Many will have heard that Gloria Steinem, a prominent figure in the feminist movement, made several problematic comments last weekend in support of Hillary Clinton. Steinem, who later stated that she misspoke, argued that women do not become involved in politics until they are older and that women supporting Senator Bernie Sanders are doing so in an attempt to meet young men. It does not take much analysis to see why this is deeply flawed.
However, the greatest flaw in Steinem’s statement is not the obvious error, but rather the underlying assumption about women in politics that is accepted by the majority of Americans.
The “women’s vote” is fought for by almost all candidates in election season. An inordinate amount of money is spent on attempting to discover which issues sway the elusive women’s vote. These issues are highlighted by candidates to capture that demographic.
However, I see no polling numbers that demonstrate which issues will sway the men’s vote. No candidate is ever told that if they support a certain policy they will gain the support of the male population in the United States.
It almost sounds ridiculous to say that men will vote for the candidate who supports tax cuts or stricter gun laws. This is because the male population is accepted as a diverse group, containing a variety of values and political ideologies. Why are women still seen as so homogenous?
Steinem was obviously wrong in her assumptions about why women are supporting Sanders, but her statement was even more harmful in that it assumed some kind of female consciousness that is motivated by the same factors and leads to the same conclusion.
When we consider that women support not only Sanders and Clinton, but also Rubio, Bush, Cruz and even Trump, we cannot legitimately say that a group of women think a certain way because of any particular and singular motivation.
This is more than just a flawed assumption. It is actively harmful to women as they attempt to gain more presence in politics and other male-dominated fields.
There will never be equality in society, and especially in the workforce, if women are seen as having one given set of values, while men are complex.
These assumptions are harmful enough when they are used against women directly. However, they are even more pernicious when perpetuated by feminist leaders like Steinem and Clinton.
The next step for feminism in the political arena is for politicians to recognize the complexity of the “women’s vote” and acknowledge the diversity and conflicting views among women throughout the country.