During a recent Hillary Clinton rally in New Hampshire, Madeleine Albright, the first female Secretary of State, had a warning for women: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other,"
Sisterly solidarity is a sacred thing. But things got weird after renowned feminist journalist Gloria Steinem appeared on Real Time With Bill Maher last Friday and said that one reason young women are supporting Bernie Sanders over Clinton is because "When you're young, you're thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie."
Albright's "special place in hell" is a tagline female politicians have often repeated since Albright first uttered these immortal words during a 2006 keynote speech at a WNBA luncheon. Steinem has since apologized for insinuating that female Bernie supporters were only in it for the boys.
But for a moment there, these hard-hitting feminist icons seemed to be using their star power to tell the younger generation that they had a moral obligation to vote for Clinton or risk betraying womankind. The backlash was swift.
Abeer Syedah, a U of M senior majoring in gender studies, says the comments made by Albright and Steinem were at best reflective of an outdated approach to feminism, at worst just plain rude.
"The assumption that we are boy-crazy is so erasing of the possibility of our being politically inclined people with some knowledge behind our support," Syedah says. "It’s just pitting young women on either campaign against each other, with young, dumb, completely boy-crazy, heterosexual women on the Bernie side, and everyone else on Hillary’s side."
Steinem, she points out, is part of the second wave of feminism that once criticized trans women for mutilating their bodies. And taking Albright's advice would limit women voters' options to Clinton or Carly Fiorina when men are allowed the full spectrum of presidential pickings.
"I respect that there is a generation difference, but I don’t respect comments that are ageist, sexist, queerphobic, and queer-erasing in nature," Syedah says. "For [Steinem] to go on Bill Maher’s show and say that women become radicalized with age, but when you’re younger you’re just thinking about where the boys are ... I don’t think that’s correct."
Older and more politically established Minnesota feminists are eager to remind younger women that they've grown up ignorant of the barriers that the Steinems and the Albrights of the world fought to overcome.
Shirley Nelson, executive director of the Women's Candidate Development Coalition, believes Millennial women have taken for granted the passage of Title IX, the erasure of quotas for the number of women who can go into law or medical school, and the growth of women's sports.
"I think it was disappointing, and it’s taken [Albright and Steinem] by surprise, that younger women didn’t understand the importance of electing a woman to office, all of the effects and benefits that would bring," Nelson says. "In addition to the image of having a woman president, a woman president’s own life experiences would enable her to look at issues differently, and be an advocate on the inside for the policies that women still need."
Nelson blames the media for spinning the so-called generational spat in the Clinton campaign's approach to feminism as a cat fight that just doesn't exist. "This is much to do about not much here."
Betty Folliard, former state representative and founder of ERA Minnesota, would also like everybody to just calm down. "It's not at all surprising that strong feminists are supporting a strong feminist." It's "silly season" in the presidential election cycle, she says, where every remark is dissected for negativity.
"I and many of my compatriots in elected office say it’s so important for women to support women, because it’s the only way we get elected," Folliard says. "I was enthused when I heard Hillary say that it’s revolutionary to elect a woman to the highest office. It’s going to revolutionize girls and women’s understanding of who they are and what they can achieve, just the same way that Barack Obama’s election was historic in expanding people’s understanding of what can be achieved in the African American community. We just haven’t gotten there yet."
So are Millennial women complacent or entitled, as popular belief would have it?
Katherine Tester, 30, tips her hat to the feminist fighters who came before because "We weren’t there. We don’t know what it took. If you’re trying to break out of entrenched social systems, you do have to be extreme."
At the same time, Tester believes that older feminists are speaking from a different place of comfort.
"Those women probably didn’t graduate with a bunch of debt," Tester says. "There was a more even distribution of wealth among their parents. In our generation, the economic disparities even in one neighborhood can be huge. That is what transcends the need to align oneself with a female or a male candidate."
Tester is a Sanders supporter. She doesn't trust Clinton to bring the kind of financial reform that she wants to see because of her reliance on Wall Street donors, and the deregulation of banks under Bill Clinton's administration.
There's no point in dragging it out, Tester says. "This is the most highly educated generation of women ever, and to insinuate that we're not making choices with our intellect, it's offensive. It's just ridiculous."
The Sanders campaign has been heavily criticized recently for a sexist offshoot, the "Bernie Bro" phenomenon. Bernie Bros are these vehemently potty-mouthed, anti-Clinton internet trolls, but some folks who remember the 2008 elections are suspicious about their strange similarity to the rumored "Obama boys" who would stop at nothing to call Clinton sexist names during the primaries. Tester, for one, has never spotted a Bernie Bro in real life.
Neither has Hannah Mangen, another U of M student and Sanders supporter. She has no doubt that Clinton would advocate for women, but Sanders' record on gay rights and communities of color has been more consistent than Clinton's. The women's movement today is individual and intersectional, Mangen says, something that's important to her as a queer feminist.
"The Millennial generation just gets a lot of shade and a lot of it is undeserved," she says. "I think we're anything but complacent. There are lots of ways Millennials are underrated, discounted as far as feminism goes, but if I had grown up in the '70s, I'd think I was missing out on a lot."