Two recent comments by famous feminists have underscored the inevitable and predicted the foregone: The feminist era of Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright has come to a close.
Each heroic in her own way, these three icons of second-wave feminism have reached a pinnacle of sorts, along with the bittersweet recognition that they are sorely out of touch with today’s younger women. The world they knew and helped change has produced a new generation no longer as concerned with the issues that animated their mothers and grandmothers.
So it goes.
Adding possible injury to insult, liberal millennial women are tilting toward Bernie Sanders rather than she who would be the first woman president of the United States. What are they thinking?
Albright and Steinem, speaking on different days in different environments, offered comments that are by now familiar: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” said Albright, who was the first female U.S. secretary of state.
And, “When you’re young you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie,” said Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine and iconic leader of the ‘60s feminist movement.
Much bestirring followed on social media. The gist of critics: How dare Steinem insinuate that young women are just chasing boys? And, how dare Albright curse young women for failing to support Clinton!
They have a point.
But they’re missing the bigger point that had these women not cut a path for others to enter and expect to be treated fairly in the workplace and elsewhere, these same young women would, indeed, be following the boys in hopes of inserting an “R” between the “M” and the “S” in their titles, as their predecessors had to.
This is the irony, isn’t it? For Steinem of all people to suggest that girls just wanna have fun with boys, though not untrue, has lived a life based on quite the opposite premise. It was she, after all, who said, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Come on, it’s funny. And it is certainly true to women of a certain age.
Albright’s comment, meanwhile, is a well-known and, perhaps, worn-out trope of the former secretary’s. Now 78, she might have imagined that her audience – at a Clinton rally – would have been familiar with it and responded with laughter, as had so often been the case.
Rather than cursing younger versions of herself, she was offering a gift in the spirit of Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “I'll be back,” or Ronald Reagan saying, “Win one for the Gipper.”
Whether some of the young women preferring Sanders to Clinton are also interested in boys, a not-dishonorable distraction, was probably a weak stab at humor, for which Steinem, 81, has apologized. Also, she was talking to Bill Maher on his show, hardly the forum for solemn pronouncements.
The more likely explanation, however, is that young liberal women, like their male counterparts, are attracted to the cool old guy because he’s promising a dream in which the rich have less and the poor have more. Robin Hood is so awesome.
And socialism has always appealed to the young, the cure for which isn’t age but responsibility. This usually comes in the form of taxes and children, both of which involve working and sacrificing for the benefit of others, the extent of which forms the axis upon which all politics turns. That Sanders never outgrew his own socialist-rebellious tendencies – We’re going to have a revolution! – is vaguely interesting, but not his best recommendation for commander in chief, among other presidential duties.
Clinton, ever the adult in the room, may be doomed by her own sober “momliness.” To whom do children run to when Mom is no fun? She isn’t helped by the two elder women in the room.
What is obvious, if bittersweet, is that Steinem and Albright, and possibly Clinton by association, have passed the baton, if without realizing it. Through their temerity and hard work, they’ve created a world in which their original purposes have become obsolete through acceptance.
Millennial women, who reached adulthood around 2000, and those afterward have never known a world in which they were not treated to daily doses of go-girl power. They’ve never known a time when abortion wasn’t an option. They really can have it all, including the choice to not vote for a woman just because she’s a woman because, after all, this would be sexist.
And no one would want that.
Reach Kathleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.