Feminism fails for the female frontrunner
Madeleine Albright’s “feminist” comment in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the New Hampshire primary has been widely criticized. In a blunt appeal to the female voters who had turned out for Bernie Sanders rather than the Secretary of State, Albright declared: “There is a special place in hell for the women who don’t help other women.”
The statement, a favorite of Albright’s, is in other contexts a powerful expression of the importance of women working together and supporting each other. In the case of Clinton’s campaign, however, the message soured considerably. Albright and Clinton received ample criticism from female supporters of Sanders and Clinton alike. The general consensus: voting against Clinton does not make you a bad feminist.
This is an important distinction that has caused a generational rift in the recent discussions on feminism. Older feminists, like Albright, fear that the younger generation has become too complacent. There is still work to be done before equality is to be achieved, and they think that any chance to lift women to the highest office should not be neglected.
At the very logical base of feminism, this is flawed. The argument that originally formed feminism into being is that women are equal, and not inferior, to men. It follows that women should be allowed to make autonomous, informed decisions in the same way as men. Imposing the sort of limitations on women that suggest that they must only vote for someone on the grounds of gender is in direct contrast to the concept of equality of persons.
The argument that originally formed feminism into being is that women are equal, and not inferior, to men.
But dissatisfaction with Clinton’s brand of feminism had begun to build even before Albright’s statement. When she initiated her campaign in 2015, she made it clear from the first speech that women’s issues would be central to her platform. She was met with general approval for embracing a positive and optimistic version of feminism. It stood in contrast to her run in 2008 in which she was criticized by many for downplaying her gender. As her campaign has progressed, however, her expressions of feminism have begun to seem more contrived and narrow. She has been criticized for a lack of intersectionality and inclusiveness, something that separates her brand of feminism from that of the progressive millennial she strives to win over. Many point to her less-than-stellar record on supporting feminist issues in her political career, such as her change of position on issues of abortion and gay marriage.
Ideological failings aside, there is no question that Clinton’s career and accomplishments to date have made huge strides for women and have solidified her as one of the most powerful and influential women of our time. In her 1995 speech at the United Nations World Congress on Women, she made her famous and, at the time, controversial statement: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
The general consensus: voting against Clinton does not make you a bad feminist.
The first-ever female senator from New York, Clinton was instrumental in securing funding to help rebuild the city after 9/11 and advocated fiercely for the health of the first responders. Her initial efforts in developing a universal health care plan laid the foundation for the Affordable Care Act, which has expanded health coverage for millions of Americans. Even recently, in the face of a potential setback to her campaign in the form of yet another Benghazi hearing, her formidable resolve shone through the tirade of accusations, and she emerged stronger than before.
We also need to acknowledge the needs of all those who are underrepresented, and the role that intersecting identities plays in an individual’s experience in this country.
It may seem odd, then, that such a strong female leader can have such a disconnect with young feminist voters. But the Clinton situation illustrates the changing dynamics of contemporary feminism. We admire Rosie the Riveter and Susan B. Anthony and respect the work they did to pave the way for equal rights. But we also need to acknowledge the needs of all those who are underrepresented, and the role that intersecting identities plays in an individual’s experience in this country.
It is not enough to push for the advancement of women alone; you cannot push back from a place of disadvantage without empathizing with others who are disadvantaged. Feminism that focuses solely on supporting the success of straight, white women does not pay tribute to the roots of its establishment. If Clinton hopes to gain the support of young feminists in her bid for the presidency, she needs to show that her feminist ideology expands beyond the achievement of putting herself in the White House.