Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
IN DEFENSE OF GLORIA
I’m willing to bet that if you listened closely, you could hear my little heart break in Boston all the way from New Hampshire this past week as I watched the now infamous clip of Gloria Steinem and Bill Maher discussing presidential politics on Real Time With Bill Maher. My heart broke in part because I was offended by Gloria’s implications that young women who support Senator Sanders are doing so because they’re trying to get male attention; in part because Bill Maher is a slimy TV host; in part because I knew Gloria did not mean what she had said; and in part because I could foresee a shitstorm of anti-Hillary propaganda clogging up my newsfeeds for the next while, as a result of it. Have no fear, reader; I will get to why Gloria was wrong soon enough. For now, however, I have to take the opportunity to defend my idol against the avalanche of bitter claims that have been hurled against her in reaction to the soundbite. If you’ll recall, way back in September, I sat on Steinem’s couch alongside a few other members of Team THINX. We chatted with her about the future of menstruation- and health-focused feminism. We snuggled up close to her for photographs, and I dissected my own writing pieces with her careful guidance. We answered her thoughtful questions about our youthful relationship to activism, and we indulged her curiosity and appreciation for millennial feminism. She proved to me (though I needed little convincing) her true character behind the press and the book tours and the textbooks--in direct contrast to the assumptions made about her that I have seen in the aftermath of this mess. She proved to me that A) she deeply admires and has a desire to understand the work that young women are currently doing for their fellow woman, B) she never assumed the feminist movement belonged to her, in spite of media attempts to make her the “face of feminism,” and C) has always embraced a flexible and intersectional feminism. The woman would never seriously think that young women are absentmindedly following the six-pack abs to the polls and drooling all over their ballots instead of voting with their heads. Never. Seriously, she may be 81 but she is *nowhere near* that out of touch. It was an awful comment, no doubt blown out of proportion by media (if it’s any consolation, she had just finished praising millennial feminist activism when she slipped and insulted the Bernie Babes), but it truly does not represent Steinem’s personal beliefs about young women, nor does it reflect the beliefs of the Hillary camp. Ok. Had to get that off my chest.
IN DEFENSE OF BERNIE BABES
I go to college with remarkable and intelligent young women, a majority of whom passionately feel the Bern. They range in race and ethnicity and physical ability and socioeconomic status and sexual identity and every other way in between. They are not a monolith and they each have their own reasons for supporting Senator Sanders over former Secretary Clinton. I don’t agree with them and I don’t think I could ever fully understand where many of them are coming from--I’ll be upfront about how I can’t fathom not having the impulse to enthusiastically support a progressive woman candidate with the most experience, intelligence, and diplomatic skill, whether she be Hillary or another woman in a parallel universe--but that doesn’t mean I would reduce their reasoning to a lapse in judgment. It just means we have different approaches to feminism. As badass boss lady Miki delineated this past week, part of the beauty of contemporary feminism is the vastness and variety in experiences, interpretations, and practices that it gets sifted through by the women who have incorporated it into their identities. I have the highest degree of respect for my classmates and peers and sisters who have found their soul-candidate in Bernie, and I know without question that they came to their decisions based on research and legitimate reasoning. He represents a brand of feminism that women like me don’t always understand, but do respect, and I’m sure Gloria would agree. Strong, smart female voices should never be downplayed or erased, independent of which candidate they are supporting.
IN DEFENSE OF HILLARY HONEYS
It has been interesting as a self-identified Hillary Honey, however, to watch Bernie Babes undergo what I’ve undergone for the past few months in the form of the public undermining and delegitimizing of their political motives. All along the unpaved and overgrown path of this bumpy election season, Hillary Honeys like myself have been criticized and belittled for daring to consider gender within our politics. But I’m about to get real here: Hillary Clinton’s womanness is of course important to me in this race. Electing a woman to (arguably) the most powerful office in the world is an aggressively huge deal, whether you want to admit it or not. There is a severe representation problem within our government that has colored and haunted our politics since the signing of the Declaration of Independence--actually long before that. As the country that is supposedly at the helm of the “Free World”, it’s unreasonable that we’ve never even approached an equal, representative governing body in any of our 227 years in existence. And, all the while, the U.S.’s penchant for espousing hypocritical rhetoric about our progressivism remains about as robust and unapologetic as our love for processed meats.
At a critical moment in politics where reproductive justice is threatened at every turn--be it state or federal or even personal levels--and women are essentially being punished for simply being women who seek human experiences like sex--it is irresponsible and insulting to tell female voters that gender shouldn’t matter in their vote. If people want to pretend that gender is not of importance in this election, or that gender is not as important as “other” issues; if people want to tell me that gender can take yet another backseat in this election, I ask them to kindly reflect on what they’re asking of me, and what they’re asking of a movement. I believe it is here that women like Steinem are kind of... losing their shit, if you will. You’re telling women who have been on the frontlines of gender politics for actual generations that, “Oh yeah, that gender thing is gonna have to wait again. Put it on the shelf with the Equal Rights Amendment. We’ll get to it eventually.” That’s frustrating as hell. The climax of this decades-long movement is right at our fingertips--yup, I’m talking abotu the political revolution in the form of a brilliant and capable female leader--and yet, many young voters (my peers) are either not interested or are actively trying to dismantle it. I feel the frustration there. I more than empathize. It has kept me up at night, it has brought me to tears. And while I entirely admire Senator Sanders and his version of a political revolution, I am not willing to concede that getting Hillary Clinton to the Oval Office would be un-revolutionary. I am not willing to fold on that. I am given the chance here to elect a woman who upholds my values, and increasingly represents an intersectional feminism that I know should be leading this country into the future, and it’s a chance I will boldly take. She certainly has more work to be done (lookin’ at welfare reform, Hill!), but I’m thoroughly and wholeheartedly with her.
IN DEFENSE OF POLITICAL LADIES AROUND DA WORL’
Just for a second, imagine yourself in a world where media outlets didn’t constantly try to tear apart female voices. Imagine yourself in a world where those same female voices weren’t warped and molded into discourses of disconnect, animosity, or “cattiness.” Imagine a world where instead of digging for reasons to separate women, we simply appreciated the political involvement that we see from our sisters. Imagine a world where we could all just sit back and shake each other’s hands for participating in politics. For being engaged. For being independent. For being smart and brave. Imagine a world where Hillary Honeys and Bernie Babes and Christie Chicks and Fiorina Females and Bush Broads (and all the rest of ‘em with names that are harder to play with) supported one another for subverting the patriarchy simply with our commitment to political action. And now, for the second time in this one piece, I am willing to bet on something else: I am willing to bet that, despite our superficial political differences, we’re all striving for that world one in the same. So let’s take one out of Queen Bey’s bag of tricks and get in formation.