Young Women Still Aren’t Flocking to Hillary Clinton—Here’s Why

Politics Features Hillary Clinton
Young Women Still Aren’t Flocking to Hillary Clinton—Here’s Why

Hillary Clinton has a serious problem: young women aren’t flocking to her campaign. A national poll from Reuters shows that only 28% of young progressive women support Hillary Clinton. In the Nevada caucuses, entrance-polls showed only 22% of women under the age of 45 supported Hillary Clinton, whereas 73% supported Bernie Sanders. This pattern isn’t specific to Nevada; it seems to hold in many of the previous primaries and caucuses, even in the states that Clinton won. The question is, why are women progressive not supporting Clinton? Or perhaps more aptly phrased, why have they chosen to support Bernie Sanders instead?

The simple answer is that Hillary Clinton’s feminist ideology differs from that of contemporary young women. Clinton represents old-wave feminism, which is best described as white women demanding equality from white men. While this is still relevant in modern-day US politics, young progressive women have adopted a new form of feminism: intersectional feminism. This new form of feminism recognizes that women who identify with specific marginalized communities have far more difficulties in overcoming obstacles than white women. The wage gap is a perfect example of these multiple burdens.

For example—white women, when compared to white men, are paid 78 cents to the dollar. Unfair and unequal—to be sure—but even more problematic is the greater disparity in the wage gap among African American and Hispanic women, who average 64 and 54 cents to the dollar, respectively, when compared to white men. Young, progressive women want more than just equality for men and women; they want to tackle the compounded challenges that women with other marginalized identities face in order to work toward ensuring gender equality for everyone. That means not just “breaking the glass ceiling,” but also raising the floor by creating policies to help the most marginalized women in society.

In this context, old-wave feminist icons like Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem—while defending Hillary and attempting to solve her “young women problem”—didn’t actually do much to further Hillary’s case with young women. In fact, their comments likely had a negative impact. It stands to reason that insulting the group whose support your seek is the quickest way to, in fact, lose their support. Still, the fact remains that Clinton, along with her old-wave feminist supporters, view women as a monolithic group that places their unified interest as “women” above all else.

However, this line of thought misses the fact that women belong to more than one identity group, and the struggles that they face differ depending on these distinctions. African-American women face different challenges than Hispanic women, who face different challenges than immigrant women, who face different challenges than non-heterosexual women, who face different challenges from single-mothers. The list of identities that women identify with is inexhaustible—to treat this group as a “monolith” is highly inaccurate.

A more useful question, is to ask if a young women’s gender is the identity that she relates most closely to in a political context. Or perhaps if the interests of her gender group differ from that of her other identities. The answers to these questions differ widely depending on the people. The most important factor to keep in mind is that making wide assumptions about the interests of “young women” is the easiest way to miss the point of what young women want. This is what Albright and Steinem’s comments ignore. For young women, “breaking the glass ceiling” may not be as important, and according to the polls seems not to be as important, as improving the lives of those at the bottom.

So why do young women overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders? Sanders wants to help improve the lives of those at the bottom by removing economic and therefore institutional inequalities that have suppressed them. This obviously includes all women, but especially non-white, non-heterosexual women that have been marginalized by other identities not related to their gender. Crucially, his policies would target the most impoverished and marginalized individuals, including women, of society. His record shows that he has worked hard for the rights of women, immigrants, and other minorities—all important factor that young women care about, and he seems to align closely to their belief in intersectional feminism. And he advocates for universal education in public universities, which would be instrumental in helping marginalized women achieve economic as well as social equality.

In the context of these alternatives, young women don’t seem to be hard-pressed to vote for Clinton in order to see a woman in office. Given an option between breaking the glass ceiling and raising the bottom, as Bernie Sanders proposes, many young women seem to believe that the latter is most important. Albright and Steinem’s comments only served to reinforce the disconnect between these two waves of feminism. And although young women will fight against sexist criticisms of Hillary, they don’t feel compelled to vote for her simply because she is a woman. Many young women believe that they will see a woman as president in their lifetime, but that it doesn’t have to be Hillary Clinton.

@enimihilli is a student at the University of Michigan studying Political Science.

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