Let me preface this by saying that I have been a Hillary supporter for as long as I can remember. Young-aspiring-politician Simran saw her as the beacon of hope for all women who dreamt of enacting change through public policy and leadership. I will be the first to admit that the idea of electing her as our first female president was then, as it continues to be, incredibly appealing. But I feel that it is important to draw a distinction between my priorities as an American voter and my priorities as a feminist.
Since arriving on this campus, I have engaged in countless political debates and conversations regarding candidates. When I admit to my peers that although I appreciate several of Bernie Sanders’ qualities, I will be voting for Hillary come primaries, the first response I often receive from even politically educated and active students is, “Is it because she is a woman?” While there are feminists out there who tout Hillary’s gender as a primary motivator for supporting her, know that this characterization of female Hillary supporters is nothing but a sweeping generalization. This past week, two champions of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright, brought this issue to the forefront of political conversation, when they both discussed the importance of capitalizing on the opportunity to elect our nation’s first female president. Albright contended that there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” While there may be a “special place in hell for women who don’t help each other,” there may be an even more exclusive space reserved for women who guilt other women just for having differing political opinions.
Feminism as a movement is a spectrum, and thus it is not my place, nor any other woman’s place to define what feminism means to an individual woman, beyond the most rudimentary definition of a desire for true gender parity. Two figureheads of the feminist movement, who have such great influence, ought not to utilize their platform to impose their own opinions upon others. To attempt to do so demeans one of the most fundamental ideals of feminism, that women can think for themselves. Shaming other women for choosing not to support someone based only on a common gender is effectively reducing women to uninformed and unintelligent individuals who must be told how to vote and who to support. It is further insulting to the credibility and intellect of actual Hillary supporters to imply that they are unable to make substantive voting decisions based upon any criteria other than gender itself.
Framing support of Hillary as an effort solely to elect a female president is also extremely regressive for the feminist movement itself. A woman is just as qualified, skilled, and competent for the job as a man and thus does not need the label of a woman just to be elected. Playing this card halts the progress that women have made; true equality means that a distinction between men and women is irrelevant and unnecessary as they are both equally capable.
In addition, supporting Hillary only because she is female is incredibly damaging and insulting to Hillary herself; no woman’s achievements should be neglected and overshadowed by her gender. In doing so, we are perpetuating the idea that no matter how much good you do, your worth will always be considered first and foremost in the context of your sex.
One can be a feminist and support Bernie Sanders or any other candidate for that matter; blindly following and supporting other women when you disagree with them is not aligned with feminism but stupidity. Women must support other women by encouraging them to fight for their own individual beliefs and values rather than adopt those of others.
True gender equality cannot be forced. Electing our first female president would certainly be a positive tangible indicator of the progress women have made in regards to equality. However, in order for this progress to be authentic and legitimate, a woman must be elected because the American people feel she is the best choice for the job, not because she happens to be a female who can conveniently serve as a benchmark for the feminist movement. I want a woman in the White House just as much as anyone else, and I would be elated to see Hillary as our inaugural female president. With that being said, my reasons for her are grounded in several aspects, none of which relate directly to her sex. As voters, we have an obligation to vote after being properly educated and informed about the substantive issues that define this election. As women, we have an obligation to other women to empower them to form their own views rather than conform to our own.