3Qs: Do women have an obligation to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Fem­i­nist icons Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are facing a wave of back­lash for com­ments sug­gesting that women who sup­port Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton need to smarten up. The rebuke has drawn the ire of jour­nal­ists, polit­ical pun­dits, and scores of Sanders’ female sup­porters, some of whom have accused both women of under­mining fem­i­nism. Now, according to a New York Times report, another one of Clinton’s sur­ro­gates is sug­gesting that Albright and Steinem be “kept away” from the campaign.

Do young women, as Albright implied, have an oblig­a­tion to vote for Clinton? We asked Suzanna Wal­ters, pro­fessor of soci­ology and director of Northeastern’s Women’s, Gender, and Sex­u­ality Studies Pro­gram.

Illustration by Erica Lewy.

In her remarks at a Clinton rally in New Hampshire, Albright said that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” In your view, should women vote for Clinton—or any female candidate—based solely on their gender?

Of course not and no one is even remotely suggesting that. Albright was making off-the-cuff comments and offered up a bad joke that is simply becoming a tempest in a teapot. But what is so interesting to me is that we seem to only ask the question about “voting based on gender” or “playing the gender card” when a woman candidate (and woman voters) are being discussed. That is precisely one of the insidious ways sexism and double-standards work: no one seems to be asking about the “gender card” that we’ve been playing all the hundreds of years in voting for men. It’s just assumed, since men are the default human and therefore somehow not gendered, that we vote for men because of issues or values or whatever. The same dynamic plays out in questions of race: have we been asking if people voted for whiteness all these hundreds or years or did we only ask about voting around race when Obama was the candidate? So it’s just an accident that only men have been presidents of the United States? And that, until Obama, only white men?

In your cover story for The Nation, titled “Why This Socialist Feminist Is For Hillary,” you compare President Barack Obama’s calls for racial justice in the U.S. to Clinton’s potential to bring sexism out into the open. What effect would a woman in the White House have on gender equity?

Well, again, we’re not talking about any woman here. Having a Carly Fiorina or a, heaven forbid, Sarah Palin in the White House would set all women back of course, because their agendas are firmly and unequivocally anti-feminist. But having a woman—a feminist who has devoted much of her life and political energy to gender equity—occupy the White House would have both practical effects (e.g. strengthening reproductive rights and health care access more generally, taking on the scourge of sexual and domestic violence, raising the minimum wage, working to push back against climate change) and of course symbolic effects. But symbols are never “merely” symbols—they resonate and impact in ways that are complicated and multigenerational. I do think a feminist woman fighting for, say, pay equity or reproductive freedom brings something different to the table than a man, even a male feminist. Just as Obama’s engagement in discourses around racial discrimination and profiling mattered in profound ways, so too would Clinton’s engagement in discourses around gender discrimination speak volumes to women around the world. This is one reason why—here in the academy—we make arguments for robust inclusion and diversity. An all-white, all-male university is not only not representative but in fact, in a positive sense, we all as a community really do benefit from a more diverse set of faces and voices and lived experiences.

A recent poll of Democratic voters in New Hampshire found that 64 percent of women under the age of 45 supported Sanders while only 35 percent backed Clinton. Why is Clinton struggling to attract young female voters?

I’m not sure she is struggling quite as much as the media claim. I do think—in a media culture that frames every debate or difference in terms of a battle—the narrative being spun is of young women rejecting en mass the arguments and ideologies and candidates of older women. So I do think we need to take this with a grain of salt and see how this all develops in other states and other primaries. But I also think the Sanders excitement is real and women—of all ages—are justly excited about someone who seems to be offering such a thoroughgoing critique of the system. And Sanders is—although a lifelong politician—fairly new and unknown to most folks, particularly young folks just entering political life, and Hillary is a known quantity, and moreover a known quantity who has been demonized and vilified like few political figures in my lifetime. So I don’t find the Sanders allure all that mystifying: he speaks to the hunger for real change, the resentment of growing wealth inequality, and the dismay at the way elections are funded by wealthy donors. Clinton speaks to much of this as well of course, but she enters this arena with all the baggage of her years in the public eye and, of course, is never able to exist outside of the routinized, pervasive, everyday sexism and double-standards that await all women.


  1. No, they should sup­port Donald Trump. The only one that will make sure that a US even exists by 2020.

  2. I think women today don’t want to feel bul­lied into sub­mis­sion by other women. Voting is such a per­sonal matter and the big rush to get a female pres­i­dent in office does not over arch the duty one has to self to chose a pres­i­dent that rep­re­sents their values, hopes and vision of the future.
    I per­son­ally am over the tired poli­cies that con­sti­tute the idea of fem­i­nism. By laws of nature sys­tems evolve, and I think women are wary of being defined as fem­i­nist if they come out with guns blazing and act like men both per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally. I think fem­i­nine energy is power, I think I am valu­able as an employee, friend, girl­friend, or wife even AFTER I become a mother. I think the work­space needs to help women achieve their dreams and make space for us to have kids if that’s what we want, or if that’s what hap­pens. I don’t want to feel bul­lied by com­pa­nies to freeze my eggs so I can help them fill their female quota for CEOs and put off my dreams of having a family, just so I can be replaced with a sev­er­ance package if I don’t comply. I think we are beau­tiful, sharp and intu­itive as we are… I want a pres­i­dent that sup­ports that .

  3. Maybe younger women, and older women for that matter, don’t sup­port Hillary because they are revolted by her numerous vir­u­lent attacks on other women who had sexual rela­tions with her hus­band, many of those under cir­cum­stances that con­sti­tute sexual assault or rape. Or it’s pos­sible they don’t sup­port her because they deem a his­tory of lying and cor­rup­tion and greed to be dis­qual­i­fiers for the pres­i­dency regard­less of the plumbing between the legs.

  4. I take issue with the sug­ges­tion that young women reject Hillary because she is a demo­nized older woman. This claim takes away young women’s agency– namely, it makes it seem like we vote for super­fi­cial charisma rather than deep-​​rooted policy and beliefs. If Hillary gets the nom­i­na­tion, of course I’ll vote for her– but while she may be a fem­i­nist, she’s not an inter­sec­tional fem­i­nist. His­tor­i­cally, she hasn’t voted to pro­tect the needs of poor women, queer women, and women of color, whereas Sanders looks at inequality with a more inclu­sive mindset that appeals to a lot of younger voters (par­tic­u­larly women, PoC, and the LGBT+ community).

    Yes, childhood-​​me would look in awe at a woman in the White House– and adult me wants that too!– but even if Clinton were a man, I would still take issue with her voting his­tory on racial and eco­nomic inequality. If any­thing, I’m more inclined to vote for her because she is a woman. True gender equality means that I should look past this incli­na­tion and pay atten­tion to the facts– and the facts of each candidate’s views and voting his­to­ries tell me that I side with Sanders, ever-​​so-​​slightly.

  5. Of course young women have been bul­lied by the patri­archy into thinking that Hillary isn’t who she claims to be. Young women are so easily molded, and don’t do their own research. We need a woman in the white house to teach all those Bernie sup­porters how to think for them­selves, instead of buying into the 30 years of unwaivering rhetoric coming from Bernie.

  6. In an effort to pro­duce another point of view without illic­iting a fire storm of hatred, I would like to com­ment. I am all about having a con­ver­sa­tion without harsh tones or without attacks on eachother, esp. with regards to char­acter.
    Although our social opin­ions have much impact on our alle­giances to par­tic­ular can­di­dates, I think we make too many assump­tions about other people and their own ideals. For example, Why do many people think it is log­ical to make a judge­ment on a woman’s sup­port for other women? I find it dif­fi­cult to believe that many young voters are not voting for Hillary just because they do not feel a desire to sup­port other women. It is a log­ical fal­lacy to assume so.
    I just am a bit con­fused I sup­pose. I do not under­stand why many of us choose to make such rash judge­ments on other people because they do not align with a par­tic­ular view.
    Thanks for reading my post everyone and have a great weekend.

  7. This article is dis­ap­pointing. As though the only choices avail­able are Sanders and Clinton. Clinton, someone with little moral values and Sanders, an avowed socialist. For­tu­nately many women are smarter than the authors give them credit for. Women that have values and believe in a free republic. But I have a feeling that the higher ups at North­eastern would never let their voices be heard as they try and spread their socialist fem­i­nism. Maybe its time I move on to another university.

  8. A women pres­i­dent would be great, just not Hillary.
    You can’t tell me she did not know of any of her husband’s affairs at the Gov Man­sion thru to the White House. He prayed on young interns and she looked away. Her Hus­band was impeached.
    She also snuck out in the middle of the night when things started to fall apart, and left her Pres­i­dent and the Amer­ican people in the lurch.
    We need a leader who has integrity and who won’t run when the fire gets too hot, regard­less of color, gender, and reli­gion. She will not make a good President.

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