There’s a war brewing.
Older women who’ve fought for everything from birth control to equal pay are getting mad at younger women who’ve benefited from their efforts. And younger women who’ve extended the definition of “feminism” to include social justice for all, not just for women, are fighting back.
Is Feminism About Having a Woman President?
Why now? The struggle centers on the fight for the Democratic nomination between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — a woman who is seen as a longtime advocate for women’s rights and a man who supporters view as the only path toward a more just and equitable America.
A poll in late January found strong support for Bernie Sanders among women 18 to 34; Hillary Clinton has a big lead among women 65 and up.
For many women post-50, there is no choice: A woman president is the culmination of years of struggle to gain basic rights that could all too easily slip away again, and if younger women don’t see this, it’s because they just don’t get it.
Two well-known feminists stated their case publicly last week:
Encouraging all women to vote for Clinton, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright spoke about the “ladder” that women have climbed and evoked gender solidarity when she suggested that “there’s a place in hell” for women who don’t support one another:
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, in an off-the-cuff statement that enraged many of her millennial fans (and for which Steinem later apologized on Facebook), said young women are only supporting Sanders because “that’s where the boys are” — implying she could see no other rational. She added that because they have lost power in this culture, older women are “more activist” than their younger counterparts.
Among the politically engaged older women who’ve joined the chorus is Helen Philpot, who blogs at Margaret and Helen. In a recent post, Philpot suggests that younger women take for granted rights their foremothers fought for. With her usual humor and passion, she argues for a Clinton presidency as the feminist movement’s capstone and says that by dismissing the importance of Clinton’s candidacy, the younger generation is also dismissing the importance of the feminist movement.
“Listen, I’m so old I might crack in half tomorrow. It takes a lot of Bengay for me to feel the burn. I am still fighting for the right for women to control our own bodies and sadly I have yet to see a woman be elected President. Are you sure you can wait? Forgive me in advance if I am offending you, but I didn’t put on my big girl panties for over 60 years fighting for this day just to have you [younger women] ignore its importance. You don’t have to vote for Hillary but you have to at least recognize how significant this all is.”
A Different “Brand” of Feminism?
Do young women really believe that feminism is “over”? A Washington Post poll found the opposite: More women age 18–34 (Sanders’ main source of female support) identify as feminists than do women 65 and older.
So what gives? Ask a woman in the 18–34 demographic why she’s supporting Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, and she might say something along the lines of what University of Connecticut sophomore Ariana Javidi told CNN:
“Like my fellow young feminist women, I recognize that voting for a woman because she’s a woman is sexist, just like voting for a man because he’s a man is also sexist…. Young women like me realize that ones gender isn’t what makes them a feminist.”
Or as Sarah Grey wrote in an op-ed at The Establishment that’s been widely shared on the Internet:
“Gloria, the movement you made, as amazing as it was, had some serious flaws when it comes to intersectionality (as you know, that’s the idea that fighting for gender equality alone, without also standing shoulder to shoulder on issues of race, class, and other kinds of oppression, isn’t enough—in fact, it’s not necessarily even progressive).”
For Javidi and Grey, and many of their peers, men can be feminists, too — in fact, Sanders may be a better feminist than Clinton, some say — and true feminism reaches beyond gender to include the safety and well-being of all marginalized groups, including all women.
What do you think? Should women vote for a woman? Is feminism more than that? Join the conversation in the comments section below.
I find this supposed split along the lines of age rather manufactured. Perhaps the split is around activism, because I imagine that, as in every generation, young people are better situated to be activists, to not be suffering from burnout, and to believe that they can change the world. I’m 68, a pioneer of the women’s liberation movement in Boston, a consistent feminist and activist all my life, and I support Bernie. I have always believed that without recognizing difference around class, race, and ability, feminism is empty. The fight for more women CEOs and military generals does not interest me at all. I know privileged women are pissed off when they are prevented from accessing that privilege, like men of their class/race, because of sexism, but that’s not my feminism. I’m more concerned about the particular impact on women of lower wages, racial injustice, mass incarceration (women left dealing at home), college debt, etc. And increasingly I’m looking at the additional impacts on the aging population because of discrimination based on sexuality, race, and class.
Determining who to vote for based on a single issue, whether it be gender, race or anything else, is in my view prejudiced. Besides what has gender got to do with competence to deliver results? My dear friend Frances Hesselbein, a great US leader and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, describes herself as “a leader who happens to be a woman”. She’s about about leadership, not gender.
This election is about a turning point in US history, when we choose whether to continue politics as usual – aka government of the people by the politicians for their sponsors – or to have a President who is a true representative of all the people and for all the people. As a 66 year-old social impact strategist, I too have sacrificed much for future generations, winning them rights that I never had, but it is not for me, or for anyone else, to dictate how folks should vote.
I just pray that we all vote our consciences – recognizing that if rights are not rights for everyone they are rights for no one.
The answer to the question is Yes – and I paraphrase – Is feminism more than voting for a woman? I would love to see a woman president but it has to be the RIGHT woman. If it were Elizabeth Warren running I would not hesitate to vote for her. The person who said Bernie Sanders might be more of a feminist than Hillary Clinton is right. Bernie is also concerned about impoverished and minority women.
I’m nearly 65 and I don’t believe that I can reduce my presidential vote to just putting a woman in office finally. It’s who will best run the country. If that turns out to be a woman so much the better, but I’ve not decided yet who I’ll vote for. There are many issues that weigh in on this decision.