By far the most unlikely candidate of the 2016 presidential race has been Bernie Sanders. The septuagenarian self-declared socialist senator isn't just surviving in the cutthroat battle against Hillary Clinton; he's thriving. The Iowa caucus on Monday was "a virtual tie" between the two candidates (RIP O'Malley 2016), and Sanders is projected to take the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday handily. A big reason for Sanders' strong campaign is his feminist beliefs.
Throughout his political career, Sanders has been publicly, unapologetically supportive of women's issues. Even before it was cool to talk about feminism, he was standing up for equality across the feminist spectrum, including LGBT rights, reproductive rights, and pay equity. Now that he has ascended the political ranks to one of the largest platforms in the world, his message of inclusion is reaching more people than ever before, and his anti-establishment appeal is causing a frenzy among millennial voters.
Sanders has never been shy about voicing his progressive opinions, and nothing has changed since he began his bid for the White House. For years, Sanders has talked the talk and walked the walk. And there are some amazing, ardently feminist quotes from across his political career to prove it.
On Political Belief
During an interview with The Washington Post, Sanders was asked to elaborate on his personal definition of feminism and how it relates to his politics. His perfectly articulated answer is just one example of his commitment to gender equality:
You’re looking at somebody who’s made a cornerstone, a key part of my campaign, the need for at least three months of family and medical leave; somebody who is fighting to raise the minimum wage over a two year period to $15 an hour, which will benefit everybody, but women actually more than men; somebody who regards it as enormously important that we fight for pay equity for women; somebody who believes that our child care system is a disaster today and that we need to have the best childcare/pre-K system in the world, making it universal and affordable.
So I think if people look at my record, I think they will see somebody who has had a lifelong record of support for the women’s movement and women’s rights.
On Reproductive Rights
When you tell a woman that she cannot control her own body, that’s extremism. Let's say it loud and clear: women control their bodies, not the government.
Giving this new perspective on reproductive rights is a gamechanger. Sanders' radical assertion that reproductive restriction is extremism seems wild on first glance but actually rings true.
On Defunding Planned Parenthood
Unsurprisingly, Sanders condemned the attempts by Senate Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood in July, once again showing his outspoken public commitment to advocating for women's rights. He said in a statement:
The current attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood is part of a long-term smear campaign by people who want to deny women in this country the right to control their own bodies.
On Intersectional Feminism
Sanders famously defended Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who died in police custody in Waller County, Texas last summer, after the Texas grand jury decided not to indict anyone involved in the incident.
Sandra Bland should not have died while in police custody. There’s no doubt in my mind that she, like too many African-Americans who die in police custody, would be alive today if she were a white woman. My thoughts are with her family and her loved ones tonight. We need to reform a very broken criminal justice system.
On Rape In The Military
Following his vote for New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand's proposal to create an independent system of prosecution for military rape cases, Sanders released this statement expressing his commitment to address the systemic problem. Of course, both women and men can be victims of sexual assault, but combating the problem is most certainly a feminist issue.
An estimated 26,000 service members were sexually assaulted in 2012, a 37 percent increase in just one year, according to a recent Department of Defense study. I voted for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill because it would give servicemen and women an independent route outside the chain of command to report serious crimes, and I am disappointed that it was defeated… I also supported a separate measure by Sen. Claire McCaskill that includes some important reforms, but remain concerned that it does not go far enough. Victims of rape and sexual assault in the military deserve a fair and independent system outside the chain of command to report these types of crimes.
On Domestic Violence
Sanders co-sponsored the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, and while plenty of people would have said that was enough, Sanders still recognized the need to fight for women even more:
While we are reducing the incidence of domestic violence, much more has to be done. Too many girls and women are still suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse and that must end.
Sanders' commitment to his feminist ideals is an inspiration and an amazing influence for this election cycle. The huge publicity and support for Sanders shows that feminism is what the people want. And with a dedicated candidate spreading those beliefs throughout the mass media, the country may be one step closer to seeing some of these feminist dreams come true.