Hillary Clinton’s older feminist supporters took campaign smack talk to a whole new level over the weekend, when two icons separately chided young women for supporting Bernie Sanders. Ms. Clinton is nearly 20 points behind her opponent in support among women ages 18 to 34, according to a USA Today/Rock the Vote poll.
At a rally in New Hampshire Saturday, Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State, repeated what is becoming her most famous feminist one-liner: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” This time, she was addressing all female voters in the 2016 election.
“Young women have to support Hillary Clinton. The story is not over!” she said in her introduction of the Democratic candidate. “They’re going to want to push us back. Appointments to the Supreme Court make all the difference.”
“It’s not done and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you," said Dr. Albright, before predicting what the afterlife might be like for those who don't reciprocate.
In a similar vein, Ms. Albright’s Second Wave feminist peer, Gloria Steinem, made a controversial comment Friday about the young, female voters backing Mr. Sanders. In an interview with the talk show host Bill Maher, the writer and activist suggested that the young women are campaigning for Sanders just to meet men.
“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” Ms. Steinem said. Even Mr. Maher was taken aback. “Now if I said that,” he replied, “You’d swat me.”
The younger generations are dismayed. Many have taken to the internet to express anger and disappointment over the feminist pioneers that they had once looked up to.
But at the heart of this media scuffle between two very different generations of women is a divide that goes beyond campaign gaffes – rather, it entails evolving landscape of feminism in the past 40 years.
For Boomer-era feminists such as Albright and Steinem, Clinton is a symbol of the ultimate prize at the end of a very long fight: the first – and for many, the only – qualified female candidate for presidency.
“For baby boomer women, in particular, it’s ‘I fought this whole war, and now we’re running out of time, and if not Hillary, then who would it be?’ ” Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, told The New York Times in December.
But for younger women, most of whom identify as feminists, Clinton’s gender does not seem to make a difference. A generational tendency to participate less in collective politics and an intersectional focus on equality for all have pushed them towards Sanders’ socialist camp.
"The reality is when you look at young people, all the data shows that young people are civic-minded in a very different way," Erica Williams Simon, a social impact strategist, told NPR in an article on Millennials’ obsession with individualism. "They are not as interested in politics, but are interested in social change and finding creative, innovative ways to make a difference that are in a way more effective than the systems of the past."
And Clinton, regardless of her work in gender equity, represents the “systems of the past.”
In addition, these young women grew up in a much more female-friendly society paved by their Second Wave counterparts. “They haven’t experienced the kind of barriers that their mothers and grandmothers did – the kind of exclusions from areas of accomplishment,” Mary L. Shanley, a political-science professor at Vassar, told The Times.
In the height of the Second Wave feminist movement in the 60s and 70s, American women were limited in virtually every realm of life. For instance, women could be fired from their jobs for being pregnant until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978. Marital rape was not criminalized in all 50 states until 1993.
It was precisely these conditions out of which Albright, Steinem, and to an extent, Clinton, emerged in solidarity. So for them, after decades of political activism, it’s nearly unfathomable for a fellow woman to turn her back on Clinton’s opportunity.
As the Washington Post reported in an analysis of modern feminism:
Young women (and, increasingly, men) are still coming to the movement in strong numbers, but this feminism looks different, in many ways, than that of earlier generations. This New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms, concerned less with targeting narrowly defined enemies than with broadening feminism’s reach through inclusiveness, and held together not by a handful of national organizations and charismatic leaders but by the invisible bonds of the Internet and social media.
This feminism stresses personal freedom as much as it does equality and, when infused with the younger generation’s bent toward inclusion, has the capacity to make room for both Carly Fiorina and Beyoncé – even though older generations might permit neither.