I sometimes consider myself a bad feminist. Last year when folks I greatly respect expressed outrage that Manhattan Theatre Club had not announced a play by a female playwright, I was opposed to the hoopla. I thought: "MTC has produced numerous plays by women and has women in prominent positions. The company can produce the season it wants." Yes, I likely would have felt differently had MTC not had a history of producing female playwrights, but my feeling is that theater companies should be able to produce the plays they want to produce. (A play by a female playwright was undoubtedly already under consideration for the one empty slot in the season, because the timing didn't allow for it to be picked out of thin air, but when it was announced, it was dealt with in the media as a token play chosen as a result of the criticism, which made me feel even worse about the prior drama.)
But I still believe, as Madeleine Albright says: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other." After all, that is one of the tenets of my alma mater, Wellesley College. I'm so proud to be a graduate of Wellesley, which also happens to be the alma mater of Albright and Hillary Clinton, who I hope will be the first female President of the United States. Albright shouldn't have used the quote in the context she did during her campaign stop, but I feel the quote itself is being needlessly attacked.
You see, I find it hard to separate my college from that quote. Wellesley is about sisterhood. It's about helping other women. When I became a freelance writer, I emailed another Wellesley graduate, Ellen Levine, one of the (if not the) most powerful women in the magazine world, and asked her for advice. She probably gets thousands of emails a day, but within a few days responded to mine and asked me to send her clips of my work. Shortly after she wrote me a note with detailed advice. When I needed a summer job, I mass emailed every New York Wellesley alum I could find in the alumnae directory that held certain professional positions; all but three emailed back. Of course, you could argue that is more about the college specifically than a desire to help women generally. And that is probably true with regards to these specific examples. But it speaks to a more basic thing the college stresses -- helping other women. I couldn't love my college more and I try to fight for its ideals.
Maureen Dowd would undoubtedly argue that judging people through a lens of gender -- that helping women more than men -- is anti-feminist. Perhaps in some odd, perverse way that is accurate, but that doesn't diminish the fact that, in today's world, there is still a need for Albright's quote and the sentiment behind it. Men face fewer career challenges as a whole, and there are many more men in leadership positions, so there is a greater need for women to mentor other women rather than mentoring men. That is just a fact. I could cite endless statistics to support it. And there are still women out there who don't want to help other women because they simply don't want to take the time or they are genuinely concerned that they have one of the only "women slots" in a specific profession. Just last week, a partner at an investment management firm said to me: "I'm the female partner. They won't make another."
So when young people attack Albright and state that her quote itself is part of a bygone era, it upsets me. When young women tell me they aren't voting for Clinton because they don't want to be "that kind of woman," it upsets me. Now that doesn't mean voting for a woman just because she is a woman. I'm not encouraging my Republican friends to pencil in Carly Fiorina. I do hope however young women and men recognize how much sexism there still is in the world, and how much it is shaping this presidential race, as it has shaped so many elections before it.
Here are the types of things I've heard from women under 30 I've spoken to in the last few weeks about why they aren't voting for Hillary Clinton.
1) "I don't like her. She seems harder than Sanders." When I dug to see what "harder" meant, I was told that there was a "toughness" about her. I'm not sure that I've ever heard that criticism of a presidential candidate. Since when do people not want a president who seems tough?
2) "My generation doesn't want to wear pant suits." Okay, so now we're onto fashion. I hardly know a man who would want to wear Bernie Sander's cheap-looking suits, but no one comments on it. The pant suit supposedly says a lot about Clinton, but that strikes me as odd because hardly any interpretation is given into fashion choices of men on the campaign trail. Also, let's not forget when Clinton wore more "revealing" outfits in 2008 and serious news outlets spent significant air time discussing her cleavage. Of course, this double standard is not limited to campaigns. The appearance of women is always more scrutinized than the appearance of men. Has anyone noticed that Leonardo DiCaprio seems bloated? If he were a woman it would be news.
3) "I can't stand listening to her voice." I'm not sure if this was a comment on the tone or volume (which The New York Times, among other publications, recently discussed), because I seriously couldn't bear to ask further questions.
These are women saying these things. Yet these same women -- and I asked -- think sexism is mostly a thing of the past. They are wrong. Women are still marginalized in 2016. Years after graduating, I returned to Wellesley for a talk given by a friend. The AV equipment broke during the presentation and the male professor looked at the one other male in the room (a visiting student from a nearby college) to ask him if he knew how to fix it, rather than pose the question of the women who attended the school. The male student shook his head, but it took a good minute for anyone else to say: "I got it!" That was at Wellesley, a school that stresses women finding their voice. In everyday life, I constantly witness women resist speaking up in a room of men. I hear men ask women when they want to "leave work and settle down," a phrase that one might think no longer warranted utterance in 2016. All the things about gender inequality that I heard about while a student at Wellesley -- the majority of which I didn't believe at the time -- I now see each day. The types of quotes these young women gave are evidence of the issues we still have as a society, delivered by women who don't think there are any such issues.
I would love it if gender were not a part of Clinton's story. If we lived in a world where things were truly equal it would not need to be. But the truth is, Clinton has succeeded thus far in most part in spite of the fact that she is a woman, not because of it. That should be inspiring. Yes, she was married to a President and that gave her a tremendous boost when she ran for Senate, but her career has never risen or fallen on his. That fact alone does not diminish her accomplishments. Whether you like her or not, whether you trust her or not, she is impressive.
I get people wanting to vote for Bernie Sanders. I campaigned for Dennis Kucinich in 2004. I know the desire to support someone who stands for what you believe in in its purest, unvarnished form. I don't believe Hillary Clinton is 100% the best candidate that could ever be if I created a candidate Weird Science style (though neither is Sanders by any means). We know more about her, so there is more to disagree with. I am still supporting Hillary Clinton. The difference between me in 2004 and me in 2016 is not that, with age, I've become part of the establishment. It is that I saw Kucinich's campaign more as one that existed primarily to keep progressive ideals in a democratic primary lacking them. This cycle people seem to believe Sanders would be a feasible and great president; they want him to win the Democratic nomination. This despite the fact that (at least in my opinion) he has done less than Kucinich had during his time in government and has shown little ability to work well with anyone. Now people think it is great that he doesn't have supporters in the Senate -- they think that makes him seem anti-establishment and not willing to compromise his beliefs. Those would be wonderful attributes if the President was like a King in olden times, ruling by waive of scepter. For better or worse, that is not the situation.
I am still young enough to be part of the demographic she is having trouble with, but I truly believe Clinton is the best candidate out there. I believe she is the one best suited to win a general election and accomplish at least some of her goals once in office. She was instrumental in getting other nations to impose serious sanctions on Iran. She has fought hard for women and children. She was influential in securing federal aid for New York after 9/11. My favorite current senator from the tri-state area, Cory Booker, is among her biggest supporters. (Before people say that members of the party feel they have to endorse a Clinton - let's not forget that Ted Kennedy, a former Bill Clinton ally, supported Barack Obama.)
I understand not voting for Hillary Clinton because you believe free college for all is an attainable goal in four years or because of the Benghazi attacks or any other substantive reason. I don't believe you should vote for her because she is a woman. I don't think there is a special place in hell for you if you don't vote for her (even if you went to Wellesley), but I do hope everyone thinks very hard about voting for her. I also hope that people understand Albright's saying, at least in general terms.
You can be one of my few followers on Twitter, @CaraJoyDavid. This rare political post is dedicated to all my Wellesley friends (especially Devika Maulik), no matter their political affiliations.
Update 10:30AM, 2/19: There was an embarrassing typo in this -- a disgrace -- that has now been corrected. I apologize for this shoddy proofreading.
Update 11:50AM, 2/20: The spacing has been modified. Also, a clause has been added to clarify my age, in response to a reader request.