Three nationally recognized female political figures gave strikingly different statements in the last week on the issue of feminism, and all of them generated conversation. One on behalf of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton; one attempting to explain what she felt was the rationale behind female support for Bernie Sanders; and the other from now-former GOP candidate Carly Fiorina.
On Saturday, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stumped for Clinton in New Hampshire by trying to drum up support from women voters in the state in advance of Tuesday's primary vote:
"It’s not done and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other."
It's a line Albright has used many times before. Her remarks came just a day after left wing feminist icon Gloria Steinem told Bill Maher on his "Real Time" show that Bernie Sanders' candidacy was resonating with young female voters because:
"'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."
Both Albright's and Steinem's comments generated a firestorm of outrage - on the left, where in the past the insinuation has always been accepted: If you're a woman and you don't support so-called "progressive feminist leaders," there is something wrong with you. If you're critical of them, then you must hate women or something. And, they've also said in so many words, men should have no say in "women's issues" unless they agree with conventional feminist wisdom.
In short, they don't see any scenario where their opposition would have legitimate grievances with their positions. Examples:
June 2010 - "You have to lift their skirts to find out if they are women. You sure can't find out by how they vote," former Tennessee state Rep. Janis Baird Sontany, D-Nashville, said of her female Republican counterparts.
November 2012 - Female members of the US House (all Democrats) accused Republican Senators of "sexism and racism" over their grilling of then-UN Ambassador Susan Rice over her Benghazi account. "There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Sen. McCain and others," said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
June 2014 - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told a press gathering that we should be "afraid" of the men on the Supreme Court: “That five men should get down to the specifics of whether a woman should use a diaphragm and she should pay for it herself or her boss. It's not her boss's business. His business is whatever his business is. But it's not what contraception she uses.”
August 2014 - Then-Senator Kay Hagan's (D-NC) campaign accused her Republican challenger Thom Tillis of "mansplaining" in an ad he ran against her trying to correct her assertion that under his leadership, the North Carolina state legislature "cut' teacher pay. Her campaign used a similar line of attack just a few days later after a debate between the two because he repeatedly called Senator Hagan "Kay." She was defeated two months later.
December 2015 - South Carolina state Rep. Mia McLeod (D) pre-filed a bill to put restrictions on erectile dysfunction medications to counter abortion-related legislation: “Oh, I don’t think it’ll pass,” she said. “I mean, we’re in a male-dominated legislature ..."
There are many more examples where those came from.
Contrast the comments of Albright, Steinem, Fudge and the the Democrat women above with those of business executive Carly Fiorina, and you see a quite different message. She formally suspended her campaign late Wednesday afternoon, and made a brief comment on feminism in a statement on Facebook:
To young girls and women across the country, I say: do not let others define you. Do not listen to anyone who says you have to vote a certain way or for a certain candidate because you're a woman. That is not feminism. Feminism doesn't shut down conversations or threaten women. It is not about ideology. It is not a weapon to wield against your political opponent. A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses and uses all her God-given gifts. And always remember that a leader is not born, but made. Choose leadership.
In other words: Think for yourselves, decide for yourselves, do for yourselves, stand up for yourselves, and don't let anyone put into your head the idea that you have to conform or believe a certain way just because you're a woman. True feminism.
Donna Smith, the Executive Director for the Progressive Democrats of America, wrote a piece on Sunday echoing what other women supporting Sanders have said. In defending her decision to stand with Sanders, Smith expressed disappointment that fellow feminists would suggest she's obligated to rally around a candidate simply because she's a female:
It is not helpful to anyone for Gloria to make those kinds of comments about women who support Bernie — young or not. Now that I am in my 60s, I have well earned the right to support the candidates for public office that I believe best represent my views on the issues that matter to me.
What I am saying is that it was a really odd comment coming from a woman who has lived her life lifting women up and demanding that as equals to men we have the right to our own minds and bodies. Presumably that includes the right to our own political decisions as well.
Whether they realize it or not, female Sanders supporters are pushing back on the very type of deliberately divisive and harmful rhetoric that has been used for decades by their fellow Democrats - male and female, young and old - against their political opponents in attempts to shame them and shut down the debate. It's rhetoric that is insulting to anyone who truly believes we should judge others not on the basis of their sex or their race, but instead - as civil rights legend Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated - on the content of their character.
Welcome to the club, ladies.