“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help women…”
That declaration was by former Secretary of State and (depending on the shift in public perception) former feminist icon Madeleine Albright, speaking at a rally for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
This comment follows close on the heels of feminist Gloria Steinem’s snide remark that the some 82% of millennial women supporting Bernie Sanders were doing so just so they could meet boys, and not long after DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz accused the same demographic of “complacency.”
And the timing is hardly coincidental. Staggered by a Pyrrhic victory in Iowa and a resounding defeat in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign has been desperately attempting to find a swift end to what will otherwise become a protracted and altogether too-close-for-comfort campaign, and securing the female vote has been the first place to start.
Or at least, such was the intention.
The deeply patronizing (perhaps openly sexist) remarks of Albright and her cohorts has served only to further drive a wedge between Clinton and her intended supporters, prompting many to suggest they are being “negged“- labeled as airheads and sex-traitors for supporting the wrong candidate. And considering the extremism of some of the comments made, Albright’s literal damnation serving as prime example, it would be hard to disagree with that assessment.
After all, it needs to be understood just how disturbing these individual quotes are. Steinem mockingly smears young women as flighty and boy-crazed, not taking activism seriously. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has labeled young women as ingrates. Albright has pointedly promised hellfire and brimstone (though I guess Dante missed that circle in his Inferno).
While Albright, Steinem, and Wasserman-Schultz have all made hasty non-apologies for their “undiplomatic” comments, for all that extremism I don’t strictly disagree with ’em. There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women. But Miss Albright had best be cautious about casting judgment, lest she herself be judged- for the simple truth of the matter is this:
Feminism has failed.
Oh, not feminism, that-grand-battle-for-equality-among-the-sexes, but certainly the 3rd wave feminism that Steinem, Albright, and others represented. The same tradition that Steinem et al. have suggested young women are turning their backs on- and on this point, I can offer no comment.
I’m not a woman, and if I was, I wouldn’t be able to speak for any but myself. What I would do is ask the following:
What has feminism done for me recently?
Now I want to make this as abundantly clear as possible here and now so that we can get on with the conversation. The accomplishments of feminism in the 70s should be largely respected and applauded. Regardless of what has become of the movement’s leaders, the achievements made were absolutely necessary and both they and the efforts with which they were won should be respected.
We good with that?
Because, in spite of those victories, s**t’s still heavily ****ed up for women. At least, the women that I know.
The struggles of women of color, LBTQ women, and immigrant and refugee women have largely been neglected by the glorified feminist heyday. Worse than being ignored, these women have even been attacked by policies put into place by Clinton and others (more on that in a moment).
At home American women have struggled financially, often bearing the brunt of economic hardship. Freedom to run for office doesn’t exactly mean much when you can’t even get running water. Equal pay isn’t worth much when you’re making minimum wage (providing you can even get a job to begin with). And the handful of women who have had the opportunity to become CEOs seems to have done little to better the conditions of the millions of women under their employ.
I can’t count the number of female friends and acquaintances that I know who- in spite of their diligent efforts, their good grades, their degrees, their patient and perfect obedience to laws of the land- are trapped in dead-end jobs and under growing mountains of debt. And to hear a collection of well-off, white baby-boomers sneeringly demand gratitude from them makes my blood boil.
To be exceedingly generous, it is difficult to understand, much less share, the feelings of Albright and Co. The rallying cry of “defend the past” doesn’t exactly inspire folks who suffer in the present, and it makes it difficult to believe that self-proclaimed champions have any thought for the future.
And it’s not just that there’s seemingly no plan for the future, but that there can be no plan for the future. Clinton’s camp, along with her 3rd wave disciples, has made it repeatedly and abundantly clear that radical change is neither possible nor even desirable.
Capitalism is the only way forward. Borders must be protected. We are interminably tethered to support for Israel. There is no healthcare but privatized healthcare. We must relinquish privacy in the name of protection.
And to be fair, Clinton’s hardline stance is not reflective of all feminists. There have been calls for greater justice for immigrants, refugees, and the poor. There has been growing recognition that the issues of feminism cannot be separated from the issues of poverty, political power, or even the environment.
In theory, anyways.
In practice, we return to the same problem, with contemporary feminism offering little more than embarrassingly halfhearted movements like the “Ban Bossy” campaign. The reality of the situation is that women haven’t turned their backs on feminism, feminism has turned its back on women.
After all, it was former-Secretary-o’-State Miss Madeleine Albright herself who declared that of the reported half-million Iraqi children who died as a result of the sanctions she helped implement, “…we think the price is worth it.”
There has been, time and time again, pushes to include women in the ranks of the wealthy and powerful, as if hitting some kind of ratio would suddenly result in a chain reaction of justice. Sexist adverts and billboards will no longer be approved. Unjust wars (like the one Senator Hillary Clinton voted for) will be avoided. Reproductive rights (like those former-governor Sarah Palin, present governor Nicki Haley, and former candidate Carly Fiorina oppose) will be secured forever. Sweatshops (like the ones Kathie Lee Gifford contracts with) will be unionized. Vapid, misogynist literature (such as the works of Danielle Steel or Stephenie Meyer) will fade away. Kinda like how Cosmo has been run by women since 1965 and has been a bastion of feminism ever since.
And with such a fundamental split between feminism’s former leadership and the needs of contemporary women, who could possibly blame them for looking elsewhere for solutions? I’d like to believe that women aren’t moving towards the opposition because they’re following boys or even following Sanders, but because they’re throwing their backing behind the causes that actually support their interests: a higher minimum wage, union protections, public services, universal healthcare, and income equality (not just between women and men, but between the classes as well).
Eternal optimist that I am, I’d like to imagine that we’re at last seeing the long-awaited, long-overdue birth of 4th wave feminism. In spite of the best efforts of the old guard to keep the conversation limited, radical economic and social reforms are back on the menu, and it’s about ****ing time.
We can’t claim the success of feminism just because the female-dominated sweatshop now has a woman as an owner. You can’t defeat exploitation and objectification by giving women the opportunity to be exploiters and objectifiers. I’m hoping for feminism to get back together with it’s high school sweetheart, the class struggle, and offer a combined movement to address the root issues of power and wealth.
And yes, my colors are showing here a bit (red and black, if it hasn’t been clear), but no matter how tempted as I might be, I’m not going to push my personal politics here. I don’t think it’s out of line however, to suggest that we cannot– repeat, cannot– have a conversation about the place of feminism in today’s society without directly addressing the fundamental problems of poverty, unemployment, and democratic political power. Until these elements are honestly brought to the table, there can be and will be no progress.
I don’t want to keep returning to the same point, but I just can’t stress it enough. You cannot hail Malala Yousafzai as a hero for standing up to the Taliban without addressing the US’s involvement in Afghanistan. You can’t claim outrage over contraception in the US while women are dying in childbirth at a barrier wall in occupied Palestine.
The great struggle for justice is far, far from won- and that’s in spite of what the feminist detractors of feminism’s latest incarnation might say. And yet again, this is not to ignore that very real achievements of the past.
It’s only that the feminism of the 70s was just that- the feminism of the 70s. It was a campaign that paved the way to many needed changes, but those changes have long since been made. Feminism is a tool to be used, not some fancy china we keep around for display purposes. If it doesn’t address the needs of women and men in today’s society, then it has no place in today’s society.
And same goes for feminists.
I don’t know if there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help women.
Unless Miss Albright and Miss Steinem have a change of heart, I should hope, for their sake, that there isn’t.