"The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn," Gloria Steinem.
When I read what Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright had said about young women voters last week, it felt like I had been the victim of a personal attack. In case you somehow missed it, their comments were as follows:
Madeleine Albright introducing Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire rally: “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done,” Albright stated, regarding equality. “It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Yikes. Albright has been spouting this quote for years, and I don't think it's ever been very productive. It's true that women are notorious for competing with each other and dragging one another down for less-than-pure reasons, and in that regard the quote is very well-placed. But the expectation of blind support is unrealistic and unfair.
Gloria Steinem was even more offensive, if you can believe it, when she told Bill Maher, "When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie."
Those comments sound like something Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman would say; not two of the most influential icons of the women's rights movement.
For reference, in the unforgivable event that you are unaware of who these two women are, a brief history:
Gloria Marie Steinem (Wikipedia): Born March 25, 1934 is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader and spokeswoman for the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 70s.
She was a columnist for New York magazine and a founder of Ms. magazine. In 1969, she published an article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation," which brought her to national fame as a feminist leader.
Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright (Wikipedia) born Marie Jana Korbelová; May 15, 1937: An American politician and diplomat. She is the first woman to have become the United States Secretary of State. She was nominated by U.S. President Bill Clinton on December 5, 1996, and was unanimously confirmed by a U.S. Senate vote of 99–0. She was sworn in on January 23, 1997.
Albright currently serves as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group and as a professor of International Relations at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. She holds a PhD from Columbia University and numerous honorary degrees. In May 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama. Secretary Albright also serves as a director on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Waking up to the firestorm of outrage from feminists and anti-feminists alike was a jarring experience. How could these icons have made such staggering blunders at essentially the same time? Did they even consider how damaging those comments were to young, impressionable women already struggling with tying themselves to a "controversial" movement?
Feminism has always been a bad word. If you bear the brand proudly, you're automatically considered to be unreasonable and aggressive. If you refuse to claim it as your own outright, you're a woman hater. Extremists exist on both sides of the picket line, make no mistake about that. That is why Steinem and Albright's statements cut so deeply.
As a loud and proud feminist, I have decided that suffering the "consequences" of the title is worth the trouble. It is worth it to always stand up for the rights of my sisters. It is worth it to challenge the status quo and refuse to sit idly by when witnessing inequality. It is worth it to raise my young daughters to know in their bones that they are capable of any and all things that they value enough to work tirelessly for. But, most importantly, it is worth it to demand that ALL sides of the feminist movement, both supporters and opponents, understand that the foundation of feminism rests, pure and simply, on choice.
The right to CHOOSE what happens to my own body. The right to CHOOSE when, with whom and how often I have sex. The right to CHOOSE my future, and have a fighting chance at achieving it against my equally qualified and experienced male counterparts. The right to CHOOSE who I support, man, woman or otherwise.
As with everything important, judgment is never far behind. But when we as feminists start judging one another, our enemies win. Infighting and belittling does nothing to further our movement, and everything to halt it in its tracks. Supporting a female presidential candidate simply because she is a woman follows the same narrow minded way of thinking that we've been battling for nearly a century.
I can almost understand where Albright and Steinem are coming from. They have dedicated their lives to the feminist cause. Their entire professional careers have been spent helping to further the possibilities for women in positions of power. Helping to get a woman into the Oval Office would likely feel like a life well spent. The ultimate payoff for decades of dedication and hard work. They are so close they can taste it, I get it. I do.
But I cannot and will not forfeit my core beliefs to blindly support a woman for no other reason than she has a vagina. I WANT a woman president. I want a woman to at least have a shot at every single position of authority throughout the entire country; no, the world. But what I want even more than that is a woman in the running that I can relate to. One that instills passion in me, that inspires me to knock on strangers' doors to deliver pamphlets. Someone like Elizabeth Warren, for instance.
The thoughts expressed by Steinem and Albright are so incredibly dangerous. Did they consider the flip side of their plight? Sarah Palin. Carly Fiorina. Michelle Bachman. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. These women give the entire gender a bad name, but they are women, nonetheless. Am I going to hell because I don't want any of the aforementioned females anywhere near the legislative process? Sure their ideals differ greatly from Steinem and Albright's, but they are all women. This expectation expressed by Albright is unrealistic and damaging on a catastrophic level.
Shonda Rhimes gets it, though, because of course she does:
This tactic is manipulation, pure and simple. It is using our own insecurities against us and making us feel like feminist failures if we dare to have independent thoughts and ideas. It feels as though the feminist leaders have stepped into the role of belittling member of the patriarchy, and that is something I will not tolerate.
I do not presume to speak for everyone, but I think Hillary makes some of us uneasy because she is part of the political establishment. She's been very hesitant to speak on tough Wall Street regulations and does not seem to want to identify herself with any of the important civil rights movements taking place in the country right now. The fact that Senator Sanders has said outright that he supports Black Lives Matter, as well as Planned Parenthood and gay marriage, proves that he isn't afraid to ruffle feathers. He will fight for us and damn the consequences.
He does not have Super PACs or big donors pulling his strings. After his New Hampshire primary win, he raised $6.4 million in 24 hours, the average donation being just $34 dollars. Sanders has inspired a true grassroots movement, "for the people, by the people," as it were.
Clinton has big money and the establishment behind her. And that isn't a bad thing, by any means. She is funding her campaign the way nearly every other successful candidate has. But the state of this country has some of us feeling disenfranchised by the old ways. We are ready for a political revolution. We are ready for someone who is willing to stand up to the greed that feeds our nation and make sure we are focusing on the things in this world that actually matter.
Do not get me wrong: if Clinton wins the candidacy, I will support her fully. Call it what you want, but it would take an awful lot for me to ever throw my support behind a Republican; at least in an election this important. Not to mention, the current candidates don't inspire much trust. But at the end of the day, I want a candidate on my side that has the best chance of winning. Maybe that isn't Sanders, but I'm not sure that it's Clinton, either. She is as hated as she is beloved. The fact that she's a woman influences many people, whether they admit to it or not. When you ask someone why they hate someone as fiercely as they do Clinton, a response of, "I just don't trust her" doesn't cut it. You don't trust her because she's a woman. It's okay. Just own it.
This article spawned from a conversation with one of my male writers. He asked if he could write a reaction piece to the comments made by "Madeleine Albright and that other lady." I knew he meant well, he was appalled by the statements, too. But that one simple phrase told me all I needed to know. Despite the fact that I do count Matt as a feminist ally, anyone who could refer to Gloria Steinem as "that other lady" could never fully grasp the female perspective of this incident. He would never have even thought to wonder what the complex effect of such noteworthy women slapping feminists across the face the world over would be. He's never had to. This isn't meant to be a personal attack on him in any way, and I sincerely appreciate his alliance; and I cannot fully blame him for not seeing that side of it, because he's never been expected to.
Men like to think that feminists are a bunch of dramatic over reactors, but it's just because they've never walked in our shoes. I have to believe that if we took the time to calmly educate them they'd be a little more considerate with their actions and words.
That is why I suggested we write dueling opinion pieces, instead. I thought it would be an interesting contrast to see how varied the outlooks may be.
As the Editor-in-Chief at PopWrapped, and a manager at my other job, I am all-too-aware of the delicate balancing act that is being a successful female professional. Every day I find myself trying to reel myself in. To find the balance between being firm and standing my ground, while also being adaptable and rolling with it. To being myself and finding a good rapport with my heavily male-dominated peers and superiors, while also holding back my natural vulgarity and bluntness. The longer we work together, the easier it becomes to strike that balance, but it's exhausting always trying to censor yourself, believe me.
Feminism has instilled in me the strength and courage to feel as though I even have to right to try and find that balance. Women like Steinem and Albright have paved a brilliant path for all of us who believe that satisfaction and happiness can be found outside the home, as well as within. All of their good work and accomplishments will not be erased by these two thoughtless comments; but we also cannot ignore them and simply let blunders like this go by unchallenged. We challenge each other because we care enough about the movement and the importance of feminism in general to face these uncomfortable situations head on and with respect.
Mudslinging and hate are beneath us. Respect the fact that your sisters have the strength of mind to stand up for what they believe in. It's the only way we can continue to grow, thrive and ultimately change for the better.