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Maureen Dowd proclaims that “Hillary Clinton Killed Feminism” in this weekend’s New York Times. She focuses on Bill Clinton’s infidelity and the defenses of it by (not just Hillary but) Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, who are both now vocally asserting that women should be supporting Hillary’s candidacy no matter what her policies.

On the trail in New Hampshire, Madeleine Albright made the case that it was a betrayal of feminist ideals to support Bernie against Hillary, noting that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” … What the three older women seemed to miss was that the young women supporting Sanders are living the feminist dream, where gender no longer restricts and defines your choices, where girls grow up knowing they can be anything they want.

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If you’re looking for scholarly explanations for this “feminist dream,” look no further than R. Claire Snyder-Hall’s article on third-wave feminism and its assertions of self-determination and pluralism.

Third-wave feminism … recognizes that women in different subject positions often have very different perspectives. For example, as feminists of color pointed out during the second wave, while white women fought for the right to work outside the home, Black women had almost always worked outside the home by necessity. Consequently, many Black women would prefer to stay home and care for their own families, rather than caring for the children of white women, newly entering the workforce. The right to work looks different, depending on where you stand.

This degree of intersectionalism redefines modern-day feminism away from its women-focused past and towards justice across the spectrum of marginalized identities.

Clinton’s political career has long drawn the attention of scholars and pundits alike. Sarah A. Fulton explored the ability of female candidates to attract votes in 2012, in “Running Backwards and in High Heels.” Fulton produced one of the first polls that controls for all other factors—political leanings, publicity, budgets, endorsements—and measures what discrepancy can only be chalked up to gender stereotypes held by voters. Fulton found that women who “do as well as men” in votes are often generally better at policy and rhetoric, but are held back by prejudice.

Before anyone claims Sanders’s popularity is due to misogynist voters, this study ought to be replicated to measure the political quality of the two candidates. Perhaps Clinton’s ability to appear as “untrustworthy” (as Dowd puts it) as men means we finally have that pluralistic gender equality of the feminist dream, or perhaps it’s a reflection of continuing gender inequality.

Turning back the clock even more, to Clinton’s first bid for the US Senate in 2002, Karrin Vasby Anderson provides an interesting comparison between the media’s portrayal of her and Elizabeth Dole, who put in her name for the Republican presidential nomination in both 1996 and 2000.

The fact that the office of the president is masculinized is not, in and of itself, news to presidential scholars. The fact that it is just as gendered as it has always beeny however, is worth noting. The American public professes its preparedness for a qualified woman president. Gallup polls taken since 1937 report that although only 33 percent of the population said they would be willing to vote for a “qualified” woman president in 1937, by 1999 that number jumped to 92 percent of respondents. Carl M. Cannon analyzed recent polling data from a host of different pollsters with competing political agendas. In every case, the polls indicated that Americans are ready for a woman president.

In Anderson’s view, “feminism cannot tell any woman how to resolve her internal conflicts, but it does ask each woman to reflect on her own desires and seriously consider how her choices might play a role in propping up or calling into question the sex/gender system.” In intersectional feminism, it appears progressive social democratic choices are more desired than gender representation in the nation’s top spot.


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Perspectives on Politics, Vol. 8, No. 1 (March 2010), pp. 255-261
Published by: American Political Science Association
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 65, No. 2 (JUNE 2012), pp. 303-314
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah
Anderson Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 105-132
Published by: Michigan State University Press