Hillary, Gloria, and the Vagina Litmus Test

They may be on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Gloria Steinem and Michael Barone seem to be in agreement that young women’s lack of support for Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses indicates that they are in denial about the pervasive sexism in American society.

Today’s young women voters are different. They were not raised by mothers who told them they had a duty to stay home with their children. They were raised by mothers who told them they had all sorts of choices they could choose. And mothers who, in some cases, made their own choices which the girls resented — divorce, spending lots of time at the office. These young women don’t react defensively to antichoice politicians and don’t feel a need to be liberated from restraints that were never urged on them.


What worries me is that some women, perhaps especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system; thus Iowa women over 50 and 60, who disproportionately supported Senator Clinton, proved once again that women are the one group that grows more radical with age.

So if I choose not to vote for Hillary Clinton, it’s because I’ve never been restrained by sexism in my daily life? Or because I’m in denial about the barriers to women’s success in politics? Did either of these people even talk to younger women about how they decided which candidate to support? I’m pretty sure Steinem would be able to get young women to return her phone calls. (Barone? Guess I’m not certain…)

I don’t believe it’s anti-woman, anti-feminist, or, hell, even post-feminist (whatever that means) to refuse the vagina litmus test and support the candidate I believe would make the best president — regardless of gender. And I know lots of women, of all ages, for whom a candidate’s gender is not of utmost importance. Let’s be fair — Obama didn’t just beat Clinton among young women in Iowa. He came out ahead among caucus-going women age 60 and younger.
But it is true that Obama bested Clinton by much greater margins among young women. And there’s definitely an age gap in women’s support for Clinton. That gap exists among feminists, too. I’ll admit it: Many older feminists’ rhetoric on Hillary Clinton is a total turn-off to me. I cringe after reading quotes like this one from the figureheads of institutional feminism:

“It’s about this one vote, which was not to invade Iraq but to authorize the President to wage war. I can’t understand how this can be held up against a lifetime of important political work,” says NOW president Kim Gandy.

Ugh. It seems like such a narrow view of feminism — the same one Steinem seems to be espousing in her op-ed when she says older women who support Hillary are more radical. But to me, and many other younger feminists, it’s far more radical to embrace a feminism that’s inextricable from my anti-war, pro-gay rights, anti-racist beliefs.
I don’t have a feminist obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton, or donate money to her campaign, or show up at her rallies. My obligation is to support her right to compete on an equal playing field. To decry the disgusting amount of sexism she faces every day. (We’ve done so again and again and again.) And then to vote for another candidate if I feel he would make a better president. That, too, is a feminist act.
(Cross-posted to TAPPED.)

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