Why supporting Bernie Sanders is NOT anti-feminist

Women are being shamed for supporting a candidate other than Hillary, and it needs to end now

Two well-known and respected feminists, Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and author/activist Gloria Steinem, have recently sent a disparaging message to young, Democratic women across America: a vote for a Bernie Sanders presidency is a betrayal of your own gender, simply because the alternative candidate is a woman. Feel that guilt? That shame? You should, because your moral obligation was to support the female candidate at all costs, and you have failed. You have failed as a woman, and you have certainly failed as a feminist.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Let me tell you why this argument is not only fallacious, but also incredibly damaging for women to internalize.

Madeleine Albright campaigns for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other,” Albright told the audience of a campaign event for Hillary Clinton recently. Clinton’s reaction was to stand by, laughing and applauding with the audience. When asked about this moment in subsequent interviews, Clinton chose to laugh off questions and defend Albright’s statement, calling it a “lighthearted but very pointed remark, which people can take however they choose.”

In the eyes of many, including me, this was a huge misstep.

To anyone watching Albright convey this message — to the audience of Hillary Clinton rally, as a Hillary Clinton supporter herself — the meaning behind her words is clear. It isn’t hard to interpret this message as a warning to female voters. The warning: by not supporting Hillary, the woman candidate, you’re willingly carving out your very own portion of un-feminist hell.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair of me to go on without mentioning that Madeleine Albright has been using this same “special place in hell” line for many, many years. However, she has always used it in the context of encouraging women to stand up and unite in the fight against the oppressive patriarchy, not encouraging women to vote for a certain political figure.

In fact, when Sarah Palin quoted (well, misquoted) the line during her run for vice president in 2008, Albright actually spoke out against the use of her words to gain political favor. In her own words: “What I said had nothing to do with politics.” (!)

…Hate to break it to you, Madam Secretary, but you’ve made it about politics.

And unfortunately, many Clinton supporters have adopted the narrative that she deserves your vote simply “because we need a woman in the White House.” This argument, that supporting the candidate who best represents your values is less important than supporting the candidate who is of the female gender, is shameful and defeats the purpose of feminism entirely.

Democratic presidential candidates Sanders and Clinton at the Jan. 17 debate in Charleston, S.C.

Around the same time Madeleine Albright made this dangerously misplaced comment, another feminist icon had her own message for Bernie Sanders supporters. Gloria Steinem, author and advocate for women’s rights, also belongs to an older feminist generation. She is widely celebrated as a feminist icon who has contributed to the long-fought battle for gender equality in America.

Recently, however, Steinem stated on Bill Maher’s show that young women support Sanders over Clinton so they can meet boys.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”
Gloria Steinem, leader of the ’60s feminist movement, on Real Time with Bill Maher

To imply that the primary motive of female Sanders supporters is to meet, impress or gain favor from boys is deeply insulting and inherently sexist. It is also absolutely inexplicable coming from a widely-respected feminist leader like Steinem.

Young women do not support the Sanders campaign because they want attention. They support Sanders because of his ideas, and they truly believe that his platform would be more beneficial for women than Clinton’s.

(Interestingly/weirdly enough, Steinem actually endorsed and campaigned for Sanders during his run for congressional re-election in 1996, even going so far as to declare him “an honorary woman.”)

Model/actress Emily Ratajkowski, who has been shamed for expressing her political voice by publicly supporting Sanders, addressed Steinem’s controversial comment during an introductory speech for Sanders at one of his rallies:

“Just to make one thing clear, I’m here to support Bernie Sanders, not for the boys.”

Women like Ratajkowski speaking up to disprove this notion that Hillary is somehow entitled to the female vote is important, because it solidifies the fact that women have a right to have and express their own independent political opinion. No female voter should feel shamed into voting for a particular candidate simply because others are telling them to do so. The very core of feminism is reliant upon the empowerment of the female identity and her ability to choose.

See Bernie Sanders’ stances on women’s rights here, and decide for yourself

Albright and Steinem are among the many women over the past century who have helped blaze a trail for American women to make their own choices. This is why I am so confused and saddened by the recent comments of these women, whose accomplishments for women were revolutionary. Iconic feminists making markedly anti-feminist statements is perplexing at best. Unfortunately, this points to a divide in the line of thought between feminists of an older generation and the younger feminists of today.

The election of our first female president will surely be a historical moment for society, just as electing our first African-American president was in 2008. But it is imperative that this first woman, whoever she may be, becomes president because she was the best candidate.

Belonging to the female gender is not a political strategy. A woman in the Oval Office is not a fix-all to women’s problems in America. The platform matters.So ladies, do yourself a favor and set down this “anti-Hillary = anti-woman” narrative you are hearing. Now back away slowly. Repeat after me: this is not modern feminism.

Thankfully, women today can proudly exercise their constitutional right to make their own decisions independently of men. The establishment of women’s suffrage (less than 100 years ago, I might add) allowed crucial voices to be heard in our democracy that were not heard before. We should be recognizing the importance of this privilege by taking full advantage of it; and by mindfully choosing which candidate’s platforms best reflect our own personal values and showing up to the polls to support them.

I will continue to make decisions based on my own volition. If men can do it, so can we. That is at the very core of what feminism is: women are their own independent people with valid thoughts and ideas which they should be free to express. Let’s vote on the issues. Let’s vote on our values, and our hopes for the future. But let’s not vote on gender.

Vote for the candidate who reflects your values — but most importantly, get out there and VOTE!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Laina Stebbins’s story.