My mother will be the first to tell you that I’m not one to wear my heart on my sleeve. Throughout my many years as a fan of One Direction, Love Actually, and the oftentimes abysmal Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, one thing has become abundantly clear: I am not a crier. Because of my aversion to such histrionics, I was caught off guard when I burst into tears upon seeing Hillary Clinton take the stage at the Democratic National Convention as the first female presidential candidate for a major political party.
Much has been written in the days following the Convention on the momentous nature of Clinton’s nomination and what it represents for American women. Older women recognize Clinton’s victory as the ultimate feminist triumph: for most of their lives, electing a female president seemed to be just out of reach. The mothers and grandmothers of young girls celebrate the fact that our nation’s newest generation will be raised in an America where they can witness firsthand that women’s leadership is valued. However, despite the proliferation of feminist responses to Clinton’s nomination, the unique perspective of millennial women has largely been neglected.
Throughout much of the Democratic primary process, young women, 61% of whom backed Senator Bernie Sanders according to Reuters polling data, were placed in an awkward position: stuck choosing between a more radical male candidate and the first woman with a legitimate shot at being elected president. Some of our older peers, including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and feminist luminary Gloria Steinem, accused female Sanders supporters of being gender-traitors and questioned their motives for supporting him.
While many were shocked by these sorts of comments, those of us who are active in the feminist movement were, unfortunately, not surprised. Steinem and Albright’s comments fit cleanly into a broader pattern of older feminists criticizing a new generation of activists who were born after many of the most important gains in women’s rights had already been achieved. Former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz expressed this perspective earlier this year when she claimed that young women are complacent because our “entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade”.
This line of reasoning grossly mischaracterizes our country’s youngest generation of feminists by erasing the activism being done, in both digital and public spaces, by young women who are fighting not only to defend the achievements of our predecessors, but also to expand the goals of the feminist movement to be more inclusive of women of color, lesbians, trans women, and other marginalized groups.
What is more problematic about these arguments, however, is that they suggest that millennial women don’t appreciate the countless barriers that Hillary Clinton has overcome. As proven by the emotional outpourings of young women across the nation, myself included, millennial feminists know that many of the opportunities we enjoy were made possible by the tireless activism of those who came before us, and we are moved to support Hillary not only because of our shared experiences as American women, but because of her policy agenda.
When I hear a reporter describe Hillary Clinton’s voice as “shrill”, I remember when, as a competitive debater in high school, I was told that my voice was too high for people to take me seriously. When I watch commentators pay more attention to female politicians’ outfits than their ideas, I think of the times I’ve walked into an interview and immediately had my appearance commented on. When I think of Hillary Clinton, I recall all of the times I was told that I “could do anything I put my mind to”, and I now relish the newfound truth of that promise.
But, as evidenced by young women’s preferences in the Democratic primary contest, we do not feel obligated to support Clinton solely because we share experiences of American womanhood; her policies, especially when compared to those of Donald Trump, reflect a Democratic party platform that is the most pro-woman our country has ever seen. Clinton recognizes that the battle for reproductive rights did not end with Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, or Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Likewise, millennial feminists recognize that Hillary Clinton is the best person available to lead this fight.
When formulating policy, Clinton is constantly thinking of women like my own mother, who had to sacrifice their professional aspirations in order to raise a family; Clinton’s own experiences as a working mother have undoubtedly influenced her support for policies such as affordable childcare and paid family leave that would make it easier for mothers to balance their professional and home lives. Rather than seeing feminist progress as a set of definite goals, Hillary is perpetually progress oriented and acknowledges that the movement’s objectives and priorities must evolve alongside society.
When I think of Hillary and the vision that she has for America, I think about choice, a principle that has long defined the feminist movement. Clinton imagines an America in which women aren’t constantly confronted by either/or choices. Her policy proposals make it abundantly clear that, even though millennial women have not always supported her candidacy, she has always supported our ability not to “have it all”, but, rather, our right to have as much as we want. The thought of that America, one in which women are afforded more than a series of ultimatums, is enough to bring tears to your eyes.