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Gloria Steinem’s Comments, Feminism & the 2016 Election

Why young feminists may feel "the Bern" more than the Hillary imperative
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 02/10/2016 at 6:02 AM EDT
I haven’t spoken a lot about politics here but in the coming weeks and months, I will be. Let’s start here: As many of you already know, I am a liberal and ​I am a Democrat. ​​While I love a lot of things about Bernie Sanders, I support Hillary Clinton because I believe that she is the most competent candidate for the Democratic ticket. (For more about why I am a Democrat, stay tuned to GN next week). As a second wave feminist, I am grateful she is a possible candidate for the Presidency because I want to be a part of a generation whose goal it is to advance the role of women.

You may have seen that this week, prominent and respected feminist Gloria Steinem said something that got a lot of bad attention. On “Real Time With Bill Maher” (you can see the entire interview here – the short segment in question begins about 5 minutes in), Steinem commented that she felt that a lot of young women are interested in Bernie Sanders as a candidate because that’s “where the boys are.” As an important aside, Steinem’s comments come on the heels of a very disturbing trend of sexist and misogynistic comments on social media about Hillary Clinton – many of them posted by so-called “Bernie Bros,” a name for Sanders’ young, largely predominantly male supporters – which Mr. Sanders has tried to distance himself from, but which are upsetting and disturbing.

For those of you who don’t know who she is, Gloria Steinem, now 81, co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972 to address the needs of women who were serious about making an impact in the world and spreading the message of equality, freedom, and justice for all people through the power of the women’s movement. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and has been a tireless and elegant voice for the equality and dignity of women, men and people of all colors, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds for over half a century.

Steinem has since apologized for her comments, stating that she did not mean to imply that young women are not serious about politics. Indeed, many women are! But I don’t think that’s what she meant when she said what she said to Maher.

So if Steinem didn’t mean that young women aren’t serious about politics, what did she mean? I think that she meant that a lot of young women today – post second wave feminism – don’t understand the significance and importance of feminism, and of Hillary as a candidate. While we second wavers are chomping at the bit to get Hillary’s name on the Presidential ticket because of what it means historically, third wave feminism has purported that “true” feminism may be NOT voting for a woman candidate. Younger women – those who identify as feminist or not – for the most part do not have the sense of urgency older feminists do about working to advance women’s rights. They have grown up sexually liberated and able to take Plan B and talk about birth control with their healthcare providers and even have abortions without having to hide or risk their lives; these are things second wave feminism fought tooth and nail to establish.

Young women today are living the life that the Equal Rights Amendment affords them, but because of time and space – distance from the struggle to create that life – the notion of a continuing feminist movement that stands in opposition to mainstream heterosexual culture is foreign to them.

And so, Steinem’s comments bring to light an interesting point about what women who simply may not align themselves with the feminist movement may think about female Presidential candidates. There are a lot of women who don’t think that they should vote for a woman or learn more about her simply because she is a woman. I, on the other hand, am especially interested in female candidates simply because they are female. It’s part of my feminist agenda, I suppose!

I would not want to vote for someone who wasn’t qualified for the job; don’t get me wrong! But this did get me thinking about the following grok-able questions:

  • Would you vote for a woman who was less qualified than a man for President simply because you want to see a woman become President? What if she was only slightly less qualified? Is the fact that she is a woman worth something to you as a voter?
  • Assuming Hillary is more qualified, do you think it’s possible that some young women or men don’t find her approachable because she looks so different from how young women look today? Is that a factor for young voters and should it be?
  • Have you ever disliked someone because they were not attractive (physically or in terms of the “package” or success or achievement they bring to the table) according to your standards? (Have you ever disliked someone because they were “too” attractive/successful/accomplished?!)
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