There was something poignant (and grotesque) about the ‘scolding’ that Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem gave younger American women this week. The subject was Hillary and the support that female voters—as women—supposedly owe her. The tone was dire yet dismissive. Madeleine Albright, revered for her achievements as a diplomat, essentially threatened wayward women with punishment, warning that if they didn’t ‘help’ Hillary they would go to hell. Gloria Steinem, now a shocking 81, relied on sexual stereotyping to explain why some young women have chosen to vote for Bernie. These women, she claimed, care only about ‘where the boys are’—lemming-like, they have gravitated to Sanders because ‘the boys are with Bernie.’ In other words, young women in Sanders’ camp suffer from an out-of-control sex drive! Both Albright and Steinem asserted in different ways that young women had forgotten their rightful duty, which, in the eyes of older feminists, is to practice sex solidarity. This tenet, so central to first-generation feminism, is outmoded and deeply unpalatable.
The desperate awkwardness of these protests points up a problem that Hillary is having. How does her sex, how does the women’s movement, figure in her campaign? Hillary never was much of a bra-burner; she never wasted much time railing against society’s constraints or male tyranny. Instead, she crossed over early, believing that doors were open and assuming that full equality and freedom were hers. She carved out a remarkable path, relying more on her own grit and talents than on the dictates of feminist ideology.
In some profound sense, Hillary is not free to tell her story, which is that of a woman who has been more in the public eye for more of her life than any other woman in American history. Contrary to Steinem’s assumption about the fate of women, Hillary has not ‘lost power’ as she’s aged. Instead, Clinton is one of the most well-known and powerful women on the face of the globe.
As Clinton has grown more unusual, more distinguished, and more famous, her capacity to pass as a representative woman has inevitably waned. The fact is one to reckon with in the remaining campaign.