By Nina Rubin

It’s really hard to be a young woman in today’s society.

Granted, I don’t know what it was like to be a young woman in prior generations, yet today our concerns are different than those of our mothers and grandmothers. Specifically, I’m thinking about the major backlash and gender shaming against women who identify themselves as feminists, by none other than one of our foremothers. Gloria Steinem, a long standing feminist icon, recently went on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and explained why Bernie Sanders was winning a voting base among young women. She suggests that young female supporters choose Bernie Sanders because of “boys.” In other words, young women choose Sanders and attend his events or rallies to meet guys.

Many young female Sanders supporters are disappointed with this characterization, and feel betrayed that someone seemingly as wise and open-minded would conclude that our gender gets involved in politics or votes to meet potential dates. I’m personally shocked that Steinem would project this asinine commentary on women. After all, isn’t Ms. Steinem the very leader who has championed equality for women, reproductive choice, and voicing our opinions? Her recent rationale is disheartening because the same women who support Clinton or Sanders are expressing a choice and are selecting candidates who meet their specific needs.

It feels like Clinton, Steinem, and former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright (who told a crowd in New Hampshire last week that “…there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”) all have antiquated views of what it means to be feminist. They appear to be of the mind that feminism equals shoving sexist rhetoric down our throats. They haven’t mastered the ever-important method of subtlety. Further, women in this modern generation want to also include femininity in our repertoires, or an ability to portray ourselves with grace rather than force.

I’m a bit older than the millennial generation, yet I still feel the pressure to be feminist and feminine.

ALL of my female clients are stuck between the same rock and hard place; namely, how to navigate being strong, independent women who earn a decent paycheck for the good work they do while also being sensual and feminine and not appearing too masculine in their relationships or professional lives.

One of my clients talks about maintaining her online persona to stay relevant and sexy (but not slutty!), and also tries to portray herself in real life as capable, humble, and hardworking while at her job. Like most women, she’s been hit on by her male boss and other men in supervisory positions. These instances of real and online life—femininity and feminism—show the struggle that many women face. It’s hard to navigate, and really tough to defend ourselves. Some people still don’t acknowledge that there is rhetoric for women to act and speak timidly, obeying an unspoken rule to be seen and not heard. Our generation is different, however. Women want to be seen and heard and considered equals, including how we vote and how we portray ourselves.

In the wake of this “feminism” debate about who is going to be a better, stronger candidate, I’m still surprised and disappointed to hear that some pundits have turned the tables on women and are saying we should vote along gender lines. I do like Hillary Clinton, yet I prefer Bernie Sanders. I certainly would vote for either of them before voting for Donald Trump.

In my consideration of this blasphemous rhetoric from Steinem, along with Hilary Clinton’s brand of corporate feminism, I’d like to coach each of them on why many women in our generation support Bernie Sanders. We want to be heard, not pandered to. We won’t stand for your shaming or condemning of our choices to be feminine and feminist. We are not all from the upper class, and Clinton seems to speak to women of certain financial brackets. We will also vote with our hearts and souls for the most qualified candidates.

I digress.

Coaching millennial-aged women, I see how tough it is to be female in the world today. Some of the advice I give my clients is to:

Become aware of yourself! Distinguish when something is being forced on you and when you’re making a choice. As often as possible, go with your choice, not the default, people-pleasing decision.

Decide if you want to be involved in social media. If so, how far will you go?

Maintain your strong IRL (in real life) persona. Stay connected to your friends, family, and people with whom you have an actual connection.

Breathe, and sometimes take a break to recharge. Exercise caution when you’re over-tired or hungry, so as not to make poor decisions. This goes for getting involved in a political debate or saying yes to a date or posting a selfie.

Choose femininity and feminism. I believe in 2016, we can have both.

And for the men: Encourage your female friends to stand up. Support us in being heard. Listen!
In sum, I like Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism: “a feminist is a man or a woman who says ‘yes, there’s s problem with gender; we must fix it, we must do better.”


Photo: Wikipedia

Editor: Peter Schaller