So a new wave of memes has been making the rounds on social media comparing Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton on issues like jet skis and space vampires. It started out as a joke campaign by Obvious Plant, and then spread as other people picked up the gag. At first glance it looks like a logical outgrowth of the various Sanders pop culture memes that are pretty fly, but right off the bat it starts dipping into sexist territory.
Here are some examples from the original post…
And the one at the top is one of the many variations that have been sneaking into my newsfeed from Sanders fans. The joke is simple: A nuanced and solid view of something like Harry Potter or heavy metal is expressed by Sanders, and Clinton responds with something that indicates she has no idea but wants to appear cool and appealing.
If that looks familiar, it’s because the whole thing is a recycle of the Idiot Nerd Girl meme from a few years back, and that shit was sexist and unfunny then, too. Some of them are literally the same jokes. So on top of everything else, it’s just really unoriginal, but let’s get back to the sexism bit.
There’s this conspiracy theory in various fandom circles that women are interested in traditional nerdy things like Star Wars or video games simply because they are now trendy, and that their interest is superficial or a ploy to get the attention of male nerds who have assumed that their geekdoms' becoming popular has given them greater social cachet. If you really examine the mind-set, it translates as, “She doesn’t like Batman. She just wants my dick because I like Batman.”
It’s a pervasive culture of inherent dismissal of any woman’s intent outside of getting a man. It’s the reason a female comic-store owner I know who was featured in a news story about her shop had to fight to get her picture taken reading a comic like her husband and co-owner was even though they’d just explained that getting more women interested in reading comics was a prime goal of the shop. It’s why when our own Kristy Loye points out the problem heavy metal has with women in everything from lyric content to actual physical presence, the comments section immediately rushes to tell her she probably doesn’t even like metal (she does). It’s why people say Leigh Alexander wants to destroy gamers even though playing video games is literally her day job.
The Obvious Plant memes are just the latest expression of this idea, utilizing arguably the most famous woman in America right now as its sexist punch line. And make no mistake, sexism is the only reason people laugh at these memes. It's the only way the joke works. How else would they be funny if we weren’t all reared in a society that constantly portrays women as clueless and out of their depth when dealing with “men’s things.” Otherwise it's just a person being confused about movies and music in a not particularly noteworthy way. The giggling stereotype of a woman unable to master technology or understand anything outside of soap operas and romance novels is still a really common media trope. Don’t think for a second the jokes in these memes have nothing to do with the fact that a woman is in serious contention for a job that has always been held by a man.
And no, not everyone who doesn’t #FeelTheThrillary is a sexist. However, it’s the Obama Dilemma all over again. Not everyone who hates Obama is a racist, but every racist hates Obama. The same is true for Clinton regarding sexism.
There is a faction of hardcore Bernie Sanders fans who are distinctly bro-ish. For instance, there’s a pretty significant (or at least really loud) group that also supports GamerGate. They also like Donald Trump because, you know, it’s GamerGate and why should any of it start making sense now? Contrary to some wishful thinking, the Bernie Bros are real, and they respond to criticisms of him by women with extremely gendered harassment.
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Not that this is a reflection on Sanders personally, who considers himself a feminist (a couple of gaffes aside). There are sexist Doctor Who fans, too, as the Internet rushes to remind me every time I bring up a possible female Doctor, but I don’t let them ruin my favorite show or blame Peter Capaldi for it. However, just because Sanders is not himself sexist doesn’t mean that things done in his name can’t be.
It’s a mild sexism, I admit. Certainly it’s not clitoridectomies or child brides or human trafficking. Just because it’s not as bad as the worst is no reason to let it slide, though. After all, other countries have worse income inequality problems, but that’s no reason to wave away Sanders on addressing America's, is it? Things can always be worse, but that’s no excuse not to make ourselves better, and I like to believe that Bernie Sanders's supporters are as a group better than a stupid “LOL, she confused Star Wars for Star Trek” joke. You're not Ted Cruz fans, for God's sake.
So before you share that next Sanders vs. Clinton meme, maybe ask yourself if it reinforces a bunch of outdated sexist ideas that collectively hold back the march to gender equality. Go with the lizard joke instead. Or if you want to see a humorous pop culture comparison that doesn't rely on tired stereotypes, I wrote one.