Hillary Clinton must overcome feminist generation gap in building a coalition
© Greg Nash

Nearly a century after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Poll: Warren leads Biden in Maine by 12 points MORE stands closer to the highest office in the free world than any woman before her. This nomination, and Clinton’s acceptance speech, is, to paraphrase Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years MORE, a “BFD.” Clinton herself acknowledged as much when on Tuesday she told the little girls who stayed up late to watch the convention, “I may be the first woman president, but one of you is next.”

Across generations feminists know how long the road has been to this moment. That said we risk labeling the moment as anti-climactic because Americans of all ages feel like they know Clinton all too well, and women appear to have achieved so much.


Despite the conventional wisdom that Americans already know how they feel about her, data from the Pew Research Center indicate that public opinion about Clinton has actually fluctuated significantly over the course of her career. Thus despite her current low favorability ratings, Clinton’s acceptance speech offered her an opportunity to reset the conversation. What kind of first woman president does she intend to be?

Halfway through the speech Clinton revealed the connection between her gender and her generation: she would be the same kind of woman as president that she had been as first lady, senator, and Secretary of State. 

Clinton’s approach to gender inequality at the convention and in the speech was largely uncontroversial. Unapologetically wonky and sweating “the details of policy,” Clinton embraces a “Baby Boomer” version of feminism that celebrates policies of equal opportunity and equal pay.

Unfortunately this approach to gender equality does not address the needs of many women who were part of the 2008 Obama coalition and who will play a key role in mobilizing their fellow voters in 2016, especially millennial feminists. There is a cultural generation gap among feminists that helps to explain why younger feminists are less excited about the candidacy of Hillary Clinton than might be expected.

So far Clinton has tried to appeal to them by adopting Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio New study: Full-scale 'Medicare for All' costs trillion over 10 years MORE’ economic proposals like student debt reduction, which target young women and men alike.

Clinton has often said she’s not a natural politician, and you might think that’s what makes her appeals to young voters fall flat. Among millennial feminists, however, something else is afoot. Millennial feminists have a different view of feminism – intersectional feminism – that focuses on the connections between political challenges like sexism, racism, homophobia and economic injustice. 

Clinton’s approach of swapping out gender-related policy appeals for age-related policy appeals misses both the connectivity intersectional feminism demands between issues and the recognition of complexity within populations that might require a multi-issue solution.

As an early adopter of intersectional feminism, I am happy to see its popularity among millennial feminists. I’ve written about the potential of intersectional feminism to lead us out of the generational battles that Americans face as millennials rightfully seek to make their mark on party platforms and elections going forward. Specifically one of intersectional feminism’s greatest assets is its ability to identify unlikely allies and build solidarity. It thus fits with Clinton’s invitation to Americans to be “stronger together” that concluded her speech.

To be sure, some millennial feminists may not embrace intersectional feminism. Nevertheless there is an important rhetorical link to be made by the Clinton campaign to reach millennials who do subscribe to intersectional feminism. Connecting two of her cherished policy plans, “Stronger Together” and “Breaking Every Barrier” in an explicitly intersectional appeal to millennial feminists could lead them to be as excited as their Baby Boomer counterparts about mobilizing their networks in the general election on Clinton’s behalf.

Hancock is an associate professor of gender studies, political science and sociology at the University of Southern California and the founder of RISIST: The Research Institute for the Study of Intersectionality and Social Transformation. Follow her on Twitter @AngeMarieH


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