I have been watching the 2016 presidential campaign unfold with great interest. As a feminist, I care about whether candidates have progressive positions and a demonstrated track record of improving the lives of women and girls of all races, ages and, nationalities. Hillary Clinton seems to me to have the best record of demonstrated commitment to these issues, so I have been curious about what appears to be a generational divide among Democratic women: in the New Hampshire primary, women under thirty voted for Bernie Sanders four to one. What are the reasons for this divide? Here are my hunches and the perspectives of a few other authors.
This Is a Mother/Daughter Generational Grudge MatchSusan Faludi writes that the generational grudge match between older and younger women has been present in every era since women won the right to vote in 1920. This makes sense to me when I remember my own judgmental rejection of my mother’s life choices as a younger woman. Faludi lays out examples of this dynamic in the 1920s and in second-wave feminism, as noted by the feminist poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote about matrophobia among second-wavers. Third-wave feminists declared, “we’re not our uptight mothers” in defining their feminism, and some third-wavers declared that they could not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008 “because she reminds me of my mother.” This dynamic is troubling if it creates blinders about issues important for improving the lives of women.
Young Women Feel They Live in a Post-Feminist WorldI know that there are many young feminist activists, yet Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports that many millennial women, ages eighteen to twenty-nine, feel that gender is no longer important. Many (not all) take for granted the gains made for women by older generations, and their concerns are different—for example, student debt, jobs, LGBT rights, and flexible gender identities. Where they might find a transgender candidate exciting, they don’t see the big deal about a woman becoming president.
Years in the Workplace Change Your PerspectiveJill Filipovic writes that the explanation for the generational divide among women who support Hillary Clinton may come more from our different life experiences. She notes, “more time in a sexist world, and particularly in the workplace, radicalizes women.” It can take about ten years in the workplace before the realities of gender discrimination become clear. These realities are not yet part of the world of millennials. Their current world is one in which:
- In university environments, there are more female than male students.
- In high school, girls tend to outperform boys academically.
- Title IX regulates roughly equal treatment of women and men in school athletics.
- Women attend graduate school in roughly equal or greater numbers than men.
- College-educated women see only a tiny pay gap when they are first hired.