A presidential pill

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Of all the weird comments hurtling through the universe of political discourse, the weirdest might be this: Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem say that young women ought to vote for Hillary Clinton solely because of female solidarity — based on the presumption that young women would revel in more equal gender conditions during her incumbency.

How neat if that were true.

The most salient salvation for 20th century cisgendered American women was the 1960 release of Enovid as the first hormonal birth control pill, and young women are able to consider Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate at all because of its production. According to economist Martha J. Bailey, the widespread availability of oral contraceptives for girls emancipated them from premature parenthood — and education and labor soon substituted for young wedlock. Only 14 percent of people my age will marry within the next four years. In 1960, that statistic was nearly four times greater. So it follows that positive trends in gender-parity are largely due to women’s increased education, not just the work of influential women leaders.

This makes sense to me. I have spent 80 percent of my life in school and 10 percent of my life in a committed relationship, and have concluded that the time spent in a relationship did not outweigh its distraction from school. Validation of modern feminist ideals is in the fact that I am receiving a college education, that UC Berkeley’s current ASUC president is a woman, that near gender-parity in enrollment exists at UC Berkeley and other institutions of higher education. The work accomplished by iconic leaders — in any movement — is not irrelevant. In the feminist case, however, their work is just not causal of the trends. As a female college student, I say: Thank God that millennial women are not flocking to Clinton because of her femininity. Conflating gender with Clinton’s candidacy is troubling for its outdated logic, which is the same sort of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” mentality that millennial feminists strive to relinquish.

The millennial women’s rights movement is necessarily different than that of its predecessors. Ours is an anthem of singletons, sex and reclaimed rhetoric, where feminism and education have reconciled in DeCal courses at UC Berkeley such as “Topics in Sexual Health,” and “FemSex: A Community Space to Critically Explore Sexuality, Identity and Empowerment.” Millennial feminism has assumed an anthropological approach toward recognizing that women are more prone to slipping through cracks in the system, because we only recently became part of the system. If women’s presence in educational systems afforded men to begin a process of radically reformulating their ideas about women’s abilities, then it would be backward for sensible, young feminists to distance men. Millennial feminism is about furthering equality, and that doesn’t involve emphasizing gender differences.

When Holly Wertman, Thanh Mai-Bercher and Kat Furman introduced the Redefine Mine movement to UC Berkeley’s campus in 2014, their objective was to destabilize gendered stereotypes through social media and collective activism. Their efforts never devolved into public swashbuckling about a system of oppression. That’s not the chant of millennial feminists’ battle-cry. Redefine Mine’s success was derived from UC Berkeley students of all genders rallying to celebrate womanhood — and, generally, personhood — propelled by the notion that feminism is an evolving term that incorporates a host of dialectics and intersectional issues not limited to femininity.

Historical precedent provides insufficient reason to assume that a woman president will have enough clout to fundamentally destabilize the precarious Jenga tower of sex relations and tumble the United States into an era of gender parity. After all, if the president possessed such clout, Barack Obama’s tenure would have mitigated pre-existing white-black inequities. Surely the work of iconic feminist leaders has furthered women’s equal treatment — such as that enumerated by Title IX — in the spheres we are increasingly occupying. I do not disregard that the data indicate gendered discrepancies and rampant sexism clearly exist.

I will not pretend, however, that contemporary feminism rests in the hands of an important few, because our movement has never been an oligarchic movement spearheaded only by recognizable leaders. If the number of women in leadership positions is commensurate with the number of women who are qualified to hold those positions, if the education trend continues positively, if millennial women’s wages reflect our increasing parity, then I have reason to believe that women will continue to fill leadership jobs. This, someday, will hopefully include the role of president of the United States.

Millennial feminists’ failure to rally around Clinton could suggest a more thoughtful populace. (Indeed, support for any public figure should always stem from their ideals — not their nature.) Or it could be a simple matter of political preference, in comparison to other candidates. Ultimately, however, it indicates that young feminists seek to expand upon the framework furnished by progenitors of our modern movement. It means that feminist progress can be attained without the necessary invocation of a woman president of the United States. It underscores that ours is an ongoing project enabled by our education. It means that Clinton is not millennial feminists’ birth control pill.

Zoe Kleinfeld writes the Wednesday blog on kids these days. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zkleinfeld.