At a Washington reception last month for a well-known national women’s organization, the chair of the board asked Maureen McFadden, a communications executive with the organization, which candidate she’d voted for in the recent primary. McFadden, hoping to avoid an awkward moment, answered that she’d voted by absentee ballot. The board chair pressed ahead, “Did you vote for a boy or a girl?”
“I paused for a long time,” says McFadden. “Then I told her I voted for a boy–I wasn’t going to lie.” McFadden, who has worked on women’s issues for twenty years, says the room went silent and the board chair chastised her. “It was clear that I had betrayed feminism by voting for Obama. It became obvious–if you didn’t vote for Hillary, you were less than a feminist and only marginally a woman.”
It’s no secret that Clinton’s candidacy has caused waves in feminist circles. Media outlets from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post have reported on the rift between feminists voting for Clinton and those supporting Obama. Blogs have weighed in, and feminist listservs are aflame. As a feminist blogger and writer, I’ve been watching the tension unfold–but with no great surprise. This election “rift,” far from being a new wrinkle in a feminist utopia, is a fairly predictable response from a movement already disunited. The Clinton-Obama divide has shone a spotlight on feminism’s dirty little not-so secret: the movement’s longstanding power imbalance, in which a few organizations and leaders decide what counts as an acceptable platform. Indeed, feminist support for Clinton–coming from the usual suspects like the National Organization for Women (NOW), EMILY’s List, Gloria Steinem and former Ms. magazine editor Robin Morgan–has been organized, strong and far-reaching. What’s been less than savvy, however, is the reaction some feminist Clinton supporters have expressed toward their Obama-endorsing cohorts. I’ve seen Obama supporters called everything from naïve to traitors to the cause, and the majority of this ire has come from mainstream professional feminists.
For example, in a widely disseminated article that inspired responses ranging from effusive to horrified, Morgan diagnosed young women who support Obama as “eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo), who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power…” Gloria Feldt, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, penned a piece for The Huffington Post in which she warned women they would be missing out on a historic moment if they didn’t vote for Clinton. “Will women give this Moment away freely once again?” she pondered.