When you’re young, you’re thinking, 'Where are the boys?' The boys are with Bernie,”- Gloria Steinem on "Real Time With Bill Maher"
I remember it well. It was 2008, and I was in the fifth grade. I had my backpack on and was standing in the doorway of my classroom by the cubbies. I was wearing a shirt from the Barack Obama campaign rally at UCLA I had attended one day prior.
I was a girl who had grown up with CNN blaring in the background. I was a girl who said two of her first words, Bill Clinton, after hearing her first State of the Union address at her grandparents' house. I was a girl who loved politics: the urgency, the passion, The West Wing esque idea of democracy that had not yet been corrupted. When my mom took me to this Barack Obama rally at the Pauley Pavilion, it was one of the most exciting days of my life.
It wasn't just that I got to see Stevie Wonder, Oprah Winfrey, Maria Shriver, and best of all, get Michelle Obama's autograph, but it was the fact that I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. I felt excited about the possibility of hope and change. I felt excited about a candidate who was a charismatic and inspiring speaker. I felt excited about the issues Barack Obama spoke passionately about: allowing women the autonomy to decide what to do with their own bodies, making sure every child in our country would have access to a good public school education, creating more legislation to reduce carbon emissions and stop global warming, banning the sales of semi-automatic weapons, and insuring every American had access to health care. And to top it all off, I felt excited about the possibility of having the first black president, the first black democratic nominee for president for that matter, in our country's history.
So there I stood on a Monday, outside of my fifth grade classroom. A girl in my class came up to me and said,
"If you don't support Hillary Clinton, you don't support women, Kate."
I was speechless. I didn't support women? How did it jump to that? It sounds sort of unbelievable, and yet, it is the kind of thing a fifth grader would say who is repeating something they heard on the news or from their parents. I knew that my support for Barack Obama did not mean that I did not support women. In fact, I thought Barack Obama's viewpoints were more pro-women, but never mind that. I vaguely remember telling the girl in my class that supporting Barack Obama did not mean that I did not support women. I just liked his policies more, and his viewpoints better aligned with my own. We both walked away shortly after and went on our separate ways home. But this encounter has lingered in my mind ever since.
So when I read a few weeks ago that Gloria Steinem, feminist icon extraordinaire, insinuated that young women are only voting for Bernie Sanders because they are looking for boys, I felt sick to my stomach. Ms. Steinem's comment was of the same chord of that girl's statement back in the fifth grade: you are less of a woman for supporting a male candidate. What kind of bullshit is that?
When USA Today asked Taryn Hogarth, a 22-year-old University of South Dakota student, why she wasn't supporting Hilary Clinton, she said this:
I would love to have a woman president, but I’d like the right woman president,” Hogarth said. “I want this to be based on the ideas and what they’re going to do for our country.”
Taryn hit the nail right on the head. Is it time for America to have a woman in the Oval Office? Absolutely! Does that mean that we should vote blindly based on gender? No. Does that mean that we should vote blindly based on race? No. Does that mean that we should vote blindly based on religion, sexual orientation, etc. etc.? No! It does not. We should vote for the candidate who we believe is going to do the best job of leading our country and protecting our interests, whatever those may be.
The idea that young women are only supporting a candidate because they want to impress young men is not only widely offensive but extremely dangerous. Steinem's comments implied that women who support a male candidate are boy-crazy, anti-woman, and giving their power to men, to a man, and therefore disempowering themselves.
Gone are the days where I idealized our political process and government. Truth be told, this election season, the first I can vote in, there is not a candidate that I have same level of enthusiasm for. Not even close. I may not support Hillary Clinton. But my reasons for doing so certainly are not because she is a woman. I may not support Bernie Sanders. But my reasons for doing so certainly are not because he is a man. I support the candidate who best aligns with my values and vision for America in 2016.
So when the time does come to vote for President, I will not be voting for a candidate based on his or her gender. I will be settling for the candidate who best supports the issues that I believe are most important to our country's future. It may be a woman or may not be.
But don't tell me that I am any less of a feminist if I don't vote for a female candidate. "
Equality is at the heart of feminism, which means that I should be able to vote for the candidate I think is best without being shamed.