Bernie, Hillary, and the failures of feminism

It’s no secret that I’m a Bernie Sanders fan. I #FeelTheBern and I feel it hard. Having begun this election season apathetic, I watched a Democratic debate in November and was sold on the only person on stage who seemed to be giving honest, well-thought answers, the person who has consistently shown a dogged genuineness of spirit. Also, the man can give a mean fist bump.

Conversely, I have never been a fan of Hillary Clinton. Not in 2008, when I was similarly apathetic about a race in which Clinton was also favored to win. Hillary’s hawkishness, her blatantly opportunistic shifts towards whichever direction the tide of rapidly-changing public opinion is taking, and her track record on racial justice and Islamophobia make her a less-than-ideal candidate for me. But hey, that’s what primaries are for: the chance to choose the person you desperately *want* to vote for in the general election, not the person you’ll begrudgingly *have* to vote for in the general election.

So while the (mostly) good-natured arguments between Bernie and Hillary supporters reached fever pitch following the Iowa caucuses, two from this past weekend stood out as something more irksome. On Bill Maher’s show Friday night, feminist icon Gloria Steinem asserted that young women were choosing Bernie in order to meet men, or more specifically: “When you’re young you’re thinking ‘where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Meanwhile, at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright claimed that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” essentially stating that women voters not supporting the female candidate were traitors to feminism.

At the heart of this issue are complicated matters related to gender-relations, second wave feminism, and racial justice.  Tweet This!

At the core of this for me is the basis of our democracy: we all vote according to our own individual conscience. It all depends on what particular issue set is important to you. For some, it will be foreign policy, for others, a woman’s right to choose. No candidate is perfect on all the issues, but you pick the one aligned with you on most of the issues.

For this Muslim-American woman of Pakistani descent – for a woman who shares a faith and a world with black and Latino men and women, alongside immigrant Muslims from South Asia, the Arab world, and the Far East, as well as white Muslims who share my faith – for a woman fed on social justice & Democratic Socialism in Europe, this election is about closing Guantanamo, ending government surveillance, extricating ourselves from ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and from drone wars that kill my people in Pakistan. It is about racial justice and income equality, and the reformation of a system that is broken and can only be fixed through voting in the right leaders. And yes, it’s also about equal pay for women and a woman’s right to choose.

The intersectional issue here is that traditional feminism has not yet evolved to speak to someone like me.  Tweet This! Feminism has been about gender-based rights: a woman’s right to choose and equal pay. But while feminism expects all women to support gender-based rights, it can no longer ignore the societal realities in which non-white women require feminism to take up the mantle of supporting women across issues of race, religion, and class. Just as a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her body, feminism should allow for a woman’s right to choose what she wears – whether it’s a hijab or a bikini. Just as equalizing pay between men and women is an issue, there is an even deeper issue of equalizing pay between women of color and pretty much every single population ahead of them – which includes white women. And the fight for gender-based income equality is moot when general income inequality holds back an entire section of our nation’s population.

Feminists like Steinem are facing apathy and indifference towards the feminist movement from women of color and women from lower income brackets, precisely because of this lack of perspective. When Gloria Steinem implies that young women are following their hormones and not their own intelligence in voting for Bernie Sanders, she does the young a disservice. When Steinem claims that she has no regrets about her time working for a front agency of the CIA during the Cold War, and “would do it all again,” she does a great and naive disservice to the brown and black women whose lives have been disrupted by the CIA’s surveillance apparatus. And when both Steinem and Albright vilify any woman who does not vote for Hillary as a traitor to the feminist cause, they do a disservice to the democratic process.

Bernie Sanders has quietly done far more for this movement than Hillary Clinton. For months, the Sanders camp kept a private meeting with the mother of Sandra Bland out of the press, even as Sanders made it a point to reference Sandra Bland during his remarks in the first Democratic debate – a promise he had made to Bland’s mother during their meeting, and one that he kept. To the Gloria Steinem-esque feminists of the world, I ask you: how is it that Hillary Clinton is a feminist standard simply by dint of being a woman, but Sandra Bland is not?

Sanders is also vocally and consistently taking up the fight against Islamophobia – which disproportionately affects Muslim women far more than Muslim men. Because make no mistake, Islamophobia is also a feminist issue with zero major feminist voices behind it. And on women’s issues, Sanders does not need to be a woman to be on the right side of gender equality.

Women should support women, yes – to uplift and provide agency to all women, regardless of race, religion, sexuality, or class.  Tweet This! But the next wave of feminism should start by truly listening to women of color and what they need from this movement. It should understand that voting for a woman simply on the basis of her gender and not on the basis of her merit – particularly in the arena of social justice issues that essentially leave brown and black women behind – is unacceptable. And increasingly, feminism that cannot evolve to meet these intersectionalities will hurt the feminist movement itself.


Zainab Chaudary is an altM columnist. She works in PR and advocacy communications by day, and is a writer and geek by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets @TheMemorist


Photo Credit.


  • Annie Wait says:

    Imagine if a man indicated that young women were only interested in boys!!????

  • Thank you for breathing life into this argument; an argument white feminists do not understand.

  • HJ Dawson says:

    Agree with you about comment from Steinem; saw Albright’s and my response to you is: lighten up! She was joking! Agree with much of what you say but also disappointed: feminists have not flourished because arguments like yours have been getting support forever. Feminists arose from precisely the groups you now argue for — when they found that those groups were outrageously sexist. So my question to you: when you go to a group working for any of those other issues — regarding racial equality, or whatever — do you *demand* they respect women too? Do you challenge the sexually hateful language in gangsta or abandon groups just because they play it? Your way sounds good, but at bottom it has one main thing to commend it: it’s the safe way. Why safe: it has men on its side. BTW: I actually saw nothing “alt” in this article. I could get this anywhere.

  • Thank you for this fantastic analysis.

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