For Super Tuesday, the Democratic primaries scheduled for March 1, women’s votes are expected to be a determining factor: women account for 52 percent of the country's electorate, and more women identify as Democrats than Republicans.
In this context, candidate Hillary Clinton has partly based her campaign on her image as an advocate for women’s rights. She has peppered her campaign with feminist rhetoric. Some of her proxies have even tried to make women voters feel guilty if they do not vote for her out of “gender solidarity,” like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
Yet, her efforts have not paid off, especially among younger women in the U.S., who thus far have clearly prefered her rival Senator Bernie Sanders. In the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, between 82-84 percent of Democratic women under the age of 30 voted for the Vermont senator.
What can explain such a wholesale rejection of Clinton by young women?
1. How feminist is Clinton as a woman?
Clinton has tried to present her successful professional career itself as a triumph of feminism, suggesting that winning the Democratic primaries and then the U.S. presidency would represent a victory for all women.
But today the argument of living as a woman in a sexist world, and as a result only voting for a woman like Clinton can lead to emancipation, is failing to resonate with younger women.
In the opinion of many radical groups, Clinton’s character and decisions as a policymaker have disqualified her from her feminist claim.
The way Clinton reacted to allegations about her husband's sexual misconduct when he was running office in 1992 has been a recurrent target of such groups, as Hillary is reported to have said “these women are trash. Nobody’s going to believe them.”
2. Is Sanders’ program more feminist than Clinton’s?
Gloria Steinem recently said that young women supported Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.”
However, more importantly it seems that young women just plainly believe that Sanders' progressive economic social programs will do much more for them than Clinton’s moderate ones.
Furthermore, as a senator and secretary of state, she consistently supported policies that were harmful to women, claim radical feminist organizations.
Among these critical groups is AF3IRM, a U.S. transnational feminist organization, made up primarily of women of color, a population more severely impacted by poverty in the U.S.
AF3IRM National Chair Jollene Levid told teleSUR that Clinton's policies directly or indirectly had devastating effects on poor people and especially women, citing for instance her support for the escalation of the war on drugs, for the gutting of welfare programs in the 1990s, and more recently for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Clinton's Foreign Policy Hypocrisy! Not good 4 Women. Do Feminists Support Coups? Honduran Women on Hillary Clinton https://t.co/a2O4Odi72v— Raina Petkoff (@MrsCheveley) February 29, 2016
With the TPP, Clinton has not just affected women within the United States but also abroad, said Levid.
He also supports the legalization of sex work, gaining support among a certain faction of feminists.
“(We support Sanders) because we think he best encompasses our feminist beliefs,” said “Mistress Simone” to Mediaite. “Hillary doesn’t support legalizing sex work, so it’d be ridiculous for us to support someone who doesn’t acknowledge our autonomy and would rather see prostitutes arrested than respected.”
Mistress Simone and other dominatrixes even engaged in a campaign offering to give $US27 spankings to Wall Street traders, with the money then donated directly to Sanders’ campaign.
Special offer from dominatrices: "Ask for the $27 Bernie special and get spanked for 15mins!" No really. It's real. https://t.co/sibzbLy0Tn— Deepanjana Pal (@dpanjana) February 24, 2016
3. A generation divide and a change in feminist thought?
First, age seems to be an important factor not only with young women but also with young men, partly because the youth is in general more open to idealistic and radical ideas, which is what Sanders has been pushing on the campaign trail.
Clinton, on the other hand, represents a more conservative trend that she even openly embraced in a 1996 NPR interview that recently resurfaced.
“I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with,” she said then, adding she was “very proud (she) was a Goldwater girl” — referring to her involvement in Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.
As for women, the generation divide plays an even greater role: for older generations, the idea of having a woman president would symbolically represent a thrilling victory; but for younger generations who obtained most of the privileges their mothers were fighting for, the gender of their future president is less relevant than the actual political program.
“For my grandma, my mom, my aunt, having a woman president is really important,” Sanders supporter Clare Salerno told The Times. “I haven’t been in the workplace, I haven’t really felt that.”
This new generation of feminists insists on the importance of “intersectionality” — meaning that gender is so intertwined with other social identities like race and class that it’s impossible to prioritize one over another.
Yet Clinton strikingly “lacks intersectionality,” said Levid. She “represents corporate, neoliberal, white feminism,” and “has a class interest,” she added, alluding for instance to Clinton’s involvement on the Walmart Board, a position which isolates her from the core of women involved at AF3IRM who are “living on a minimum wage.”
If Clinton wins the nomination, which many analysts say appears likely leading up to Super Tuesday, progressive feminists, especially young ones, will have an easier choice choosing between her and any of the Republican candidates.