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Madeleine Albright, left, campaiging with presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire last week: ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’ (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Madeleine Albright, left, campaiging with presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire last week: ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.’ (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

Young feminists don’t need to be told who to vote for Add to ...

“Men tend to get more conservative because they gain power as they age, and women get more radical because they lose power as they age. So it’s kind of not fair to measure most women by the standard of most men, because they’re going to get more activist as they get older. When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” Gloria Steinem said on Real Time with Bill Maher this week – all but telling thousands of Bernie Sanders supporters they were just on their periods.

Her remarks, intended as an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, weren’t well received by Sanders supporters, or by me, and I’m not a Sanders supporter.

I have reservations about all the would-be presidential candidates, grave concerns about some and a horrible twisting feeling in my gut about a couple of them.

It feels culturally appropriate that I have a Jell-O 1-2-3 of emotions about American presidential hopefuls. For the most part, watching the American primaries feels like breaking your leg and losing your job the same day you have a heart attack and develop a passion for five-pin bowling.

All you can think is, “Man, I’m glad I’m Canadian.” But where to begin unpacking Ms. Steinem’s remarks, which seem relevant to us all?

First of all, they play into the notion that women only turn to feminism once the status quo no longer benefits them. I don’t see the belief that steps should be taken to ensure that women achieve social, economic and political equality with men as a thing you reach after the good stuff is gone, Ms. Steinem.

A yearning for justice is an idealistic thing – the kind of thing that attracts the young. It is not that sad layer of nachos under the layer with all the good cheesy stuff that you pick at anyway, which is how Ms. Steinem presented it.

I know you understand me here, dear reader; the faces of people picking through the bottom layer of a plate of nachos are all the same. It is the facial expression of the human condition.

Second, way to erase generations of young women who helped get us where we are, Ms. Steinem. You take women under 35 out of the picture, and there’s no A Vindication of the Rights of Women, published when Mary Wollstonecraft was 32.

Emmeline Pankhurst was a teeny-bopper suffragette who went on from there, and does Ms. Steinem believe her daughter, Christabel Pankhurst, was an old broad at 25 when she and her friend, 26-year-old venerable matron Annie Kenney, interrupted a political meeting demanding to know if Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey thought women should have the right to vote? Neither Liberal answered.

Lastly, in stating that women “lose power as they age,” Ms. Steinem promotes an oddly patriarchal definition of what power is: hotness.

Hotness, unlike, knowledge, is never power. Indeed, knowledge that hotness is never power is power, as Francis Bacon might say.

Response to Ms. Steinem’s comments was negative. What astute political observers may have learned this week – thanks to former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright – is that the only thing women appreciate less than being told that their vaginas compell them to vote a certain way is being told their vaginas oblige them to vote a certain way.

Ms. Albright introduced Ms. Clinton by saying, “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

One of the arguments against women’s suffrage was that allowing women to vote was unfair because doing so would give married men two votes.

It’s a terrible, ridiculous idea – that women could be expected to vote as instructed – but, if you squint, you can kind of see how that particular train of thought rolled into stupid station. You can see the route it took to get there, and there were echoes of that theory, that a woman’s vote isn’t her own, in Ms. Albright’s remarks.

Young feminists got a stern talking to this week; on the one hand, there was Ms. Steinem insinuating that women are governed disproportionately by their biology and, on the other, Ms. Albright insisting that good, unhellbound women, do what’s expected of them.

With friends like these, who needs opposition researchers?

“No, don’t go there!” young women pretty much cried out in unison, by which they meant “full circle” and, in saying that, those headstrong women weren’t neglecting their history, as they’re often accused of doing, they were continuing it.

If, like feminism, a body of knowledge is sound, it can be built upon; one can be in awe of, deeply grateful toward, Marie Curie and choose not to carry tubes of uranium around in one’s pockets.

I have this memory of being at my friend’s parents’ party. They were academics, some clever second-wave feminists among them, and my friend and I were being lippy as hell, as only a couple of 14-year-olds who’ve been sneaking the liquor can be.

We were killing it. Exactly which injustices and indignities we were skewering I don’t remember, but they were laughing and loving us and, when we were done, one of the women looked at us seriously and said: “And you girls – what is it you girls want?”

And without missing a beat and in unison, because it’s not like we didn’t talk about these things, my friend and I said, dead straight: “All Clinique makeup and a waterbed,” and walked out of the room.

I couldn’t articulate until years later what we were doing at that moment, but I think what we were saying, sensing how walls can close in, was: “Yes, but we’re not here for you, either. Understand that. Not handmaidens. So not handmaidens to your particular vision either, my good, brilliant women,” and now I say, carry on, girls – to me it feels like you got this one.

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Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

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