The Situation: Since last summer, the media has periodically run stories about Bernie Sanders supporters dubbed “Bernie Bros.” This article by Nathan Wellman characterized them as “young, hyper-masculine, sexist white males who feel the need to put female Hillary Clinton supporters in their place.” Various articles glommed onto the term, and since then, several Sanders supporters have pushed back against the assumption that Sanders’ rise to prominence lies solely on the backs of these white, male Bros. Various polls have corroborated with their claims, showing that Sanders receives more support from women and minority members than Clinton. These polls have prompted many to call for the eradication of the Bernie Bro “myth” and claim that it is a pro-Hillary facade meant to defame Sanders’ “political revolution.”
The Reaction: Claiming that the Bernie Bros are a myth is a naive attempt to ignore the very real social problems Sanders’ campaign has helped exacerbate. It conflates Sanders – a generally straightforward, highly progressive, outspokenly non-sexist Presidential candidate – with his supporters – a mixed bag of men, women, millennials, Baby Boomers, socialists, capitalists, and people of all races and religions. It also erases the very real harassment these Bros are perpetuating, which in turn legitimizes said harassment.
The fact of the matter is that Bernie Bros – or, at the very least, people who feel the need to mansplain, harass, and demean – do exist. They are the trolls that send Antia Sarkeesian death threats on an hourly basis. They are the white, male Boomers who would rather vote for a man than any woman, no matter how qualified. They are the cyber bullies that tell women who had their private photos leaked that they’re sluts. They are the young fraternity brothers who undermine their girlfriends to ensure that they never leave them.
Of course, these Bros are not limited to Sanders’ supporters or to millennials. Trump’s supporters are riddled with misogynistic, backwards racists as are Cruz’s. Hillary by virtue of being a woman (it’s hard to politically support a woman when you’re a misogynist) likely has fewer Bros but just as many people wiling to jump all over a candidate for an innocuous statement or say crude things about that candidate’s black or minority supporters.
Likewise, anyone claiming that Sanders’ supporters are either entirely or primarily Bros is full of it. The fact of the matter is that Sanders absolutely scores well with women and minority voters. He has more female millennial supporters than Hillary does, and the two are roughly tied on black and Hispanic voters. So trying to claim that Sanders reached his level of Presidential competitiveness on the backs of Bros seriously undermines the work dedicated women and people of color do for him. And it’s just not true.
But let’s be clear: a certain type of Bro will congregate to Sanders just because of his sex, his race, and his opponents. There are some men who will ignore his policy, his platform, and his voting record just because his Democratic opponent is a woman. There are also some people who will vote for him simply because the Republican candidates are, almost to a man, entirely unsuitable for the position. Unfortunately, there are misogynists and racists even among Independents and Democrats.
Most likely, this number is only 10 – 25% of his supporters. His calls for universal healthcare and free college and publically stating the names of those black people lost to police violence and systemized racism can’t sit too well with legitimately bad people. He is, after all, running on a platform of economic reform, not registering all Muslims or kicking out all Mexicans. But by focusing on economic reform, he is allowing those moderate misogynists and racists to forget about his social and sexual equality views and readily vote for him.
Think I’m just a biased Bernie-basher? Well, Sanders’ campaign has begun getting worried about these Bros too. Both Sanders and his staff have publically admonished them with Sanders going so far as to say, “Anyone who is supporting me and who is doing sexist things, we don’t want them. I don’t want them. That is not what this campaign is about.” So, yes, the Bros exist, and yes, they are muddying up the message. If you’re not a Bro, their existence probably bothers you, and you likely resent them or anyone else bringing them up. But you cannot wish them away. You cannot ignore them. Ignoring them amounts to a tacit agreement that they can do as they like so long as Sanders is elected. And that isn’t right.
* Image taken from http://combatblog.net/search-continues-for-the-elusive-bernie-bro/