Earlier this month, comments made by several notable women’s rights activists diminished women to a group of politically unconcerned citizens by encouraging them to only support the presidential candidate whose gender matches their own. First came Madeleine Albright’s hyperbolic statements during a rally for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. The first female Secretary of State took to the microphone to vilify American women who do not support Clinton, saying there was a special place in hell for them because of their failure to help a fellow female. Later on, feminist icon Gloria Steinem told Bill Maher that the reason Bernie Sanders polls better than Clinton with young women is that they believe supporting him will help them find a boyfriend. With these comments, Steinem and Albright overlook the basic feminist fundamentals: mainstream feminism supports the idea that men and women should have equal opportunity, not that women should only align with people of their same gender. While both Albright and Steinem spoke based on a long-held, valid desire to finally see a woman in the White House, shaming young women is not the path to getting there.
Albright has proliferated this comment many times throughout her career, but it is particularly problematic in this context. Historically, women have been repeatedly told that their opinions are not worthy of being vocalized — in her statement, Albright is propagating this injustice, effectively silencing women. She is saying that their individual political views don’t matter because they have a duty to vote for the person whose gender identity most closely resembles their own. To be fair, Albright served as the first female Secretary of State and has paved the way for millions of young American women to serve in public offices. This remark should not overshadow the incredible work she has done, but she needs to be reprimanded for it.
Steinem’s response to Bill Maher’s inquiry is even more destructive to feminist ideology than Albright’s statement. By accusing women of being more focused on appealing to men than making an informed political decision, she makes the sexist assumption that finding a mate is more important to women than political thought. No self-identified feminist should question the sincerity of young women’s presidential opinions. Upon hearing her comment firsthand, Maher himself was in disbelief. He asserted that if he had made similar comments, she would have rebuked them and called him a sexist. I cannot speak for Steinem, but I know I certainly would have. It is extremely disappointing that two powerful leaders in the fight for feminism are doubting young women’s ability to make educated, informed decisions.
Both Steinem and Albright have come forward and apologized for their remarks. Albright took to the New York Times Opinions section to explain that she realized her comment came across as arguing that women should choose a candidate based on their gender, but clarified that she neither meant nor believes that. Steinem stated on Facebook that not only did she misspeak, but her comments were also misinterpreted. Their apologies seem genuine, but it is unclear whether they would have realized their remarks’ insensitivity had they not received such severe criticism.
Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are influential and successful women whose work toward the advancement of women’s rights should continue to be lauded. For them, as well as for most women, the idea of a female president of the United States is a feat they would love nothing more than to see accomplished during their lifetimes. This is where Steinem and Albright’s anger toward young women supporting a male candidate stems from. However, it could be said that some female members of younger generations do not necessarily feel the same sense of urgency as Albright and Steinem do. The past two out of three Secretaries of State have been women, and the younger generation is more accustomed to the presence of female political leaders than the generations of their mothers and grandmothers.
If women were as superficial as Steinem and Albright’s remarks deem them to be, we would all vote for Clinton without worrying about her policies. However, we use our brains and not our extra X chromosome to make decisions. Whether a woman supports Clinton or any other candidate, I hope that both Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright would agree that as long as she has examined the candidates’ views and truly aligns with them, her choice is valid.
Sydney Hemmendinger is a sophomore history major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.