I didn’t look up to Wonder Woman or Lara Croft as a child: I had women like Gloria Steinem. I was the type of girl who cut my dolls’ hair short, insisted girls could do anything boys could, and invented stories where brave female protagonists always outsmarted the bad guys.
So I was absolutely floored to hear Steinem tell Bill Maher that the only reason young women might support Bernie Sanders is that they want to chase the boys who back him. “When you’re young, you’re thinking, where are the boys?” Steinem said. “The boys are with Bernie.”
Steinem later walked back her comments. Still, some people – like Rachel Krantz and Jill Filipovic – leapt to her defense, suggesting that many young women feel pressure to act a certain way to attract men, or to remain part of the “in” crowd.
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Steinem’s bizarre comments didn’t just set us back decades – they also reinforced ignorant notions regarding women’s decision making. It’s one thing to hear nonsense like that from a clueless male politician. It’s another matter entirely to hear it from a leading feminist.
Steinem wasn’t the only feminist elder to talk down to millennial women who are feeling the Bern.
Madeleine Albright said there’s a “special place in hell” for young women who don’t vote for Hillary Clinton. When a moderator asked Clinton herself to address that offensive comment at a debate, Clinton didn’t bother to condemn it. She demurred that Albright had been making remarks like that for “the past 25 years.”
Steinem and Albright claim that opposing Clinton makes women anti-feminist. But isn’t voting for Clinton solely because she’s a woman as sexist as voting for Sanders because he’s a man?
Young women are in a better position than our forebears, because we have resources that older generations had to create for themselves. They fought for our right to vote, our right to control our own bodies, our right to work for pay, and our right to own our own property and assets.
Thanks to those pioneers, women now have so many more potential career paths to choose from. The feminists who came before us made it not only conceivable but totally natural that a woman could be the next US president.
Sexist statements are a throwback to an era when women were told that our place was in the kitchen, when we needed to find and obey a husband at all costs, and when unwed mothers were sent to sanatoriums and their babies were taken from them by social workers.
Gloria Steinem and her peers helped lead us out of that era, but my generation is still fighting for equal pay and reproductive rights. We’re still fighting against domestic violence and for paid parental leave. We have too many issues to fight for – and no time to waste on sexism within our own ranks.
Income inequality, racial discrimination, and labor rights are women’s issues. A successful candidate will take all these things and much more into account.
Young progressive women like me will cast our ballots after considering where the candidates stand on all the issues we care about. We can keep fighting for the right to choose without undermining other women’s choices.