Election 2016

Younger Women Not Voting for Hillary Because She Killed Feminism

In the 1990s, Clinton, Madeleine Albright, and even Gloria Steinem sacrificed principle for political advantage.


One of the more-interesting elements of Election 2016 is the genuinely weak rapport Hillary Clinton has with young, liberal, feminists voters of either sex (let's assume that most Democratic voters are feminists for the moment).

The former senator and secretary of state got walloped in Iowa and New Hampshire among folks south of 50 years old. In Iowa, for instance, Bernie Sanders won a whopping 84 percent of the vote in the 18 to 29 year-old range. In New Hampshire, the same thing happened. In fact, she only grabbed 24 percent of the under-44 vote! When it comes to women only, Hillary barely won the female vote in Iowa (53 percent) and lost it badly in New Hampshire (44 percent). No wonder there's a bunch of stories out there about Clinton's failing support among lady voters, even after Madeleine Albright threatened eternal damnation to women who didn't vote for Clinton.

Why aren't women en masse—or at least in Democratic primaries and polls—flocking in support of the first female president in U.S. history? Is it that "intersectionality" (the idea that race, class, and gender are so intertwined that even self-identified feminists no longer care first and foremost about gender) now reigns supreme in terms of cultural and political identity? Is it that women have achieved enough equality that the lure of voting for the first female president isn't as big a deal as it would have been even 10 years ago? Is it ageism? Or lack of gratitude by younger women for the struggles their mothers and grandmothers went through?

Or is it, as Maureen Dowd argues in The New York Times, a result of the leading role that Hillary Clinton played in revealing "feminism" to be a cyncial cover for more-important Democratic Party interests?

Hillary and Bill killed the integrity of institutional feminism back in the '90s — with the help of Albright and [NOW co-founder Gloria] Steinem.

Instead of just admitting that he had had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and taking his lumps, Bill lied and hid behind the skirts of his wife and female cabinet members, who had to go out before the cameras and vouch for his veracity, even when it was apparent he was lying.

Seeing Albright, the first female secretary of state, give cover to President Clinton was a low point in women's rights. As was the New York Times op-ed by Steinem, arguing that Lewinsky's will was not violated, so no feminist principles were violated. What about Clinton humiliating his wife and daughter and female cabinet members? What about a president taking advantage of a gargantuan power imbalance with a 22-year-old intern? What about imperiling his party with reckless behavior that put their feminist agenda at risk?

To be sure, Dowd, who made her bones as a national columnist skewering the Clintons during the 1990s, goes easy on herself (she was hardly above slut-shaming and even fat-shaming Monica Lewinsky back in the day). But she is rightly unsparing when it comes to Clinton, Albright, and the rest:

Hillary knew that she could count on the complicity of feminist leaders and Democratic women in Congress who liked Bill's progressive policies on women. And that's always the ugly Faustian bargain with the Clintons, not only on the sex cover-ups but the money grabs: You can have our bright public service side as long as you accept our dark sketchy side.

Young women today, though, are playing by a different set of rules. And they don't like the Clintons setting themselves above the rules.

Read more here.

In Dowd's telling, then, Hillary Clinton is not pulling stronger support from women (especially younger women) not because they are ungrateful but because they choose not to be the tool of a candidate who quickly tossed feminist concerns overboard when it mattered most.

That's a rare and flattering depiction of part of the American electorate (which reporters usually chide for being dumber than a bag of rocks). And it rings pretty true, too. None of it means that Clinton won't win among women in the general election or that she is somehow less suited to be president than various other candidates for various other reasons. But it suggests that past actions can't simply be willed away, which is a lesson all politicians should take to heart.