Why Gloria Steinem Was Wrong, and Why It Matters

In the wake of Gloria Steinem’s comments that young women could only be siding with Bernie over Hillary in order to attract guys, a number of writers quoted young women who called the feminist leader’s statement “offensive” and insulting. Articles came out detailing the rift between Second-Wave feminists over 65 and those under 30. It’s a new era for feminism, The Washington Post assured us, one based on inclusivity.

Kind of.

The deeper problem with Steinem setting guidelines for who good feminists should vote into office–and discrediting anyone who doesn’t toe her line–is that it echoes problems inherent to the feminist movement since its inception in this country. Susan B. Anthony spoke against campaigning for black women’s voting rights. Decades later, during a suffrage protest in 1913, white feminists told black feminists to walk at the end of the march or not at all. Truly a douche move, calculated to separate white women’s voting rights from those of black women (you can read more about it here). And that’s exactly how it played out in our laws. Only white women gained the right to vote in 1920.

The feminist movement has never been good at recognizing the interrelationships between gender and all the other factors that impact a person’s position in society. From disability to race, class to orientation, and now generational differences, feminism as a political movement has failed millions of women for over 150 years.

And now Steinem comes like a prophet among us, to tell us–all of us–who we should spend those hard-won votes on. Left to Steinem and other feminists still working in the tradition of Susan B. Anthony, the moral failures of the feminist movement would be doomed to continue. The good news is that even middle-class white women are finally fed up. Otherwise a death knell for the movement, the concern with gender-based violence and discrimination as an isolated issue is nowadays only the tip of the iceberg.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, one in seven American women lives in poverty. Black women are impoverished at higher rates than anyone else. But men, on the other hand, have the lowest poverty rates of all. This leads to concerns about the wage gap, childcare costs, college tuition, student loans, and other financial factors in women’s inequality–many of which Bernie has promised to address. Many of which Hillary has sidestepped.

What’s more, in the brave new feminist world that is post-Steinem, you don’t even have to be a liberal to be a feminist. Feminists can also be gun-owning, anti-tax, pro-small government conservatives. The only criteria for being a textbook feminist is, according to the dictionary, holding the belief that men and women are equal. Men don’t get to decide things for women. Period. Done. You’re a feminist.

The fact is that the heyday of the older white feminists has ended. And what we heard from Steinem was the last gasp of a dying movement. Feminists are no longer defined by a party line or a single political issue. That bullshit is over. Women now get to decide for themselves what their own issues are and how they will vote them. It’s time for Steinem to get off the stage and make room for women who won’t dismiss other women, just because they disagree with them.

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