The Feminism Schism Today

By Jacqueline Smith-Opinion The News-Times, Danbury, Conn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When it comes to the empowerment of women and feminism, should a woman automatically vote for a female candidate to support women in general?  That is a question that is being debated by several women right now after two of the leading feminist icons, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright urged women to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The News-Times

Writing to you today from "a special place in hell," a little nook created by Madeleine Albright for "women who don't help each other."

Actually, I do want to help other women -- but not blindly. This "special place in hell" rallying cry by the first female secretary of state and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- a powerful woman -- at a recent campaign event for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire jolted me.

Just the day before, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, prodded by Bill Maher on his HBO show, speculated that so many young women supported Bernie Sanders, instead of the first woman with a chance to become president, because "When you're young, you're thinking: 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."

What do you think? Is there, as Susan Faludi wrote in her essay "Not Their Mother's Candidate," a feminist family feud in the presidential campaign?

What?? This couldn't be the personification of women's lib in the 1970s dismissing young women today as boy-crazy and not thinking for themselves. Is the feminist movement still alive, or split beyond repair and irrelevant to young women today, the Millennials?

I've been asking everyone I can about this. It matters. Tuesday morning, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who campaigned for Clinton in New Hampshire, came to the newspaper for an editorial board meeting. Oh, she's heard Madeleine's "special place in hell" remark many times (and read Albright's op-ed apology in The New York Times last Saturday). "Women should support other women, I agree," Esty said.

That doesn't mean automatically supporting Clinton for president, but doing so because she is the most qualified for the job.

Young women coming of age today will better understand feminism when they start work, Esty said, and are told to "fetch coffee" or hear comments on their looks. That's reality. Still.

I wondered what people in their 20s might think, and fortunately Professor Wynn Gadkar-Wilcox let me join his advanced-level history course at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury on Thursday afternoon.

After lecturing briefly on the history of feminism from the first wave in the late 18th century to the 1950s to the third wave in the 1980s, and providing background on Albright and Steinem, he played the YouTube clips of their recent remarks.

Reaction to the feisty Albright invoking the "special place in hell for women who don't help other women?" Laughter.

"Should women feel an obligation to politically support women running for office if they believe that those women will champion their rights?" Gadkar-Wilcox asked the class of 10 males, two females and an older couple, Rudy and Mary Behrens, who were auditing the course.

Several male students offered their opinions first. "I support Hillary Clinton but not because she's a woman, but because she's competent," said Nate Seper. "Everyone has personal choices."

"Bernie will champion my rights more than Hillary," responded Stephanie Campbell, a senior. "I don't trust her."

"Hillary goes back and forth; she's so fake," agreed Wendy McGrath. "Bernie sounds like he means he'll do it."

"He's passionate," Stephanie interjected.

Nate clearly was in the minority as a Clinton supporter.

The professor theorized that the feminists like Steinem are saying to other women -- "If you care about your rights, you will support Hillary. But women have not been thinking that way since the 1980s. Has time passed them by?"

"As a woman, I don't feel the obligation to support other women," Stephanie said.

"I think we've reached the point in society where we're getting less and less focused on gender," Nate said.

I hope so. This old-school feminist would like to believe society has evolved that much in a generation or two. But there's the nagging fact of the pay gap, that women are paid only 79 percent of what men are paid. There's the subtlety of how women often are dismissed: When Hillary was talking during the debate the other evening, did you notice Bernie waving his arm impatiently?

"Is there a reason we haven't had a woman president?" Gadkar-Wilcox asked his class. "They are more than 50 percent of the population.... Women are massively underrepresented in government."

I do wish to support other women and stand with them in solidarity. But, like the younger women are saying, I still have to think for myself. There are limits. Evidence -- two words: Sarah Palin.

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