That special place in Hell where they’re feeling the Bern.

Hillary Clinton has a young women problem. Young women, by definition of being young, are also included within the polling demographic that has recently overwhelmingly favored Senator Bernie Sanders in the Iowa Caucus. Young women, like young men, tend to prefer Sanders over Clinton with such intensity that has left many feminist proponents of identity politics wondering why.

It’s no secret that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign is making history with every turn. Her run as one of the field’s most viable candidates has her on track to become the first female president in American history, coming on the heels of the nation’s first African-American president.

But Clinton’s ascendency is in jeopardy without the support of a major demographic that many feel she should already have in the bag. So why aren’t young women supporting Hillary Clinton?

It could be that for young women, gender is no longer an influential factor in one’s identity.  Now, gender is something that only exists within an external context. Being a woman doesn’t mean what it used to. In this modern age of celebrated feminism, young women have grown up with the certainty that they are just as capable as men in areas of academics, sports, and society and we believe it. It’s possible that many young female voters no longer feel the need to identify as women.

However, the necessity of feminism is clearly seen when examining the role of women in the context of larger society. Sexism exists. Prejudice exists. Misogyny, patriarchy, and discrimination are all still vile practices that many women around the world must contend with daily. We know that this is still our fight and that while the world may be a better place, our work is not finished.

What the Hillary Clinton campaign is witnessing now is the freedom of thought, choice, and expression of women that the feminist movement has fought for years to achieve. Young women do not feel obligated to align with a woman simply for being a woman any more than they feel compelled to fit into traditional roles of femininity. Young women can choose to work inside the home, or outside of it. They can choose to marry or not to marry, to have children or not to have children. Most importantly, they can choose to vote for Hillary Clinton or to support someone else.

The fact that we’re even asking why women aren’t voting for a particular woman demonstrates the problematic paradigm of gender and advancement that we’re still forced to operate within. But even this recognition overlooks the complexity of the situation. Historically, men have benefitted from the fluidity of identity that has allowed them to choose to support other men, or to choose not to support certain men. Women haven’t had the same luxury. For such a long time, the mere opportunity to support a woman represented a rare change from the patriarchal status quo. The difference now is that modern young women no longer feel the need to support a female candidate for the simple fact that she is also a woman.

With regard to the shaming comments made earlier in the week by Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it is reductive to accuse young women of abandoning feminism by choosing not to support Hillary Clinton. It is pure sexism to accuse them of doing so based on the belief that the Sanders campaign is where the boys are, as Gloria Steinem recently said.  Although Steinem has since modified her statement, clarifying that she has no doubt that young women are capable of holding serious political views regardless of what boys are thinking, the damaging implications of her statement remain.

Unfortunately, the backlash of such negative feminism is not likely to have the intended effect on young women and certainly not the outcome that Hillary Clinton would have wanted. Instead, many women are choosing to ignore Secretary Albright’s declaration about the “special place in Hell” that awaits women who do not support other women, and have chosen to welcome the Bern.


  1. I love everything you had to say. I believe it is a thoughtful account of what is happening in today’s feminism, whether one call oneself a feminist or not. I would like to add that, as I stated to my students, to react to Albright and Steinem without placing their sentiments in historical context is not helping the conversation move forward – not allowing it to be a teachable moment for all of us. By this I mean, the people who are offended by the statements could, perhaps, consider these women come from a time when – as you made so clear – to not vote for a woman was regressive for feminism. Today, we have a different context and instead of the backlash, we can use it as a conversation that in some ways says, “Gloria (or Madeline), we get it but let me tell you why…” or perhaps, “Can explain your point further?”

    And, I know we may get to this conversation after the initial emotions calm a bit but I would love if the “seek first to understand and then be understood” principle were applied. I have said this to my students in regard to Black people who call others names such as “oreo”. It is reasonable to be offended but it will elevate the conversation to understand that historically there was purposeful animosity created between Blacks based on a hierarchy, which gave more privilege to those who could best emulate Whites. This has carried on without real reconciliation and comes out as internalized racism for some.

    If we want to change the conversation perhaps we can make efforts to hear the historical context (as you have done here) and then seek a place where we can move forward, recognizing that we are all working toward the same goal.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! You also raise great points about how both sides need to seek understand each other and find a path to the middle. My generation certainly owes a debt of respect to the women who came before us, but part of our advancement is freedom of choice. So far, Hillary Clinton’s promise that even if young people do not support her that she will support them has been her strongest, most effective statement on the issue.


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