Hillary Clinton’s post-election party took place in a room with a glass ceiling, the Javits Convention Center in New York. At a certain point in the expected celebrations, confetti mimicking glass shards was meant to fall from the sky, a symbol of the candidate reaching feminism’s peak — breaking the glass ceiling that held women back from achieving the highest position in the country.
Of course, things didn’t turn out exactly as planned. But even if they had, it’s up for debate whether Hillary Clinton and those like her adequately represent the needs and nuance of the feminist movement today.
Feminism has always been subject to critique, but it seems that recent commentary has become much harsher. Some ask whether feminism as popularly understood today has been co-opted to represent only the concerns of its most privileged advocates.
When Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” was published in 2013, it was lauded by many but instantly faced backlash. Many felt that it devalued those women who did not work outside the home or for whom career success was not the highest ambition, while also enshrining achievement within a market-based, capitalist system as what should be women’s highest goal.
In fact, the success of Sandberg’s model (and perhaps some of Clinton’s achievement as well) rested on the underpaid labor of those with fewer resources — the nannies, housekeepers and others who would in the end perform the undervalued, underpaid and still traditionally female work of caring for others. For all of the book’s supposedly feminist bona fides, it spoke primarily to one elite group of women whose struggles were not those of the majority.
A number of those who voiced complaint were women of color, for whom exclusion from the feminist narrative has been a long-running grievance. In many cases, their concerns — about racism, classism and other forms of oppression — have been asked to take a backseat to other goals from the very beginning of the movement. And they did not see themselves adequately represented by figures such as Lena Dunham, whose supposed progressiveness doesn’t seem to stretch quite far enough to take into account their presence.
Then, of course, there is the perception that the feminist movement’s main concerns are to the left of the culture-war debates. Mainstream feminism often seems unquestioning in its support for easily accessible abortion, a re-imagining of gender roles and — though perhaps in jest — a denigration of men. This impression has left many women, especially those who identify as religious or conservative, unwilling to identify with the label.
It’s certainly a stretch to see Donald Trump’s electoral win as anything other than a net negative for women, but the fact that 42 percent of women voted for him (compared with the 44 percent of women who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012) indicates that something may have gone amiss with Clinton’s supposedly mainstream feminist message and the way the movement is represented.
Does feminism suffer from elitism? Has it lost touch with conservative, minority or working-class Americans? How can feminists build a platform that attracts more broad-based support?
Over the next few days, we’ll hear from: