Voting for Hillary: Why Is There a Generational Divide among Women?

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 Match

Susan 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 World

I 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 Perspective

Jill 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.
But by age thirty-five, these same women are making significantly less than their male peers. And once they have children, women are treated as incompetent, have a harder time getting hired, and are paid significantly less than men. It takes time for these experiences to accumulate, and millennial women haven’t had enough time in the workforce yet to get radicalized.

We Hold Women Leaders to Different and Tougher Standards

I have written in previous articles about our discomfort with strong women and about the different expectations we have of female leaders. We expect male leaders to be assertive and decisive, but we are uncomfortable if women behave that way. Gail Sheehy describes the ambivalence that many baby boomer women feel about voting for Hillary. Sheehy quotes a female political leader as saying, “A lot of women vote from a compassionate, nurturing place, and those are not qualities you feel from [Hillary Clinton].” Really? Think about it. Don’t we need our commander in chief to be tough, assertive, and decisive? Let’s hope we can stay focused on who will be the best leader for the whole country, and who will best meet the needs of women and girls of all ages, races, and nationalities. It’s so important.   “Hillary Clinton” by Llima Orosa is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0  ]]>

4 thoughts on “Voting for Hillary: Why Is There a Generational Divide among Women?”

  1. Anne thank you for this post. I’ve struggled to figure out the divide among women, and your perspective urges me to reflect on my own conversations with young women. I am a staunch supporter of Hillary and believe if we as a Country are to continue making progress on social justice issues she is the only one who has the leadership principals to move us forward.

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  2. Thanks Anne. I totally agree with Jill Filipovic’s theory. I am so upset that younger women do not support Hillary–it is typical of the self absorption of this generation that they cannot look beyond their immediate lives to see the big hurdles women face all around the world. They will regret it one day, but by then it will be too late. Women are half the world’s population and there are barriers to their progress in every country in the world, no matter how advanced.

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  3. My daughter, now 31, fits this pattern perfectly. She did well in high school, in a liberal town,thought feminists were old hat, went to small liberal, liberal arts college, where gender identity issues trumped gender equity, went into the world of work, hit several walls, in the process noticed how badly women were treated in the workplace, woke up and smelled the coffee and is now a Hillary supporter and an informed voter. She has told me how concerned she is about the level of Hillary bashing among some Bernie supporters on the web.
    This pattern is also consistent with some of the patterns you describe in your book New Rules for Women where “women’s friendship rules” meets male pattern hierarchy. The shock produces dysfunctional responses until people get a handle on what is happening. For all the reasons you stated younger women may be in denial about the anti-women bias of most work and political settings, and they don’t want to hear from Hillary, whose message is threatening and they may more identify with Bernie whose message may be interpreted to mean its class to the exclusion of gender is where the problem is.

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  4. Thank you, Dr. Litwin for aggregating these articles. I’ve been feeling irrelevant and isolated from younger friends and family, with whom I’m usually like-minded. Not hard to see their thinly veiled contempt for me because I admire HRC. I’m also troubled by the rampant misogynism that is being directed towards her by white men of all ages. Just an hour ago, I read a post by a supposedly liberal man that characterized her as a “war white.”

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