Why are some women leaders so out of touch with young feminists?

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Despite the many challenges we still face, it’s clear to anyone who’s paying attention that there’s a vibrant, powerful feminist movement in this country, with enormous contributions from young activists. Yet some prominent women seem almost willfully ignorant of this, and keep alienating people they should be trying to ally with. 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, told the New York Times“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a crowd at a Hillary Clinton campaign stop, “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you
younger women think it’s done. It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem told Bill Maher, “Women are more for [Hillary Clinton] than men are…First of all, women get more radical as we get older, because we experience…Not to over-generalize, but…Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, women get more radical because they lose power as they age. And, when you’re young, you’re thinking, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie…”

These powerful women paint a picture of young ladies sitting on the couch, basking in the idea that we live in a post-sexist world, only engaging in politics for the chance to date a Bernie bro. It would take minimal effort for them to see just how wrong they are. Young women are well aware of the threats to reproductive freedom, and are escorting at clinics, tackling stigma with #ShoutYourAbortion, making up for years of “white feminism” by working within a reproductive justice framework and organizing to fight back against the onslaught of attacks by anti-choice zealots. DREAMers are risking their personal safety for more humane immigration policy. Black Lives Matter protesters are taking to the streets to combat police brutality and racist oppression. Feminists are educating and creating online community on Feministing, Jezebel, Bitch Media and so many more. I could go on.

I have had the privilege of working in organizing and advocacy since I graduated from college. I have worked alongside and learned from so many smart, fierce young women who are dedicating their lives to social justice. Every day, I read progressive, feminist, anti-racist articles online and think how lucky young people are now to have this online community that didn’t exist when I was growing up in a small, homogenous town. I log on to social media and see women and male allies fighting misogyny, rape culture, homophobia, transphobia and racism every day.

We know the fight is not done. We know there are glass ceilings that still need to be broken. We are creating our own version of feminism, one that is more inclusive and intersectional (which can help explain why some feminists are not as excited about Hillary Clinton).  When Clinton was asked if she understood why some people would be offended by Albright’s remarks, she said, “Good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days! People can’t say anything without offending somebody.” It’s disappointing to hear her echoing the tired “political correctness” trope that is used to attack the vocal young activists who insist on questioning the status quo and standing up for themselves.

It’s important that we respect and honor the women who have come before us in this fight. I’m sure it can be frustrating for them to see younger women disagreeing with them about the path to change. But the respect needs to go both ways. Make the effort to listen to and lift up the work of young feminists. Even if just from a purely pragmatic standpoint, they are much more likely to win over young women if they reach out in a spirit of collaboration instead of condescension. But they should want to reach out also because it can be inspiring and invigorating to learn about the work young feminists are doing. Young women are active and vocal, and finding out about what we’re doing isn’t hard if you put in the effort. Don’t expect us to follow blindly without recognizing our contributions. We should work together in this fight, but if these women want young feminists on board, they need to come to us with respect for our commitment and open minds.

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

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