In Defense of Young Women Who Support Sanders

I am a woman. I am an independent voter who leans liberal. I am a feminist. And I support Bernie Sanders.

Because of that, according to the first female secretary of state Madeleine Albright, there’s a “special place in Hell for” me.[1]

According to Gloria Steinem, a leader of the feminist movement, I’m only supporting Sanders for “the boys.”[2]

As the lead for the democratic nomination tightens, the race between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has intensified, and a clear generational divide among female voters has emerged. An astounding 84% of 18- to 30-year-old women supported Sanders in the the Iowa entrance polls, compared to 14% for Clinton. For women ages 45-54, however, Clinton had the majority with 58% of the vote, compared to 35% for Sanders. Among women 65 years old and over, Clinton led with a greater majority at 69%, compared to 26% for Sanders.[3]

Unfortunately, as these demographic divisions became clear, some prominent Clinton supporters, such as Albright and Steinem, resorted to shaming fellow women in an attempt to rally support for their candidate.

It is very hurtful, to say the least, to see women whom I consider to be my heroes and role models belittle and chide young women who support Sanders, myself included, as if we are dim-witted, foolish little girls who need to sit in the corner and take a time-out.

Albright’s comments came while she was introducing Clinton at a rally in New Hampshire on February 6. In an allusion to the political revolution that Sanders often advocates for, Albright said that the true revolution would come by electing the first female commander-in-chief.

“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done,” said Albright. “It’s not done. There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other!”[4]

First off, if Albright thinks I’m supporting Sanders because I believe that we have achieved gender equality, then she is sadly mistaken. I’m well aware of the alarming underrepresentation of women in politics. Despite women accounting for over half of the country’s population, they make up a mere 19.4% of Congress.[5] Not to mention, women make up only 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs.[6]

As a women enrolled in college, I am haunted by the alarmingly low rate of women in positions of leadership. I often worry that my college degree, in a world of unequal opportunity and job discrimination, will not be worth the hefty price my parents are paying for it.

Secondly, it is mind-boggling that blindly supporting Clinton based on her gender is being posed as the intelligent voting decision, while examining the issues and siding with a like-minded candidate is being portrayed as foolish.

If anything, the notion that all women should blindly support Clinton simply because she is a woman is idiotic. Where was this thinking when former Alaska governor Sarah Palin was running for vice president with John McCain in 2008? What about former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who, up until recently, was running for the GOP nomination? I was never told that not supporting Palin or Fiorina made me deserving of a spot in Hell. Is it really that Clinton is the only woman on Earth who is deserving of the unconditional support of an entire half of the population?

Steinem’s remarks, which she has since publicly apologized for, came during a Feb. 5 interview with “Real Time” talk show host Bill Maher, who asked her why Clinton was not polling well among young women.

“They’re going to get more activist as they get older,” Steinem said. “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”[7]

Steinem’s rebuke hit me especially hard, as I considered her one of my greatest role models. I had just finished reading her newest book “My Life on the Road” about a week before, and I was already excitedly encouraging my close friends to read the book for themselves. Steinem spoke at Northeastern a couple of weeks ago, and I was heartbroken when I couldn’t attend because the event conflicted with my work schedule.

Reading Steinem’s remarks felt a lot like betrayal. It was like having my own hero stab me in the back. The leader of the feminist movement essentially told me that she believed I was following Sanders because I can’t think for myself, and because my top priority in life is attracting men. Ouch.

Contrary to Steinem’s comments, however, I am not supporting Sanders for “the boys.” My decision to support Sanders isn’t one I made hastily. I’ve watched nearly every debate between both Democratic and Republican candidates. I’ve read countless articles about the presidential race, and I’ve researched Clinton and Sanders’ specific stances on policy issues.

Portraying young female voters who side with Sanders as mindless, uneducated, and naive is a disturbingly sexist comment for a leader of the feminist movement to be making. More so, the implication that women only become activist when they are older is insulting. At Northeastern, I am surrounded by so many intelligent, ambitious, passionate women who are strong social justice leaders, feminists, and activists.

In a later Facebook post, Steinem said she misspoke on the show, writing, “I apologize for what’s been misinterpreted as implying young women aren’t serious in their politics…Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.”[8]

The worst part of Albright and Steinem’s comments, however, was that they unnecessarily pit women against each other, which directly contradicts  the values of empowerment and respect that the feminist movement embodies. I don’t believe in casting off women who don’t agree with my political viewpoints as stupid or silly. We should be empowering women to use their voices and to exercise their democratic rights to support the candidate with whom they identify most– not bullying them into conforming to a single, ill-fitting narrative.

There are a number of reasons why I prefer Sanders to Clinton, and none of them have to do with scoring points with “the boys” or a belief that the fight for gender equality is somehow over. I value Sanders’ strong platforms on income inequality, climate change, the cost of higher education, and Black Lives Matter. In areas where Clinton and Sanders especially deviate, on issues like Wall Street, super PACs, and gun control, my viewpoints stray away from Clinton and closer to Sanders.

And, you might be surprised to hear, the issues that I value most for this upcoming election revolve around women’s issues. In the fall, I attended a Sanders’ rally in Boston and watched as the senator spoke passionately and at length about the gender pay gap and the war on women’s right to their own bodies in the form of access to contraception and abortion services.

Additionally, income inequality, Sanders’ top priority, is disproportionately a women’s issue, with 55.6% of the 45.3 million people living in poverty being women and girls.[9] Poverty also disproportionately affects single mothers, with 4.24 million single mothers living in poverty in the U.S., compared to 404,000 single fathers.[10]

I support Sanders because his platforms address the issues that are important to me, including women’s issues. I know countless young women who likewise support Sanders because they side with his platforms and with his ideologies.

Of course I think it’s ridiculous that it’s 2016 and we haven’t had a female president. Of course I am dismayed by the pitiful representation of women in politics and in the workforce. I sympathize with older women who believe this is their last chance to see a woman at the head of the White House, as I do feel like I still have all the time in the world to see a female president. I respect Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, and, yes, Hillary Clinton, for all of their trailblazing on behalf of women everywhere.

My problems with Clinton have nothing to do with being brainwashed by the men around me or being infected with sexism on a subconscious level. I will always defend her when she is the recipient of unfair sexist attacks. No, I don’t think it’s relevant to comment on her looks, weight, or age. Let’s talk about her voting history, her political successes, and campaign platforms. No, I don’t think she’s bossy, abrasive, or a bitch. I think she’s a leader. No, I do not believe that her husband’s infidelities are a reflection on her. Those indiscretions and, arguably, abuses of power, are on him.

I believe that she is smart, strong, and qualified. Clinton would make a good president, but the candidate who I truly believe is going to make a difference for the country, and for the women in it, is Bernie Sanders.



[1] Rappeport, Alan. “Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright Rebuke Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders.” The New York Times, February 7, 2016.

[2] Rappeport, Alan. “Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright Rebuke Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders.” The New York Times, February 7, 2016.

[3] Brownstein, Ronald. “The Great Democratic Age Gap.” The Atlantic, February 2, 2016.

[4] Rappeport, Alan. “Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright Rebuke Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders.” The New York Times, February 7, 2016.

[5] “Women in. U.S. Congress 2015.” Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, 2015.

[6] Warner, Judith. “Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap.” Center for American Progress, March 7, 2014.

[7] Watkins, Eli. “Gloria Steinem apologizes for female Sanders supporters remark.” CNN, February 7, 2016.

[8] Steinem, Gloria. Facebook, February 7, 2016.

[9] “Poverty.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

[10] “Single mothers much more likely to live in poverty than single fathers, study finds.”, August 31, 2015.

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