You have done so much for women, for the past three generations, and many women my age and younger probably don’t even realize how much we have to thank you for. And of course you are unaccustomed to backlash for speaking your mind of defending your convictions. But the backlash you are facing now is different, and it’s deserved.
Gloria, you have remained an outspoken activist for six decades, starting when you were in your 20s. So it’s perplexing that you don’t have faith in young activists and feminists now. You are famous for saying “Women may be the one group that grows more radical with age,” but how can you honestly believe that’s true? Your ideals about a woman’s right to choose, to forgo marriage and pursue a career and to not face sexual harassment and discrimination at work were extremely radical in the 1970s. On the other hand, your current belief that millennial women are supporting Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton because they want to meet boys isn’t only insulting and wrong, it’s old-school sexist. And while you may not have chided Bill Maher if he had said the same thing, I would have, and so would any other modern feminist.
As Los Angeles Times reporter Robin Abcarian pointed out in her recent column,what you said this weekend was just a 2016 version of something you’ve been saying for decades. It’s a relic of a wave of feminism that has long past, a wave that you helped make irrelevant. You have often said that young women refuse to call themselves feminists because they don’t want to compromise their ability to get a date, but you know that’s no longer true. Beyoncé is one of the most desirable women in the world and she’s dancing in front of a 10-foot neon “feminist” sign. Further, because so many women in your generation paved the way for women at work, Millennial men are more likely than older generations to express pride in their mother’s career choices and credit her work-outside-the-home status with their expectations of equality in their relationships.
But I’m most surprised in your pessimism about young activists because I know you’ve seen and spoken to them yourself. When I went to see your conversation with Roberta Kaplan this summer at the New York Public Library, the crowd spanned three generations – a testament to your relevance. But the majority of the people who asked questions were young men and women: some in college and several in high school. These were 17-25 year olds who were just as (or more so) politically conscious and active than generations before. Not only were they unafraid to call themselves feminists (and to pay $25 to listen to a lawyer and 81 year old activist talk), they were thinking critically about changing the world. Because as far as we’ve come, thanks in large part to your work, as you know we still have a long way to go reach gender equality.
Which brings me to Hilary Clinton. I understand why you want her to be elected, and I don’t diminish what a historic and symbolic moment it would be to swear in the nation’s first woman president. It would be a huge symbol to have a woman in the most powerful leadership role in the country (and arguably the world), but we know that just as having a black man as president didn’t eliminate racism (it may have in fact emboldened more racists), a woman in the White House won’t fix institutional bias.
And we know that more equal representation means a healthier economy a happier world. But you of all people should be against telling women what that have to do. There are many valid reasons to vote for or against Hilary Clinton, and none of them have to do with her gender. Implying that someone should vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman (or that if they don’t vote for her they are a trader to their gender as Madeleine Albright implied) does the decades of political work she’s done a disservice.
Further, criticizing a woman for not voting for Clinton because she’s a woman contradicts the feminism that you have spent your life working for. Feminism is about trusting that women are fully formed human beings capable of making their own choices: about their work, their money, their bodies, and their vote. Even when they make decisions that you don’t agree with.