It's a sad day for millennial feminists. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem has apologized for her comments suggesting that women are supporting Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president because it’s who men are voting for, according to the Washington Post. In a controversial interview with Bill Maher on Friday, Steinem was asked why she thinks so many millennial women are choosing to support Sanders instead of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her response? Women lose power as they age, which spurs them to become more politically radical (which, apparently means they become Clinton supporters?). But, Steinem said, "when you’re young, you’re thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."
Steinem faced significant backlash for her comments over the weekend from women who were offended by her insinuation that, if women were thinking for themselves, they would be voting for Clinton. In response to the criticism, Steinem took to Facebook Sunday to apologize for her comments, which she said were misinterpreted:
In a case of talk-show Interruptus, I misspoke on the Bill Maher show recently, and apologize for what's been misinterpreted as implying young women aren't serious in their politics. What I had just said on the same show was the opposite: young women are active, mad as hell about what's happening to them, graduating in debt, but averaging a million dollars less over their lifetimes to pay it back. Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.
But, judging by the comments, not everyone is feeling like Steinem’s apology was very, well, apologetic. After all, she may honestly believe that millennial women are politically active, but her statement failed to mention why she would suggest that female Sanders supporters are just following “the boys.”
Apart from being an insult to millennial women as a whole (thank you, Ms. Steinem, for suggesting that my entire generation is unable to make sound political decisions), her assertion doesn’t even make much sense. After all, Clinton might be a woman, but Sanders, in many cases, is actually the more “radical” candidate of the two, pushing for changes like single-payer universal healthcare, free post-secondary education, paid family leave, and, in general, calling for a political revolution in line with his self-described “democratic socialist” views, according to USA Today. In fact, Steinem herself has endorsed Sanders in the past.
Unfortunately, Steinem is not alone in her view that women should be voting for the female candidate. According to the New York Times, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — the first woman to ever hold the position — offered her own criticism to young women voters who don’t back Clinton. Telling the crowd:
A lot of you younger women think [the fight for women’s equality is] done. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!
Like Steinem, Albright also doesn’t seem to think very highly of young women, particularly given her assertion that millennials must believe that gender equality already exists. What both Albright and Steinem fail to see though, it seems, is that, to many millennial feminist women, the issue is not only about equality for women, but also the lack of equality for queer and trans people, people of color, and anyone else who isn’t a cisgendered, white guy.
Despite Steinem and Albright’s disparaging comments to younger feminists (shouldn’t there also be a special place in hell for feminists who insult other feminists?!), it’s worth noting that both women (at age 81 and 78, respectively) experienced feminism differently, coming up against different challenges than millennial feminists are now. And perhaps that is where the real disconnect lies — to women like Steinem and Albright, electing a woman to be president because she is a woman is in itself a radical act. But, having grown up during a time where significant gains had already been made to women’s rights thanks to women like Steinem and Albright, millennial women don’t necessarily feel the need to vote for a woman candidate to make a statement — many of them already know that a woman is just as worthy of being president as a man, so the question then becomes, which candidate best addresses my concerns?
Judging from the results of the Iowa caucus, so far, it’s an incredibly close call among Democrats. It’s yet to be seen how the Sanders vs. Clinton race will play out, but one thing seems certain: with Clinton already having difficulty winning over younger voters, divisive comments like Steinem’s and Albright’s might not be exactly what she’s looking for.