This is a column about choices, the joy and responsibility of having them. This is about doing the unexpected, about breaking with tradition, about forging forward and following one’s heart — and brain.
This is about women, the younger generation and the pioneering one that came before it. This is about the sometimes deep disconnect between the two groups and why my peers need to take a good, serious look at the calendar and then turn the page.
Surely by now you’ve heard about Hillary Clinton’s struggle with younger voters as a whole and millenial women in particular. In our 24/7 news cycle, it’s impossible to ignore the fact the Bernie Sanders, the rumpled seventy-something senator from Vermont, beat Clinton handily for the young women’s vote. This, as you would expect, has sent shock waves of despair in some circles.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem suggested young women were backing Sanders because “when you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’’’ She later said she “misspoke,” but the damage was done.
Then, to stoke the fire, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chided women who could be her granddaughters. As she introduced Clinton at a New Hampshire rally, Albright crowed, “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
My initial reaction was one of angry disbelief, the same visceral response I experience when others propose I vote with “my people.” In other words, too many believe some should practice democracy along ethnic or religious lines. I, on the other hand, can’t imagine anything more primitive or insulting.
Eventually the anger at Steinem and Albright gave way to something else. Oh, get over it already, I thought. It’s time we cede the stage to the new generation.
My admiration for these trail-blazing women aside, I think Steinem and Albright’s comments — and the implication that women march in lockstep with Clinton simply because she’s a woman — is a betrayal of everything I thought my generation struggled through. For me, feminism is about following my own path, whatever it might be, without the barriers of the past.
Again, it’s about choices, the many available and the freedom to make them. The choice to vote for a man or a woman. The choice to work full time, part time or stay at home if the family can afford this. The choice to study elementary education or information technology. The choice to have children — or not. The choice to marry or remain single. The choice to lean in, lean out or sit still.
We older women shouldn’t forget that. Ever. Yet the latest unfortunate comments aren’t the only indication of the generation gap between the Steinem-Clinton-Albright generation and today’s women, a breach of misunderstanding that blames the young for complacency and the older for being clueless and out of touch.
Shaming my daughter and daughters-in-law’s generation will get Clinton nowhere. This is a new age, as it should be, an era in which social media — and the instant takedowns after a gaffe — provide a forum for a variety of thought on what it means to be an independent woman. It’s no longer just about gender. It’s about policy, about income inequality, about power disparity, about family leave, about Wall Street.
We have no right to scold younger women for what they believe. And certainly no right to tell them what to think.