If you want to lose young women, just scold them. That will offend them every time. And it's precisely what two stalwart, old-school feminist icons did when each chastised younger female voters for not lining up behind former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for United States president.
"A lot of you younger women think it's done," former secretary of state Madeleine Albright said of the fight for equality. "It's not done. There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."
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RAW VIDEO: Hillary Clinton congratulates rival Bernie Sanders, telling supporters: "It is not whether you get knocked down that matters, it's whether you get back up."
On political TV show Real Time with Bill Maher, Gloria Steinem seconded the motion, adding some girly retro quip about young women jumping on Senator Bernie Sanders' bandwagon because that's where the boys were.
I cringed when I heard them. It's so not cool – as well as being downright counter-productive – for older women to try to shame younger women. Nothing is worse than that shaming business, the attempt to make you feel embarrassed. That is often the lot of women, of whatever age. We live in a culture that shames us all the time. We're too sexy, not sexy enough. We're sell-outs. We're impure. The truth is: vote-shaming and slut-shaming are, alas, part of the same continuum.
The young women to whom I talked were all offended – even those who say they might end up voting for Clinton.
"You cannot tell a young woman to vote for her gender simply for that reason," my 28-year-old niece, Martine Moore, told me, "because that objectifies her again. You're telling her, 'Don't use your brain, don't listen to the issues and that gender trumps all.' That's condescending and we hate it."
I get it. The sad thing is that no one has fought off shame as well, and indomitably, as Clinton. If I respect her for one thing above all, it is that.
All along her complicated path – living with a man who cheated on her, even in the White House – she refused to accept the classic "female role" of the shamed, humiliated spouse. She refused to be pitied, to slink away. Even when there was a clamour for her to ditch her philandering mate – from various pundits and, I suspect, from some of her friends – Clinton put her head down and went back to work defining her own life and legacy.
Those who write off that survivor's instinct as pure brute ambition suffer from a limited imagination. To survive what she has, to refuse to be called down, to be shamed, is for anyone – but especially for a woman, especially one in the public eye – a remarkable act of courage. Keep that head held high.
Which is why playing the shame game with younger women is so troubling. Granted, the offending remarks were made by proxies, not by the candidate herself. So the saddest thing was watching her, standing by Albright, when the latter let fly.
Clinton's face lit up with sheer gratitude. Finally, that face said, with a whooping smile, someone is sticking up for me. Someone is telling young female Sanders voters who I am and where I come from and why, oh why, they should be with me.
Then, within the spin of the news cycle, she basically had to apologise for Albright's remarks.
There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.Madeleine Albright
It must sting fiercely: not being able to capture the hearts of young women.
This is the second time when Clinton has had to vie with a male rival who somehow has superior claim on the notion of a ground-breaking candidacy. There she was marching along in 2007, and up came senator Barack Obama and the young swooned to him: the United States' first black President. We could wait for the woman.
Now she's back in the primary fray and up surges another man with revolutionary cred. It is no accident that Sanders uses the word "revolution" over and over to steal her thunder and the loyalties of the young. Deja vu. Nationally, Clinton is still beating Sanders among women, 48 per cent to his 38 per cent, but women under 45 are disproportionately for him. He just beat her handily in New Hampshire, capturing the women's vote, 53 per cent to Clinton's 46 per cent, including an impressive 69 per cent of women under 45, and 82 per cent of female primary voters under 30.
I am finding it painful to watch Clinton's big, bright tired face in full battle mode, a flicker of incredulity (and irritation and maybe hurt) in her eyes as she realises that, once again, she is not the passion choice. Last time, she didn't play the gender card. This time, she is trying to play it, with some success, but not nearly as much as she had hoped.
The young women to whom I talked don't care about her personal life and compromises – most shrug at the name Monica Lewinsky, the intern who had sex with her husband, Bill, when he was president – but they do care that she seems old hat, a compromised and plodding pragmatist versus an old but fervent Vermont leftie.
There is no question – and this is where Albright was absolutely right – that many young women do suffer from historical amnesia. We are at a time when abortion rights are being whittled away, when sexual assault on university campuses is an epidemic and when the leading Republican contender has called women "bimbos" and "fat pigs".
The problem with Clinton's campaign is that she is only half-playing the women card. She needs a more compelling narrative if she is going to play it. She'd have to go big, stir up some gender passion. Better yet, she should go around and listen to and try to enlist every young woman beyond her daughter, Chelsea, and actress Lena Dunham – hard-working women of every background – she can find, gather them around her, put them on campaign buses, ignite their sense of destiny, of excitement, of outrage at the extant sexism that surrounds them. She needs to listen to them – not shame them. Then make their stories part of her story.
She is already talking about making changes in her campaign. But it is time for a major campaign reboot. Get out of the name-calling mud with Sanders (or Donald Trump). When asked about taking major speaking fees or Wall Street money, just tell it like it is: you want to run this country, then you need money. Simple. No apologies, no defensiveness. Time to get back on offence.
There is about Clinton an almost Shakespearean sense of destiny. The sense that yes, indeed, she is a woman of formidable gifts and probably the most qualified of all the candidates running. For a reminder, rewatch the House Select Committee on Benghazi hearing. (You don't need to watch all 11 hours of her testimony.) Then, for a contrast, rewatch Sarah Palin's endorsement of Trump.
Given Clinton's lifetime of public service, her grinding tenacity, her ability to get up off the floor and fight again, given even all the complicated bargains she has made, wouldn't it be fitting – or just – for her indeed to be the first female president of the US? I would like that to happen on my watch.
I am not immune to the gender shivers. I am prime Baby Boomer material. If Clinton doesn't make it, the first female president could well come from a younger generation – and very possibly from the other side of the aisle, perhaps a pro-life, Christian conservative (cue: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley). Which is why Albright's feisty bit about there being a place in hell for women who don't support other women is palpably wrong.
It matters which woman and what she stands for. That's what young women are saying. It is time to listen to them, not shame them. Time to try to get them back on board.