PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — If feminist icons Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem had hoped to shame young, female Bernie Sanders supporters into switching allegiance to Hillary Clinton with their comments last week, it didn’t work.
In fact, it might have made it worse.
“[Hillary is] confused about what feminism means, she thinks feminism just means female empowerment only, it means a lot more than that,” said Ainsley-Aude Croteau, 24, of Durham, New Hampshire. “Feminism is gender equality, I think she’s trying to appeal to young women voters by shouting feminism in our faces, but were not one-track-minded people.”
Croteau was one of nearly a dozen women interviewed by The Daily Beast who attended the Sanders rally on Sunday afternoon in a community college gymnasium. They were all genuinely perplexed by the idea that Clinton deserved their support solely based on her gender.
And while they stressed they respected her as a champion of past battles for gender equality, that did not mean she deserves their vote in 2016. Equality to them takes on a more inclusive definition, one that also includes gay rights and economic justice—two issues where they think Sanders is much stronger.
“I’m looking at what kind of candidate is going to be the type of leader that I want to see in this country—for me it’s not about who Bernie is,” said Stephanie Corbin, 31, of Bow, New Hampshire. “It’s not about his age, it’s not about his gender, it’s about where he stands on the issues and it’s about his integrity in terms of being committed truly to social justice.”
Corbin added, “You know, I would love to support Hillary if she felt differently on some of the issues.”
The youth vote has been a problem for Clinton and she’s had a tough time ascertaining why. (After all, it’s not like she’s not running against a 74-year-old, disheveled white man.) Still, Sanders won 70 percent of voters 17-29 in Iowa—and among young women she lost roughly 6 to 1 to Sanders.
As a result, her surrogates have gone into hyper drive.
Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright remarked on Saturday at a Clinton rally that “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” as Clinton stood nearby and clapped. Clinton defended Albright’s remarks on Meet the Press Sunday, saying the comment was a “lighthearted but very pointed remark.”
This followed Gloria Steinem’s jaw-dropping comment on Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher that young women liked Bernie Sanders because “the boys are with Bernie.” Steinem later apologized, saying she “misspoke” and that she didn’t mean to imply Sanders-supporting women aren’t serious about their politics.
“I was super upset about Gloria Steinem saying that. For someone with as strong a record for standing up for young women and their opinions and their rights, to say something that sexist about young women’s opinion is incredibly disappointing as a young feminist who looks up to her,” said Persephone Bennett, 20.
Bennett said Clinton’s inconsistency on LBGT rights as well as her support of foreign wars in the Middle East made her a less than ideal choice.
“It’s disappointing and disingenuous for her to say that she is the candidate for me,” she said.
“I think they have a lot of hope for a female president and they have been waiting a long time. I understand it, I can sympathize, but I don’t empathize.”
Clinton frequently cites her long record of fighting for women’s rights be it as a lawyer in Arkansas, a first lady or as secretary of state. And it’s not that her work and sacrifices have gone unnoticed.
Mary Gibbons, 28, of Manchester, New Hampshire, said she doesn’t discount what Clinton has gone through—but that doesn’t mean she has her vote.
“I mourn the things that Hillary has had to go through as a woman in her role as a politician and the things that she hasn’t been able to do because of her gender,” she said. “I understand that, but to me that doesn’t absolve her of her policy stances. And right now I want to vote for the person whose policies I agree with.”
For Krissie Davis, 20, and Haley Massingham,17, both from Dover, New Hampshire, their embrace of Sanders stemmed from their support for his position on college affordability as well as a distrust of Clinton.
“Those emails are wicked shady, I was for her until that stuff started,” Davis said, referring to Clinton’s private email server—and the classified information that was supposedly kept on that server. “She hides things, it seems. It seems like she needs to talk to five other people to answer a question and Bernie Sanders, he has his own thinking.”
“Coming from a low-income family, he’s working for people like me who want to go to college. It wouldn’t be possible without his ideas,” Massingham added.
In some ways it must be maddening for Clinton, who spent her 2008 campaign largely shying away from gender, only to have the younger generation reject her for making her gender an issue eight years later.
But, for Croteau, it was as much about tone as it was about gender.
“Bernie doesn’t treat us like we’re children, he treats us like we are adults. He doesn’t try to talk down to us with the feminism thing,” she said. “It’s not a girl power thing, it’s a gender equality power thing.”