You could think of this week’s meme as the Rorschach test of the Democratic base. Depending on who you ask, it’s either light-hearted and fun, or a symbol of gender bias and discrimination.
It’s called Bernie or Hillary (or Bernie vs Hillary), and it started on a Tumblr called Obvious Plant, made by Jeff Wysaski. It’s moved to Twitter, too, where people have made all kinds of versions of the originals.
At first glance, it seems funny enough. A series of fake campaign posters, with fictitious quotes from Vermont Sec. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on issues like sleeping (depicting him as energized, her as a robot), Harry Potter, and wolves. Some of them you just can’t help but laugh about.
But some Hillary Clinton supporters called out the Bernie vs. Hillary meme as sexist.
Some say it plays into insidious stereotypes about women: that they can’t be funny, that they are calculating, stiff and that they are inherently unlikable.
At snarky pop culture site pajiba.com, Courtney Enlow wrote, in an epic all-caps rant, that the meme was just another sign of the double standard women encounter every day:
“THIS IS BASICALLY TWITTER RIGHT NOW:
Hillary: College should be affordable.
Twitter: Establishment puppet, no better than GOP.
Bernie: College should be affordable.
AND THE THING IS–I LIKE BERNIE! EVERYONE LIKES BERNIE! BECAUSE CRAZY GRANDPA IS TOTALLY ELECTABLE BUT CRAZY GRANDMA NEVER COULD BE. BUT WHY DO WE HAVE TO HATE HER TO SHOW HOW MUCH WE LOVE HIM?”
It’s important to point out that the person that created this meme, Wysaski, is a man. And the person who recently started the Twitter account collecting and sharing the best “Bernie vs. Hillary” images is also a man.
Both say the meme is not sexist. Wysaski told NPR in an email:
“The goal of the post was to poke fun at the foibles of both Bernie and Hillary. Believe me, if Bernie had tried to dance the Nae Nae with Ellen Degeneres on tv, I would 100% be making fun of him for trying too hard to be hip. This is not a comment on women in general, it is a comment on Hillary Clinton.”
This conversation happening now on the left around how to talk about Clinton feels similar to the conversation Democratic primary voters had about the way Clinton supporters talked about Barack Obama in 2008. Only then, the accusations were that some of the language towards President Obama from Hillary supporters was racist.
Whether this meme is sexist, just funny, or something in between remains open to interpretation. But is does raise one lingering question we try to get at every week: When is a meme more than just a meme? Or, when is it not?