Gloria Steinem, a noted feminist activist, and Madeleine Albright, a former Secretary of State have recently endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. However, both women have made controversial statements regarding the role of female voters in the upcoming election.
Steinem, who became notable within the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s, went on Bill Maher’s talk show to discuss her support of Clinton. When asked by Maher about why she thought more women seemed to be drawn towards Bernie Sanders’s campaign, Steinem responded that female Sanders’s supporters were there to attract the attention of young men.
“When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” said Steinem.
After Internet backlash, Steinem issued a statement regarding what she said on Maher’s talk show. She emphasized that she was not trying to assert that women are not involved in politics.
In a similar controversy, Albright recently took the stage at a Clinton rally and encouraged the women in the audience to examine their political leanings. She blatantly said that it was every woman’s duty to support Clinton in her presidential run, ending the short speech with a now famous quote.
“There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women,” Albright said.
Both women have received negative responses for their comments about the role of women in politics. Steinem’s comments seem supportive of the gendered expectation that women are not as involved in politics as men. Statements like this keep the conversation about women centered on how women are perceived to be shallow and uninterested. She issued a statement through Facebook in which she attempted to explain the actual meaning behind her quote.
This exchange brings to light the faults within the current political landscape and how women are viewed through the mass media lens. Politics, specifically presidential elections, have always focused mainly on men. Women have been seen as accessories for campaigning. Wives are shown off at campaign rallies and in television advertisements.
Albright’s opening speech for Clinton raises another important issue. She has been called a feminist icon, but she put forth a non-feminist ideal. Feminism is not simply about supporting women. Feminism is about equal rights for all sexes and not shaming women for making conscious decisions about how they want to lead their lives. There is absolutely no reason to shame women who do not support Clinton. It is no woman’s duty to support a woman simply because she is a woman. It is a woman’s duty as a citizen search for the most-qualified candidate and to make an informed decision based on the available information.
During Clinton’s time as Secretary of State, the media was notorious for focusing solely on Clinton’s appearance and clothing choices. She was once reported to look “tired and withdrawn” when she decided not to wear make up on a trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Attention like this has not only affected Clinton, but also Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann. The media is the main source of sexist remarks regarding the appearance of women on the political stage, especially when this attention is not paid to men. It becomes even more obvious when a candidate such as Clinton comes into the spotlight of the presidential election.