In 1975, the year I was born, First Lady Betty Ford supported the Equal Rights Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer exclude women from jury duty, and the National Organization for Women led a “Mother’s Day of Outrage” demonstration at the Apostolic Delegation to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. While all of that was going on, I was learning to crawl.
When my mother, a first-wave feminist, struggled to find adequate daycare for my older sister while she was working as a secretary for a construction firm in Albany, her boss, the president of the company, once pushed her up against the filing cabinets and groped her. When she protested he threatened to fire her.
My mom wasn’t an active feminist. She didn’t burn her bra or march in protest of an unfair system. But she was still a product of her times. By virtue of her sex, she experienced discrimination, humiliation, and a dearth of societal and political protections. A lot was gained for women during the height of the feminist movement, and my generation is a direct beneficiary. But like most people who haven’t had to personally struggle for something, I didn’t fully appreciate what women before me had sacrificed and fought for so that I could have more equal opportunities.
That all changed after I lived in Namibia, Africa, for a year. My time there challenged my views of feminism and gave me a clearer understanding of why many women from an earlier generation of feminism still clung to the idea that women need to support women simply because they are women, a belief that has been wielded like a weapon by Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright who, a few months ago, rebuked young women voters leaning toward Bernie Sanders.
This kind of shaming needs to be called out for what it is: a manipulation tactic to sway women voters toward Hillary Clinton. Anyone who has any sense of her own integrity would balk at that kind of tactic. I know I did even though I understand why many feminist women focus on supporting other women in positions of power.
In 2008, I was a foreign woman living in a country that had some antiquated beliefs about gender relations. I was shocked to discover aspects of myself that had until then been hidden from me.
After several weeks of feeling acutely aware of being a woman first and an individual second, I gravitated toward a few other expatriate women living in the city. We all banded together by the simple fact of our shared chromosomes. I wonder now if we would have become friends in another context. Maybe it was due to the fact that we felt safer and more empowered in the company of each other in a culture that was unfamiliar to us and at times in direct contrast to our experiences as women in our own cultures.
What I gained from that experience was a better understanding of why many first-wave feminists like Steinem and Albright feel so strongly about women supporting other women. There’s nothing wrong with offering support to women. However, I take issue with strident attacks of young women voters who sincerely believe that Bernie Sanders is the candidate that best represents their ideals.
On many feminist issues like health care, education, equal pay and the environment, Sanders is the best candidate to address them. Here’s why: On education, Sanders’s policies will reduce student debt and increase access to public colleges. He’s consistently fought to protect women’s health care and their right to choose. His health-care plan will help control generic drug prices and increase the availability of affordable medical and mental health care. Finally, Sanders backs GMO labeling legislation and is opposed to fracking, offshore drilling and Keystone XL — all-important issues to environmentalists.
Feminism has many definitions, but my message to women voters is vote on the issues and how you think each candidate will effectively address those issues. Don’t vote for Clinton because you think it’s her time or we need a female president or for any other reason that doesn’t take into account both candidates’ voting records and their stance on money and politics. Like many other women, I’d love to witness America’s first female president. I just want to believe in her, too.