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For young women, a most important election

So many young women have no sense of women’s history and how it affects them

Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues.

Saxtons River

In light of emerging demographics within the U.S. electorate (including the growing youth vote and the young women flocking to Bernie Sanders) and in view of the brouhaha about recent remarks made by Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, I’m concerned.

I’m not so bothered by the Steinem and Albright remarks when taken in context, although I was shocked by both utterances. Anyone in a moment of frustration or fatigue can make thoughtless, insulting comments that they regret immediately.

My cri de coeur is about how the Clinton camp especially is failing to address a fundamental point that needs to be made to young, idealistic women, because so many of them have no clue about what life was like for females before Hillary Clinton and other second-wave feminists crawled into the trenches and fought like hell for women’s rights.

The fact is, they have no sense of women’s history and how it affects them.

* * *

Alice Paul and other women were tortured trying to secure women’s right to vote. How dare young voters, especially women, say they will stay home if Bernie isn’t the Democratic candidate?

Contraception was illegal in Connecticut, even for married women, until the 1960s. Want to think about what it was like to miss a period before Roe v. Wade? (If you were wealthy, you flew to Puerto Rico for an abortion; poor women used coat hangers.)

Know what it was like when nursing, teaching, or being a secretary were your only options?

It goes on and on.

For a full picture, read Gail Collins’s book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009), which includes stories like the one about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was told she should give up law school, go home, and make babies.

Since no one is likely to run out and get Collins’s informative book, here are a few examples of what life was like for females in my day.

* * *

When I bought my first car in the 1960s, the bank insisted my father — in bankruptcy to the same bank — sign my loan agreement. When I got married, only my husband’s credit mattered. And when I went to graduate school, I was assessed out-of-state tuition fees by the University of Maryland because although I met every criteria for in-state fees, I didn’t earn half our family income. So legally, as they saw it, I was my British husband’s dependent, just as if I were his child.

I wish Hillary and her deputies would respond to media questions about why young women aren’t voting for her by noting that they don’t know any of this stuff and ask: Don’t they realize how threatened their futures are if the wrong man wins?

Do young voters know that women have been arrested for feticide following miscarriage in this country, or that even if raped they could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term?

Do they get that lack of pay equity means they will have substantially smaller pensions or Social Security checks in old age than men?

Do they even care that there is a tax on tampons (decidedly not a luxury item), or that Viagra was covered by medical insurance when birth control wasn’t?

When late-term abortion comes up, why don’t Hillary’s folks tell it like it is? Third-trimester abortion happens very rarely when a woman (and her partner) find out, after 20 weeks of pregnancy, that their much-wanted unborn child has a horrific anomaly, perhaps a missing brain or other organs. These parents have made the agonizing decision to terminate out of a very deep love for that child and the quality of its life.

No woman — not one — flippantly decides she doesn’t want the kid that late in pregnancy, and it reveals the deepest disrespect for women to accuse them of such mindlessness.

This is not a pro-Hillary vs. Bernie or gender-based voting argument. It’s a plea to young women and to both political campaigns that want to include them.

The idealism driving young women voters to the Sanders campaign is a good thing. But Bernie, too, needs to speak to these issues, at least once in a while, so that his female followers can think through their voting decisions with a full deck of cards.

On the Clinton side, young women need to know about and appreciate the direct experience, skill set, and — yes — scars that Hillary brings to the arena, especially if they are concerned about their future as females in an extremely challenging time — economically, socially, and politically.

This could be the most important election of their lives. The time leading up to it should not be reduced to simplistic sound bites, silly squabbling, incomplete or out-of-context information, or serious omissions of fact and history. There is just too much riding on knowing as much as we can and voting wisely.

And as for Gloria and Madeleine, give them a break. What they said was inappropriate and, in the fullest analysis, troubling.

But they have given us all — women and men — so much to appreciate and be thankful for, and they’re basically terrific role models.

Let’s not diminish them, outstanding elders both, on the basis of a bad day or an unfortunate slip of the tongue.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #346 (Wednesday, March 2, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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