Two high-profile feminists drew criticism this weekend for encouraging young women to vote for Hillary Clinton and making comments many interpreted as disparaging women who support Bernie Sanders.
Highlighting the generational divide between the two Democratic candidates, feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright both addressed the large number of young women who are supporting Sanders over Clinton. Repeating a line she uses frequently, Albright said: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Steinem, meanwhile, insinuated during an interview with Bill Maher that women are only backing Sanders to meet young men.
“When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” the prominent voice behind the feminist movement said.
Steinem has since apologized, claiming that she “misspoke” and that she has “been misinterpreted as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics.”
But the comments struck a nerve left raw after Clinton’s last presidential campaign.
‘I’ve got a crush on Obama’
During the 2008 election, a similar media narrative emerged about young women who supported Barack Obama over Clinton.
Rebecca Traister wrote in Salon at the time: “According to the media script, these cool young customers have embodied their elders’ worst nightmare of a generation that takes feminism‘s victories for granted by throwing over Hillary Clinton for her challenger faster than you can say ‘I’ve got a crush on Obama.’”
Feminist writer Robin Morgan was one person who notably accused pro-Obama women that year of turning their backs on feminism. “Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo) … who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her,” she wrote in an essay.
And Linda Hirshman, another feminist writer, acknowledged in a Washington Post column in 2008 what the other writers were missing — that women may choose Obama because they have political savvy and think he’s the best candidate. But, she didn’t stop there.
“It’s well established social science that women on the whole are much more averse to political conflict than men are, so it’s fair to speculate that avoiding that gantlet may be one more reason women are tilting toward Obama,” she wrote.
In a column in the Guardian in which she collected these disparaging comments, Michelle Goldberg noted that because a majority of young, Democratic women were voting for Obama, “maligning and disparaging them is no way to recruit them into a movement.”
Creating a ‘cat fight’
Some claim that Steinem and Albright’s recent comments echo the rhetoric used about women who supported Obama in the last Democratic primary. But Soraya Chemaly, director of the Women’s Media Center’s Speech Project, told ThinkProgress these comments are so often reported in a way that creates a cat fight narrative, pitting older women against younger women.
“What really strikes me is our different expectations when it comes to women’s dynamics,” she said. “We never pause to question the fraternal order of things. When old men are stating their opinions and they differ from young men, we call it debate.”
Those divides in Democratic women’s voting preferences seem natural given that single, younger women tend to be more liberal than older, married women. Sanders won 84 percent of people aged 17 to 29 in Iowa, according to NBC exit polls, showing how he has tapped into that demographic.
Chemaly said that Steinem’s comment has also been taken out of context. Just minutes earlier in the same interview, Steinem had said that young women are more involved in activism and are more politically engaged than generations before.
“I didn’t find anything hectoring or shaming or scolding,” Chemaly said. “You may not have liked what she said, but it definitely wasn’t a finger wagging.”
But the media’s reaction to her comments has been harsh because of how women are treated when they share their opinions with other women, Chemaly said.
“There are no institutional spaces that are overrun with women… so we end up having our wise old women talking in public forums in soundbites,” Chemaly said. “Older political leaders that are male are A, surrounded by people who look just like them and B, are incessantly sharing their opinions with young men and they’re not held to these standards.”
‘Go back on Tinder’
Women aren’t just scrutinized for their political choices. Some pundits have even questioned in recent years whether women belong in the political process at all.
In October 2014, Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle said during a TV broadcast that young women aren’t mature or experienced enough to understand their voting choices.
“I just think excuse them so they can go back on Tinder or Match.com,” she said. A man on the panel also added that married, older women tend to be more conservative because “with age comes wisdom.”
And that same year, Fox’s Tucker Carlson criticized a Republican campaign encouraging young women to vote because they “don’t know anything about what they’re voting for.”
“You want your government run by people … whose favorite show is Say Yes To The Dress?” he asked.