Why isn't Clinton inspiring millennial women?

Getty Images

As a young elementary school student teacher in 1980, I was excited to put up a magical 3-D bulletin board welcoming the new class of students. It beckoned with a Shel Silverstein verse, "If you are a dreamer, come in." This inspiring invitation captured my students' imaginations and encouraged creativity. It is what children need, and it seems that today it is also what many millennials want — and even expect — from candidates running for office.

ADVERTISEMENT
Backtrack in time and I can tell you how I was inspired by the activism of Gloria Steinem, who persuaded women to take up the fight for equality and a new "feminism"; and by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who embodied the possibility of a woman holding a position of power on the world stage. They won battles for American women and eventually a war that gave us opportunities to break through glass ceilings — opportunities that some millennials may now take for granted.

I, personally, am a beneficiary of Steinem and Albright's efforts. In 1999, I embarked on my first campaign for public office in county legislature. After facing my own demons about my worthiness as a middle-aged woman, I leaned on the courage of these pioneering leaders and ran for the positive changes that still needed to be made for equality and opportunity on behalf of my own community.

I understand why Steinem and Albright have been passionate about their support for Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump shuts down talk of softening on immigration Former KKK leader David Duke praises Trump's immigration speech FULL SPEECH: Donald Trump affirms hard-line immigration plan MORE as a woman who may finally break the presidency's glass ceiling. Clinton symbolizes the struggle of a generation of women. But now these same female leaders have harshly called out young women millennials as being wrong for their support of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders EpiPen debate and out-of-control drug prices Leaked memo: Dems told to 'lead from behind' with Black Lives Matter Seems like we're forgetting a few issues this campaign MORE (I-Vt.), a man.

As a near-peer to these accomplished women, I suggest that they are missing the point; that they are arguing based on a struggle that has changed so much, they may not understand this younger generation. Many millennials believe they are fighting for basic survival in an economy that our generation may have squandered. Being women is just a fact to them, rather than a cause.

Barriers for entry into "the club" are different now. It is difficult running for office without the establishment and their influencers endorsing them. For us, it was primarily about breaking through the glass ceiling; for millennials, it's also about viability in a realm where economic inequality hurts women and minorities more than anyone. Wall Street is a big player in that inequality and one reason why millennials support Sanders and his anti-Wall Street stance as opposed to Clinton, whom they see as compliant to big-money influence.

Steinem and Albright fought for, and won us, the freedom to choose. And though the struggle for equality continues, the fact that many young women align with Sanders over Clinton should not be considered mutiny. Rather, Steinem, Albright and especially Clinton should be figuring out why their message is not resonating with millennials or even women of my age. Apparently Sanders has figured it out.

Something is missing. Something is being overlooked. And attacks, reprimands and shaming will certainly not persuade anyone. Millennial women are seeking authenticity and don't respond to slogans and corporate rhetoric. They not only want an advocate for fairness, but someone who will fight corruption and inequity by example.

These women are feminists too, but with a redefined, rebranded type of feminism. They are smart. They understand that men also need to be feminists in order to change the agenda and its outcome. They believe that Sanders is that type of a feminist; that he speaks to youth today by targeting the cause of systemic inequality and an economic structure that neutralizes the masses. He rouses them from complacency with a call to action.

My generation should look back at our battle cries from the 1960s, '70s and '80s for the messaging that inspired a revolution for feminism and rallied a generation of women to take responsibility for their own futures.

Steinem helped us believe that we had the freedom of choice. Why attack that belief now? Women today will listen to a compelling message and make an informed choice.

Inspiration and dreams should be part of a campaign message that will help them, and me, choose.

Konst is a former Erie County, N.Y. legislator. Her millennial daughter, Nomiki Konst, is a political commentator on Fox, CNN, MSNBC and other news media.