a nationally recognized comedian started Shout Your Abortion, an actress who held her tongue about Harvey Weinstein’s abuses won’t stop tweeting about her support of abortion, and a renowned lawyer and Time’s Up chair threw women under the bus to keep Cuomo, her abortion warrior, in power. They aren’t specifically interested in alleviating the problems of working-class women. They are interested in being “treated in the same way as the men of their own class, with the same pay and prestige.” Where are the people of their status throwing an equivalent amount of money, time, and effort into paid maternity leave? Where are they fighting against a culture that pressures women athletes to abort their own children or lose their livelihoods?
Poor women are more likely to be for total restriction of abortion and less likely to be for abortion for any reason. But our national conversation leads to this upside-down paradigm where typically white, privileged, middle-class-and-above Clinton supporters overwhelmingly support a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, while people on the pro-life side scratch their heads:
As Black and brown activists such as Christina Bennett have pointed out, there are disturbing racial implications to the federal government offering to fund a low-income woman’s abortion, but not her yearly dental exam. As liberals and proponents of intersectional feminism, we cannot ignore that the United States has a history of targeted sterilization and eugenicist policies. In a country with the thinnest safety net in the developed world, subsidizing abortion rather than spending money to support families reflects a gross misplacement of priorities.
Unless you are a wealthy, powerful woman who wants to kill her own children, elite feminists are not your friend. Wolves in sheep’s clothing like Cuomo will ruthlessly bow to them in the name of preserving their own power. We can find better ways and better allies to improve the conditions of all women, safeguard their equal participation in a free society and give them better options than “abort or suffer.”