Longtime proponents of women’s rights Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have experienced some resurgence in the media as of late, but not for defending women’s rights.
Instead, they’ve made headlines for what many are calling anti-feminist views.
Discussing the presidential election in an interview with Bill Maher, Steinem suggested that younger women are voting for Bernie Sanders in an effort to meet boys: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”
The outcry against Steinem was immediate, and she later issued an apology.
Albright, however, has made no such apology for her statement at a Hillary Clinton rally, that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Young feminist voters, who in the Democratic party largely support Sanders’ presidential bid, took umbrage at these statements, and an obligatory new hashtag, #notherefortheboys, was born. No one can blame this new generation of feminists for their anger. Steinem’s statement insultingly dismissed young women as too boy-crazy, naïve, and incompetent to have any real understanding of the political process, while Albright’s statement, while one she’s been making for years, used here seemed an explicit attempt to guilt women into voting for Clinton.
Apparently Albright’s attempts failed, at least in New Hampshire. In that state’s primary, 82 percent of women aged 18-29 voted for Sanders, compared to 18 percent for Clinton. And among all women, Sanders won 55 percent of the vote.
Given the overwhelming female support for Sanders over Clinton (at least in New Hampshire), it seems young women disagree that they should simply vote their gender.
It’s possible that Steinem and Albright have fallen behind the times, and have yet to fully realize the multifaceted, if far from complete, gains their work has generated. Or perhaps they feel that today’s generation of feminists don’t fully appreciate the hard work it took to get where we are today, and are ill prepared to take the reins of leadership. Steinem and Albright can remember times that today’s generation has never experienced. Young feminists today can only understand the struggles of past generations of feminists intellectually, without the passion that drove the first waves of feminists. Indeed, some of today’s young voters may not even be aware of who Steinem and Albright are, despite enjoying the fruits of this prior generation’s labor.
The schism between old guard and new inserts a new chapter into feminist history. Minority women have longed claimed they are not fully taken into account by the feminist agenda — now age has also become a dividing factor. If a male wins the presidency this year, it’s possible that neither Steinem (age 81) nor Albright (age 78) will see a female president in their lifetime. After devoting a lifetime to equality for women, that has to hurt.
Perhaps, however, Steinem and Albright could look at Sanders’ lead as a victory, rather than a defeat, for women: Women are voting their way, not how a man or even a powerful female tells them to. Women are paying attention to and are knowledgeable of the economy, foreign and domestic policy, and military matters, and they are weighing the pros and cons of each candidate to make an educated decision on how to cast their vote. They understand the importance of Supreme Court nominations, and know that our next president likely has a couple of those to make. Simply put, millennial women know the issues, and have set priorities accordingly.
Despite their faux pas, Steinem and Albright are correct that a win for Clinton would have a significant impact on the fight for equality, breaking the highest of glass ceilings. Given the United States’ worldwide influence, it would have an international impact as well, helping to lift at least some women to heights greater than where they are now. It’s also true that Clinton has done much for the progress of women.
But for young female voters, none of this alone is enough to win their vote.
Contrary to Steinem’s assertion that women vote for the same reason they were once thought to go to college — to earn their “MRS” degree — today’s young women are intelligent, savvy voters who want something more than gender to be the basis for their vote. They want their vote to be based on strong character, track record, and strong policies. For some, Clinton fits that bill; for others, it’s Sanders. Regardless, it’s the freedom for women to choose without guilt, pressure, or belittlement that should be the true feminist ideal.
There is also the Christian ideal of voting one’s faith. This isn’t issue voting, but rather looking at the totality of a candidate’s record, character, and proposed policies to see which presidential hopeful is most aligned with Jesus’ teachings. Interestingly, voting the Christian ideal matches up in many ways with voting the feminist ideal. In a country (and world) where women make up a disproportionate number of those in poverty — most of them mothers — this includes supporting women and families, and working for the rights and betterment of all, not just a select few. It includes international efforts to protect women’s rights and stop abuses against them. It includes providing the resources necessary for women to thrive, wherever they choose to be.
Because the truth is, Steinem and Albright are correct that women have not yet reached the pinnacle of equality. In the workplace, on the streets, in places of worship, higher education, and in the home, women are still discriminated against, with varying levels of severity. There is still work to be done, and it is the job of today’s generation of feminists to vote for whichever candidate can best do that work, as well as act out the best answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?”
That isn’t to say any candidate in either party will be perfect. Of course no one will be. It is to say that there is great importance in looking at the totality of a person rather than the singular issue of gender.
Those who have fought tirelessly to put a woman in the White House feel on the cusp of finally realizing their dream. Perhaps they will. We’re still in primary season and the majority of voters have yet to have their say. It’s just too early to tell how this race will play out. What we do know, however, is that as it plays out, young women will be casting their vote for the candidate — Democrat or Republican, male or female — who best represents their ideals and values. Not just their gender.