Feeling the bern and being a feminist

By Natalie Rich /// Staff Writer

The presidential primary season is upon us, and with that comes the onslaught of advertisements, stump speeches, baffling caucuses and endorsements. As both a liberal and a feminist (not to mention a woman), this Democratic election is very interesting to me. Most of the issues that I hold important (reproductive rights, racial/economic equality, women’s rights, environment, foreign policy) are being hotly debated between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (sorry O’Malley, maybe next time). Personally, I am a supporter of Sanders, although should Clinton win the nomination, she has my vote in the general election. However, I was dismayed and angered when I heard recently that the feminist activist Gloria Steinem, whom I admire, had this to say in an interview with Bill Maher about young women who support Sanders: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie” (Real Time with Bill Maher).

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I couldn’t believe it. How could a woman who has spent most of her life raising up young women’s voices in the community completely invalidate us by saying we vote only according to our desire to attract boys?  Though this primary will be my first (I’m only recently eighteen), I have been interested in politics for years, and have never shaped my political ideals to what I think will make me more popular or attractive (nor do I personally know any woman who has done so). Steinem then apologized for her statement, saying it was “misinterpreted.” I don’t think there is much to misinterpret here. With all due respect, Ms. Steinem, you just said that young women who don’t support Hillary are dumb, or at least so vapid that they treat political beliefs as something they can put on their Tinder profile to get more right swipes.

I was enraged and offended. Then to add insult to injury, The Slot reported that former Secretary of State and well-known feminist Madeleine Albright said in a speech supporting Clinton:

“Young women have to support Hillary Clinton. The story is not over! 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. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

I will never deny that women have a long way to go in America before we achieve complete equality, and I have all the hope in the world that I will see a female President  in my lifetime. I hope I see more than one. But the idea that I – and other women –  should feel ashamed because we are not supporting Hillary Clinton in the primary is preposterous and, frankly, sexist. It implies that all women should act one specific way, which is something that I previously would never have thought Steinem or Albright would believe. This belief that there is only one “good” version of feminism, and that not espousing that exactly makes you a bad feminist, is dangerous and sexist. Who gave Steinem or Albright the authority to dictate what feminism means and how women express it? When these widely-respected feminists judge a woman’s intellect for not agreeing completely with their views, it sends a dangerous message to young women who are trying to navigate how they feel about feminism.  I am going to vote based on a myriad of factors, only one of which is women’s rights (I should add, Sanders has a great track record on this subject).  Conversely, women should not feel ashamed if they support  Hillary solely because she’s a woman. It’s your choice, it’s your vote, and it’s not anyone else’s business. I support Bernie because I agree with more of his policies, and think that he is currently the right person to run our nation. There may be a special place in hell for me, but it isn’t because I’m a female choosing to not vote for someone who happens to be a woman.

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