Dear Gloria Steinem,
I doubt you’ll ever read this, and I really wish I didn’t have to write this, but I’m mad and I needed to get it off my chest, and I always articulate my thoughts best when I write.
When asked on Friday why so many young women support Bernie Sanders and not Hillary Clinton you said, and I quote, “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.'” What is it that the youth say these days? Do they say that they can’t even? Well, I can’t even with that statement of yours.
I actually double-checked the news source to make sure I wasn’t reading The Onion, because I didn’t know why you would say that. It sounds like something a right-wing politician would say.
To begin with, I don’t see how reducing women to their interest in and involvement with men is feminist. At all. Silly, boy-crazy girls! They don’t care about politics! They haven’t educated themselves about how the government works! They’re just obsessed with sex, and are easily mislead by handsome men who will slowly but surely lure them ever deeper into a bottomless pit of democratic socialism.
I think part of the problem is that so many people of your generation view people of my generation as foolish, ignorant, and somehow lesser. Your generation complains that young people don’t care about politics, and then you complain some more when we develop political beliefs contrary to (or just different from) your own.
And judging from statements such as the one you made last week, you don’t seem to think young women are capable of maintaining an interest in politics or activism unless there’s a hot piece of MAN CANDY attached to it. (Ever since I came across that ridiculous term I’ve been looking for a suitable context in which to use it. I’m quite pleased with myself now.)
You don’t seem to think that we’re smart enough to read about the candidates’ policies and past political history, to use logic and reason to decide who we agree with the most. Young women support Bernie? That must be due to the men! It can’t be due to his political beliefs, or all the pieces of legislation he’s fought for throughout the years!
Young women support Bernie Sanders with a passion that often rivals that of his young male supporters. I should know. I’ve seen it firsthand. Last fall, I spent many afternoons canvassing for Bernie. Most of my fellow volunteers were also young women.
I attended two of his Iowa City rallies, one in October and one in January, and both times the girls I went with were much more excited than the boys. The girls were the ones telling everyone and their mother about the rally – when it was to be held and why they should go.
I spent the afternoon before the caucus trying to convince my friends to vote, and I wasn’t the only girl on my floor who did that, either.
And – surprise, surprise! – we did none of that for boys. We did it because we want Bernie to be president. Because we agree with his policies. Because we were incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to hear our preferred presidential candidate speak, and we knew it.
And it really, really gets on my nerves when people try to reduce our interest to boy craziness with statements like, “You’re just doing it to impress guys.” Um. No. And what makes you so sure that we’re not doing this for ourselves? Like, I’m sorry, but fighting for the freedom of choice > boys. Reforming the broken criminal justice system > boys. Closing the wage gap > boys.
And all this talk of boys make think of something else you don’t seem to understand: Namely, queer women. Do you even know the demographics of the people who support Bernie?
Queer women overwhelmingly support Bernie and not Hillary because, well, she doesn’t really support us. She actively supported the Defense of Marriage Act, and only showed her support as late as 2013 – and let’s be honest, I don’t have much faith in her support. Bernie Sanders supported LGBTQ+ people back in the seventies and eighties, long before allyship became trendy.
Hillary, on the other hand? She flip-flopped around, finally declaring her support only when it became politically favorable to do so. Many queer women, myself included, don’t sense much conviction behind her words, and this is just one of many factors that drive us to support Bernie.
In short, there are some very good reasons for LGBTQ+ women to choose Bernie over Hillary, and I don’t understand why you want to push us towards a candidate who doesn’t give a crap about us.
And I haven’t even mentioned how incredibly heteronormative your statement is. Knowing how many queer women support Bernie, is it really a good idea to say we’re just in it for the boys? Queer women are told day in and day out that we don’t know our own minds, that we don’t know what’s best for us – that what we really need is a good man to settle down and have 2.5 kids with, a man who’ll make us straight.
Stop forgetting that queer women exist. Stop erasing our sexual orientations and saying that we’re only interested in a candidate who is a well-known ally because deep down inside us, we really want a boyfriend.
I wish I could say I was surprised by all this, but I’m actually not: This is the sort of nonsense second-wave feminists pull all the time. I don’t want to completely discredit the movement, because they definitely made some important progress, but second-wave feminism is also known for being, well, not very intersectional. (This is, instead, something that characterizes the third wave.) They tend to ignore queer women… and women of color, and poor women, and disabled women.
Bernie Sanders may be an old white guy, but somehow he’s one of the better intersectional feminists from your generation. He supports women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, and economic equality. I don’t support Bernie because I’m looking for a husband; I support him because I get the feeling that he cares about all women. Hillary’s brand of feminism is geared towards rich white heterosexual women… and I want to expand the definition of feminism, not narrow it.
Another really weird second-wave feminist idea is that we have to support women, all women, at any cost. You made statements to that effect on Friday, and on Saturday, Madeleine Albright introduced Hillary at a rally in New Hampshire by saying, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
I’m sorry, what? I don’t have a duty to support Hillary just because I’m a woman and so is she. I don’t agree with her policies, and that doesn’t make me any less of a feminist. Disagreeing with another woman is not the same thing as tearing down another woman. We desperately need more women in politics, and I hope to see a female president within my lifetime, but I would prefer it to not be Hillary.
Are we not allowed to be discerning when it comes to choosing who we support? Why do you want us to blindly follow woman simply because they’re one of us?
This reminds me of some of the kids I knew back in middle school and high school – the teenage Republicans who thought they understood feminism would demand to know why I didn’t want Sarah Palin as vice president or Carly Fiorina as president. And my answer was simple: I don’t agree with their policies, and I don’t think they’re qualified.
If I’m being completely honest, I think Hillary is more qualified than those two. But I still don’t agree with her politics. And I really disagree with those who attempt to guilt me into voting for a woman just because I’m a woman too. It doesn’t work like that.
It also reminds me of a quote from a well-reasoned article I read this afternoon on the Huffington Post about this very issue:
“When you are able to assess the candidates on issues, character and authenticity, Bernie wins our hearts and minds hands down. Of course, we would not be where we are today without fierce and strong female trailblazers who have been paving the way for decades but women in politics is not one-size-fits-all and we are willing to wait for Ms. Right not Ms. Right Now. Will we have a woman president one day? Absolutely.”
Ms. Right vs. Ms. Right Now? I couldn’t have put it better.
Now, I know you apologized for Friday’s statement, and… well, I guess it’s better than nothing, but that wasn’t much of an apology. If you’d said that whole boy thing and then later apologized with a statement like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t really think that through,” then I wouldn’t still be upset about this. But you basically gave a non-apology instead.
You said you “apologize for what’s been misinterpreted as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics.” All right, but the definition of “imply” is “to strongly suggest,” and you did nothing of the sort. You didn’t just hint that young women’s interest in politics is due to boys – you flat-out said that it was, and now you’re mad that people objected to that.
Aaaand I’m really, really done with people who make others feel bad in their apologies. You implied – see, I’m using that word correctly here – that young women are too stupid to understand what you really meant, when in fact you literally said we’re only interested in politics for the boys.
There was nothing to misinterpret here, unless there’s some hidden meaning behind the words “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie” and we were supposed to understand that you meant exactly the opposite. You didn’t know what you were talking about, and now you just tried to make it look as though we don’t know what we’re talking about, but that’s not gonna work. You just undermined that whole apology by using language that obfuscates the problems here.
Look, I don’t think you’re a horrible, hateful person. But did I expect more from you? Well, yes. You’ve been involved in activism for pretty much your entire life, and I guess that made me think you’d be more aware of what it’s like to be a young woman who isn’t taken seriously because of her gender, who has people attempt to regulate her behavior solely because of her gender.
It would seem as if you don’t have actual reasons to support Hillary Clinton, but upon realizing that she doesn’t perform that well in polls conducted about young voters – she received only 14% of the vote from those ages 17-29 in the Iowa Caucus – you panick, grasp at straws, and insult the intelligence of her opponent and his supporters. And that’s not very feminist of you.
nevillegirl @ Musings From Neville’s Navel