The Feminine Mistake
Please, don’t vote for someone based on gender.
Jenna Ramsey, Seattle University
A few weeks ago, when I asked a friend why she’s a Hillary Clinton supporter, she said she was excited at the prospect of electing the first female U.S. President.
But on a lot of issues, she admitted, Bernie Sanders aligns more closely with her personal beliefs.
Her response didn’t surprise me—it’s one I’ve heard more than once, almost verbatim, in recent months. Plenty of my friends are politically informed and have followed this year’s presidential election pretty closely. It’s an exciting one, especially for us first-time voters. But for young, liberal feminists, it can be tough to justify voting for an old white guy instead of a woman.
The first female secretary of state Madeline Albright and feminist spokeswoman Gloria Steinem recently stirred up this issue by berating young women who aren’t supporting Hillary, essentially saying that those of us who don’t vote for her are siding with the enemy: men.
In a TV interview, Steinem suggested young women are supporting Bernie because he’s popular among our male peers. “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” she said. A few days before, while introducing Hillary at a rally, Albright said “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
By this logic, shouldn’t we have voted for John McCain in 2008 so we could have seen Sarah Palin become the first female VP? And where were Albright and Steinem when GOP candidate Carly Fiorina gained popularity for a hot minute last year?
Of course, Palin and Fiorina’s political opinions defy pretty much everything Albright and Steinem stand for. That said, they should probably do more to clarify that their endorsements for Hillary aren’t based solely on the fact that she’s a woman.
Albright and Steinem have since apologized, but they both blamed miswording and misinterpretation for the backlash they received, and seem to hold strong on the basic sentiments of what they each said.
Their comments were poorly worded, yes, but it’s hard to imagine a non-condescending way in which they could have come across. That a young woman would support a presidential candidate simply to impress a boy is an insulting, archaic assumption, and it should have been clear that shaming women who don’t support Hillary is no way to get them on her side.
I wrote a piece last month offering up a few reasons why I think Hillary hasn’t been able to win the young vote. The biggest issue with her campaign, which works as a sort of umbrella over all the problems I pointed out, is that she has underestimated the intelligence and level of interest young voters have when it comes to politics. The scolding comments Steinem and Albright made, and Hillary’s support of them, only further illustrate my point.
There are several opportunities to make history with this election. If we elect Bernie, he’ll be the first Jewish president. Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would be the first Latino. Any of these “firsts” would be exciting, but they should be inconsequential to voters choosing who they honestly think is the best candidate for the job. The same goes for our first woman in office.
An argument I often come across is that women want to be able to tell their daughters that they could be president, and that Hillary’s election would be proof of that.
For me, there’s an underlying issue there.
Why do we need a woman to be elected as soon as possible in order to tell young girls that they can be president one day?
Why can’t we say that with confidence now?
Even if she doesn’t win, Hillary is proof that a woman can be taken just as seriously as a presidential candidate as her male counterparts; she’s been the clear frontrunner in the Democratic Party for the majority of this election period.
Just as her failures shouldn’t be attributed to her gender, as they often have been, her possible victory shouldn’t be decided by gender either. Yes, it will be a milestone for women everywhere when the first female president is finally elected—but it should be one we believe in, especially if we want a second woman to stand a chance down the road.
I’m speaking generally here, and am not trying to suggest that Hillary would be a disappointment. Clearly, she’s a remarkably intelligent, strong woman with a mile-long résumé.
But those of us who decide to vote for her shouldn’t be using her gender as a checkpoint on a list of good attributes. We have to question whether it’s more important that a woman is elected president, or that the person elected will fight for women’s rights even if that person is a man.
Hillary is a self-proclaimed feminist, and she uses that to attract young female voters all the time. She’ll be on our side, she says, when she gets to the White House—finally, women will be paid the same amount of money as men are for doing the same jobs.
But equality can no longer be reduced to the watered-down statement that “women should have the same rights as men.” Anyone who identifies as a feminist should be in agreement with this idea, but the fight for equality is bigger than that—it’s weighed down by discrimination against people of color, transgender people, the queer community and so many other minority groups who undeniably face more challenges in this country than upper middle-class white women do.
From the perspective of many Democratic voters, Bernie seems to understand that more than Hillary does; at least, he speaks to it more often.
If we really want women to be treated equally, we should vote for them not because they’re women, but because they’re the best option. If Hillary makes it to the White House, I’ll cheer for her along with everyone else. I just hope she doesn’t guilt-trip her way there.