The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fifty Shades of Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Freud aficionado, in 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)


Warning: The following contains graphic imagery. 

In mid-February 1972, an article by future Vermont senator and presidential candidate appeared in an alternative newspaper called the Vermont FreemanTitle: “Man — and woman.”

“A man goes home and masturbates his typical fantasy,” the 31-year-old author wrote, as Mother Jones reported. “A woman on her knees, a woman tied up, a woman abused. A woman enjoys intercourse with her man — as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously.”

What was — what is – this? Nothing but a sex column by Bernie Sanders. Or, at least, what seems to be a sex column.

[Bernie Sanders: ‘Now is not the time for thinking small]

In a statement, a Sanders representative distanced the candidate from the column, which surfaced in a Mother Jones piece called “How Bernie Sanders Learned to Be a Real Politician: A portrait of the candidate as a young radical.”

“This was a dumb attempt at dark satire in an alternative publication intended to attack gender stereotypes in the 1970s, and it looks as stupid today as it was then,” Sanders’s spokesman, Michael Briggs, said in a statement, as USA Today reported. “When Bernie got into this race, he understood that there would be efforts to distract voters and the press away from the real issues confronting the nation today. He’s determined to run a campaign that takes on the big problems facing the American people, and not a campaign of salacious gossip and innuendo.”

But on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Sanders called it “a piece of fiction that I wrote in 1972, I think. … It was very poorly written and if you read it, what it was dealing with was gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive, you know, something like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.'”

On one hand, Sanders seemed to be writing about the importance of gender equality — if in brute terms.

“Women, for their own preservation, are trying to pull themselves together,” he wrote. “And it’s necessary for all of humanity that they do so. Slavishness on one hand breeds pigness on the other.”

But then, the column also seemed pretty fatalistic, even for a socialist.

“Men and women — both are losers,” he wrote. “Women adapt themselves to fill the needs of men, and men adapt themselves to fill the needs of women. In the beginning there were strong men who killed the animals and brought home the food – and the dependent women who cooked it. No more!”

So: Does that mean Sanders was decrying the death of patriarchy? Does he want women to be dependent?

Not really. But — maybe?

“There are no ‘human’ oppressors,” he wrote. “Oppressors have lost their humanity. On one hand ‘slavishness,’ on the other hand ‘pigness.’ Six of one, half dozen of the other. Who wins?”

Is that a rhetorical question?

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a White House contender in 2016, is known for his stances on budget issues and war. Here are his takes on Obamacare, Social Security and more. (Video: Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

Responses to Sanders’s decades-old writing were divided. The reliably liberal Mother Jones called the piece “a stream-of-consciousness essay on the nature of male-female sexual dynamics” that “reflected his affinity for Sigmund Freud,” offering it as an example of the candidate’s “aimless” period before his evolution as a politician. And Jezebel, though it called the work a “creepy little essay,” said any brewing controversy was unwarranted.

“Sanders’ essay in no way conflicts with his beliefs today; it just talks about sexy stuff, and some people want to believe that’s enough to sink him, somehow,” according to the Web site.

Breitbart, however, took a different view.

“Thus far, Sanders’ abuse fantasies and his own fantasy that women dream of rape by multiple men have been covered by precisely zero mainstream news outlets,” the Web site wrote. “Mother Jones didn’t even bother quoting the essay directly, instead choosing to embed a screenshot. That’s because rape fantasies are funny and charming when they come from an aged socialist hippie.” (That last sentence was sarcastic.)

As reds and blues line-up on predictable sides of this small-time campaign dust-up nine months before the Iowa caucuses, perhaps all should remember that life is fleeting. After all, this is what Sanders implies in the conclusion of piece, which implies that man — and woman — can’t seem to get on the same page.

Sort of.

“And they never again made love together (which they had each liked to do more than anything) or never ever saw each other one more time,” he wrote.