hillary clinton & women: healing wounds from generational difference*

Being the first person from a major identity group to do something big (such as be a woman AND a major party’s presidential nominee) brings intense scrutiny, as Hillary Clinton’s presidential run has made abundantly clear.  A lot of the conversation about Hillary has focused on her relationship to “women” as a group.  There was controversy earlier this year about comments made by Madeline Albright (first woman Secretary of State) and Gloria Steinem (feminist leader), who expressed some anger and disagreement with younger women who supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.  Their criticisms of these young women focused on what I think we could call “gender loyalty.”  Albright said that the reason young women feel okay supporting Bernie is that they mistakenly think that the work for women’s liberation is over, saying a real revolution would involve a woman as president, and that there’s “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”  Steinem went for a lower blow and said that young women go to Bernie because “that’s where the boys are.

Young women (including me) took serious offense at what we perceived to be the patronizing nature of their comments. Do they seriously think that a woman who supports Bernie Sanders is too stupid to understand what she’s investing in?  But it wasn’t just that Albright and Steinem (and other women) thought that women who supported Bernie were unintelligent or driven by unintellectual motives; they seemed to take that support as a personal affront to feminism and womanhood.  (It should definitely be noted that both Albright and Steinem apologized for their comments!)**This narrative is too common in feminist movements.  The older generation of feminists feels that the younger generation doesn’t understand their own history and the work that it took to progress to the present day. The young generation feels that the older generation isn’t radical enough, that they’ve lost their edge. Ageism stifles political coalition and action among feminists and other social justice activists.But it doesn’t have to be that way (and there are plenty of activists who prove that).  With regards to Hillary Clinton and her presidential candidacy in particular, I think that some women think that a woman president is automatically good for women as a group, and some women think that a woman president means little to nothing for women writ large.  We need both of these perspectives (and other ones that I’m not representing in this article and/or do not know about).  We need women who can remind us where we have been and who can help us celebrate victories; a woman president means something about gender in the United States, even if we disagree about whether it’s huge step forward or it signals the need for new radical social movements.  We also need women who are critical of other women, and who push us to go even further. We need women who can acknowledge that though women have been oppressed, women are also oppressors. Hillary is an oppressor. It’s okay to be dissatisfied or even disgusted with her, even if you’re also a woman. It’s impossible to be “good for women” because not all women want and need the same things. What is good for some women is bad for others. What advances the interests of a rich white woman is often to the disadvantage of a poor woman of color.  Someone who advocates for reproductive rights in the United States can be the same person who draws upon a racist, imperialist, and disempowering vision of women in the Middle East to justify a war in Iraq.I don’t want to disrespect the feminist activists who worked extremely hard, sacrificed much, and often go unrecognized by being unexcited by the potential first woman president.  It’s so important for feminists like me– young, inexperienced, idealistic–to understand my history and to honor the work that has already been done. But I think it’s also important to acknowledge how far we still are from living in a just and beautiful world.  It’s important to heal the hurt that some women (who look a lot like Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton) have inflicted upon other women– queer women, women of color, trans women, low income women, women in the global south– in the name of progress.  We need more intergenerational dialogues and activism so we can all grow together.  There is a great anthology about this very topic (or at least partly about this) called We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists edited by Melody Berger if you want to think and read more!*This has nothing to do with food!😀**I also think their comments have merit, even if I also found them annoying and regressive. I agree with Albright that it is radical for women to love and care for each other, although I think that love looks more like healthy critique and dialogue than blind loyalty. And I think that Steinem’s comments, while kind of crass, do point to the fact that boys get to define what/who is cool in a way that girls do not, and that girls and women are socialized to seek male approval in what we do. Not that I think that women can’t make their own decisions, but I know that I find it very valuable to reflect on that fact when it comes to my own likes/dislikes.
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