As we rush headlong into the 2016 election season, it should come as no surprise that armchair pundits are cranking out politically-themed memes at an increasing pace. It probably also comes as no surprise that Stupid Bad Memes has a decidedly leftist slant, which means that I am far more likely to write about memes sneezed out by right-wingers than I am to cover memes created by liberal-minded folks like myself. Still, I try to be fair. If I were to discover a left-leaning meme that misconstrued the opposition’s beliefs or political motivations as badly as this meme does, I like to think I would be fair-minded enough to write about it. It’s just that…well…I haven’t seen such a meme. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, I just haven’t come across it in my Internet travels. Until I do, we’re stuck talking about this heap of garbage.
Like a Creationist riding an elevator, this meme is wrong on several levels. Let’s start with the meme’s opening premise: leftists believe gender is just a social construct. That’s not necessarily true. For one, the term leftist could be applied to a broad set of political and social philosophies, not all of which are receptive to the idea that gender roles are socially defined. Furthermore, the idea that gender is a social construct is not exclusively leftist property. Let’s parse these ideas a bit and see what, if any, overlap exists between them.
A leftist, or left-winger, is a person who generally advocates for social equality. He or she believes that social hierarchies create a system of advantage vs disadvantage, and that these structures should be reduced or eliminated as much as possible. Radical leftists favor no less than the complete overhaul of the social and political systems that maintain the status quo.
What does it mean to say that gender is a social construct? It means that gender roles are influenced as much by social expectations as they are by differences between the biological sexes – if not more so. Our idea about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior for each gender evolves from our socialization. This concept is espoused by many modern sociologists and psychologists, regardless of their political leanings.
Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that all gender differences are socially constructed (although many conservatives falsely present this as the liberal viewpoint), just that the expectations of genders are socially constructed. Society determines what is appropriate behavior for boys and girls from an early age. Early gender socialization informs our expectations going forward. These expectations have no doubt led to the sociopolitical furor surrounding trans men and women, who don’t fit into a rigid gender dichotomy. Their rising visibility has forced society to deal with that – in many cases painfully. But that is a conversation for another meme.
Now let’s leap to the meme’s thrilling conclusion: that Hillary Clinton’s only selling point is her gender. This is an unabashedly sexist viewpoint to take, but it’s hardly unexpected from the kind of person who would intentionally misrepresent gender socialization as an exclusively leftist philosophy. Now I don’t intend to spend the remainder of this post extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton, but I think it is short-sighted and mean-spirited to say that her only claim to legitimacy as a Presidential candidate is the fact that she is a cis-woman. Many pundits, including republicans, have admitted in no uncertain terms that Clinton is at least qualified for the job of POTUS, and some have offered their support. Those hardly seem like the actions of people who think that Hillary Clinton’s only selling point is her gender.
I can only assume that when the author wrote SAVAGE AF at the bottom of the meme, he was using the historical definition of savage: primitive and uncivilized. That’s the only appropriate way to describe this meme.