Sisterhood Gone Sour

Why young women don't like Hillary Clinton, and why they should start

Pop a Molly

Hillary Clinton feels like a promise. She’s the missing page in a textbook filled with dead white men—the closest thing to living proof that girls can win at politics, too. She’s what many young women have been waiting for. So why don’t we like her?

Clinton’s national lead over Bernie Sanders narrows every day, and while Clinton has stayed on top with the female demographic overall, Sanders has edged her out as frontrunner when it comes to millennials: Recent polls have Sanders ahead among Democratic and independent women aged 18 to 34 by as many as 19 points.

This deficit isn’t new. Warning bells rang as far back as September, when the early summer’s sunny numbers gave way to a bleaker fall forecast for Clinton. Then as now, while older women stood strong with Clinton, younger ones were slipping off to Sanders’s camp. A few things might explain the gap.

On the simplest level, Clinton seems out of touch and unrelatable. Some women say they don’t see Clinton as their grandmother. Others can’t see her as a sister. That’s understandable. Efforts at hipness from Clinton can ring as hollow as Mitt Romney standing next to a group of black people and blurting, “Who let the dogs out?” before woofing twice. It’s a problem a gig on Saturday Night Live and a few stump speeches from Lena Dunham can’t fix. But there’s more to Clinton’s crisis than stiffness or an age gap.

Clinton’s femaleness seems to have backfired. Instead of drawing young women closer to her, it’s pushing them further and further away. It doesn’t matter that Clinton is a woman. It matters that she’s not our kind of woman. Millennial female voters never expected to see themselves in Sanders. Not seeing ourselves in Clinton, or Clinton in us, is so jarring precisely because we think we should.

These past weeks, it’s been easier than ever to feel jarred. No longer is it only recent missteps, like a private email server, that dog Clinton. Now, decades-old indiscretions have come back to haunt her as well: The scandals of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton’s campaign for a second term came under threat amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, have started to loom large over his wife’s own run.

“Bimbo eruptions,” Clinton aide Betsey Wright famously said in response to the claims. “Floozy,” Bill Clinton called one of the women who spoke out. “We have to destroy her story,” Hillary Clinton announced of a second. Fearful that Republicans were preparing to turn the tide against the then-president, the Clintons formed a united front.

For many younger women, Clinton’s choices in the ’90s doom her in 2016. Certainly, the discrediting crusade she helped wage against her husband’s accusers wouldn’t fly in today’s political climate. But for older women, it has proven easier to write Clinton’s decision off as a product of the past—just as it has proven easier for them to forgive Clinton for holding more conservative positions in more conservative climates.

Different circumstances call for different decisions. Those who have lived long enough to witness society’s shifts are more likely to comprehend how someone could make a decision in one era that she wouldn’t make in another. It’s tough for younger women, who only know today’s standards, to relate.

Perhaps older women have also discovered that sometimes life calls for, well, hard choices. Sometimes, no option falls in sync with the people we think we are, or the people we want to be. It’s difficult always to make the right call over the course of three decades—especially when, as in Clinton’s case, every personal decision turns political and public. This is a problem younger women haven’t yet had to confront and a problem they may have more trouble understanding.

Thinking that way, it’s fair to weigh more heavily what Clinton says and does now than what she said and did in the ’90s. Because presidential candidates tend to do in the Oval Office what they vowed to do on the campaign trail, that’s not a bad tack to take.

The notion of girl power shouldn’t be enough to keep every female Democrat worshipping at the altar of Hillary. But past and personal slip-ups that don’t jibe with our current conception of sisterhood shouldn’t be enough to keep us away, either—at least for those of us who find the candidate’s policy positions up to snuff.

As far as those positions go, Clinton has a strong record on women’s rights, from equal pay to emergency contraception, and has campaigned for change in the same direction. And even aside from the feminist front, the country needs a progressive pragmatist in the White House—not a mythmaker with a pipe dream for a platform. With the policy smarts to think up solutions and the political skill to push them through, Clinton is the best person for the job.

Hillary Clinton is not our sister. She’s a politician. If we get behind her, she could be a president.


Molly L. Roberts ’16, a former Crimson editorial chair, is an English concentrator in Cabot House.

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