A video recently appeared online of Hillary Clinton as a “Rebel Girl,” complete with a Bikini Kill song in the background, fighting for women’s rights. It was promptly taken down.
Tobi Vail, the lead singer of Bikini Kill, asked for the removal in part because she is a Bernie Sanders supporter. She also is a white millennial woman, a demographic less inclined to support Clinton than other groups, including older women.
Vail said on Twitter that she believes Sanders’ policies will make things better for men and women alike. This raise-all-boats idea has strong appeal, and I see why young women like it. But there is also an older-lady position, with which I am more familiar. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright fanned the flames when she said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Afterward, there was a collective burst of laughter from many women in the crowd. The theme of Albright’s speech was that, “It [the battle against sexism] is not done.” A general professed desire for progression did not get us there.
It has not, and it won’t, even among people who feel as if they care about everybody. For one thing, a great deal of human psychology is unconscious. I have studied this tendency in my work, and it is astounding how often people’s professed beliefs and actual beliefs do not align.
Real change will take real fighting, and most people will not fight to the extent necessary unless they have experienced the inequities first-hand and have internalized them in a deep and personal way.
Older women know this because we have had the friendliest and most self-actualized (we thought) co-workers and managers continually deny us promotions, dismiss our viewpoints and pay us less. We have seen the situation get better for women over the years, but not that much better, despite the advanced “waves” of feminism.
The point is not just that Clinton supported the creation of the Office on Violence Against Women while she was first lady, or that she gave one of the best speeches on the subject in 1995 in Beijing. The point is that she could stand up and say to a world audience that: “In too many places, the status of women’s health is a picture of human suffering and pain.
The faces in that picture are of girls and women who, but for the grace of God or the accident of birth, could be us or one of our sisters, mothers or daughters” while herself actually being a sister, mother and daughter.
No matter what she accomplishes, a primary reaction is to diminish it, to try to erase it. Frankly, any reasonably successful woman past the age of 40 has experienced these kinds of dismissals over and over again. Even now the sexism can be breathtaking.
Look at the number of articles and posts patiently explaining that Sanders would be “better for women.” Imagine, when President Barack Obama was running, someone opining that a white candidate would be “better for black people”? It is perfectly OK for women to want someone who looks like us, who has shared our experiences, in the White House next.
This may seem like a limited stance. You may have to have been beaten up a little bit (or a lot) by your optimism in order to truly understand why it is necessary. No one is asking millennial women to support someone they do not want to support for president. But as their older sibling, I think they should understand that our position and our bitterness were hard won.
We have had their naiveté and it didn’t work out for us. We hear the underlying patronization when people tell us that another group can help us as much as we can help ourselves. We are done with that. Now we want the brass ring.
Julie Irwin is a professor in the Department of Marketing in the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in the Huffington Post.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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