Hillary Clinton’s “Trouble” with Young Women Reflects Tensions in 21st Century Feminism

young women with bernie sanders signs

For weeks now the political pundits and talking heads have been trying to understand Hillary Clinton’s lack of appeal, indeed more like her total loss, of young women voters, who overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders.


Many theories have been offered, including the belief that young women today don’t see their gender identity as their primary identity, or that young women today don’t feel constrained by gender—gender equality means I can vote for whomever I want to—or that young women believe that gender equality has more or less been attained.  These are the tensions feminists today are grappling with.


Younger women visibly and vocally bristled at the calls by Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright that they must vote for Hillary as a matter of their gender.


Let me be clear about a few things.  Many young women do not identify with the label “feminist”.  I’m not sure Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders identify with the label either. So, this is not a blog about who subscribes to the label, but rather its an attempt to understand why the first legitimate woman candidate in the traditionally “women’s” party is struggling with women and young women in particular.


But first a caveat: As a feminist scholar who has consumed more op-eds and blogs about Hillary Clinton in preparation for offering my own perspective, I agree 100% that our expectations of women are shaped by gender role expectations and that Hillary has to what all women have to do: work twice as hard to get half as much.  She is regularly judged harshly and unfairly.  And, this is not an attempt to do that.  Though quite possibly many of my feminist friends will conclude that I have done the same thing to Hillary: judge her in a way that a man would never be judged.

That is not my intent at all.  I do think any of us, and especially a feminist, has a right and indeed an obligation to ask difficult but fair questions and demand clear, thoughtful answers from anyone we are considering for President of the United States.

I also acknowledge that Hillary Clinton suffers from the same dilemma as Obama.  She cannot let gender define her campaign, and yet if she doesn’t focus like a laser on gender issues, she is criticized for not being concerned with feminist issues.

Though I can’t speak for young women, or even all women my age, I can say that I’ve been struggling to unpack my own lack of enthusiasm for Hillary. Here are some of my thoughts…


  1. Hillary is very second wave…Ok, I intentionally did not use the term “second wave feminist” because I have not actually heard Hillary identify as a feminist, though many feminists, including Gloria Steinem seem to invoke that identity when they urge women to support her. Hillary embodies all of the qualities that Black and multi-racial feminist wrote in reaction to: Hillary is an upper class, well-educated, cisgender, heterosexual, White woman.

And, though women with these various identities can certainly embrace Black feminism and intersectionality, full disclosure: I embody many of these identities and yet embrace and indeed invoke an intersectional approach in my own work, Hillary’s rhetoric doesn’t explicitly evoke intersectionality. Sure, she talks about poverty and she acknowledges that the system of mass incarceration needs significant reform, but she doesn’t explicitly make the link between poverty and mass incarceration and race: it’s POOR BLACK MEN who get locked up and whose families and communities are decimated as a result.


  1. Hillary fails to truly acknowledge her privilege. The pundits and political commentators have argued that part of the resistence to Hillary is that she is an “establishment” candidate.  New York Times op-ed by Frank Bruni argues that this issue is actually much deeper than simply arguing that Hillary is part of the establishment. Hillary’s very existence is one of extreme privilege: she has an elite education, she was educated at the most elite institutions in the world: Wellesley and Yale. But she also rarely talks about the struggles she faced as one of the few women at Yale law school, or the barriers she experienced as a young lawyer or as a mother juggling work and family life.

Hillary’s experiences are not all that different from many women and minorities: they are complex.  Understandably, she doesn’t have the luxury to opine about the discrimination she faced while simultaneously taking advantage of privileges like affirmative action policies that have historically benefitted White women like her.  This narrative won’t play well with young women or minorities.  That said, there are important lessons that can be learned and shared.  Perhaps if she acknowledged these benefits and then vowed to go a step further and ensure that affirmative action will continue to be applied to women of all racial and ethnic groups and to all marginalized folks: men color, members of the LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, Jews and Muslims and other non-Christians and the like her privilege would be less of a negative issue for her.  And she would undoubtedly remind young women that she understands some of what they face and she could vow to work for universal childcare, the protection of reproductive rights.

[I note that Obama faces many of the same tensions: his daughters attending the prestigious Sidwell Friends school was controversial in a way that it would never be for a White president.]

           3. Hillary isn’t talking about dismantling systems of oppression. Any feminist worth their weight in salt knows that gender equality is only possible when systems of oppression are dismantled, and not just patriarchy, but capitalism, racial domination, heteronormativity and the list goes on and on. In this regard, Hillary sounds like a typical “liberal” feminist more interested in reforming Wall Street than Sanders, who talks of dismantling Wall Street and other oppressive class based systems, like access to higher education and health care for all…sounding more like a “radical” feminist. And, though Audre Lorde argues that the master’s tools will never be able to dismantle the master’s house, its Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton, who acknowledges that there is a house that needs dismantling.

I do think Hillary should answer for some decisions she has made that have had disastrous effects of women and children.  For example, the welfare reform she supported when Bill Clinton was president decimated the lives of Black women.  Just as Obama should be called to answer questions about his support for a gutted equal pay act (The Lilly Ledbetter Act) or his rhetoric about mass incarceration that has come with little action.  Americans deserve to ask complex questions about complex issues.  And, we should be able to ask these questions without being labeled as anti-feminist or racists.

This post isn’t about whether I endorse Hillary Clinton or would vote for her (I will).

This blog is about trying to unpack and complicate the reality that Hillary is not connecting with young women.  And, perhaps this blog is also my attempt to ask some difficult questions of Hillary Clinton and hoping that the answers will move me from being luke warm on Hillary to endorsing her enthusiastically.

If I were an advisor to her campaign, a job I would never want, my advice to Hillary would be simple:


  1. Read some Black feminist/intersectional theory! (I can recommend a year’s worth of reading). “None of us is free until all of us is free.”
  2. OWN your privilege instead of trying to sweep it away.  Situate it in a context that allows you to be an ally to those who are marginalized.
  3. Propose policies that will dismantle systems of oppression rather than reform them. Only when the master’s house has been dismantled will true equality flourish.

And maybe, just maybe, talk to some young women and learn about what matters to them.  Sanders’ support among young women appears to be fueled by his ability to speak to issues that are most pressing to them: student loan costs, health care premiums, reproductive rights, universal child care, among other things.

For Blacks “it’s” Never Enough…According to Bristol Palin


FILE - In this July 27, 2012 file photo, Bristol Palin attends the "Dancing with the Stars: All Stars" panel at the Disney ABC Television Critics Association session in Beverly Hills, Calif. Palin says she's pregnant for a second time. The daughter of 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin announced the pregnancy on her blog Thursday, June 25, 2015. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP, FIle)

“What more do black people want? They complained about slavery – we abolished it. They complained about oppression in the 60’s – we made sure there was no more of it. Then they started bitching about how America has never had a black president – we gave them Obama. Now they’re trying to make it look like we’re intentionally depriving them of money and fame. I mean, come on, people! You’ve got drug dealers, you’ve got rap and hip-hop singers, you’ve got just as much money as white people, and not to mention, your numbers are growing. It seems to me like we ought to be complaining about you, not the other way around!” Palin fumed.




When I first read these comments, I couldn’t find words to express my sentiment. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that one can go to the “easy” explanation and say Bristol Palin is crazy, or she’s ignorant, or even that she’s a racist.   And, perhaps each of these is probably true. But, I decided to think more about Bristol Palin’s remarks and attempt a more complex and nuanced analysis.


Whereas Bristol Palin’s remarks are repulsive to many of us, I fear that Bristol Palin’s remarks resonate with and represent the concerns that many White Americans do feel. In my previous blog (Reflections on Martin Luther King, JR and President Obama), I argued that Donald Trump and Marco Rubio’s popularity could be understood as tapping into the sentiment among working class White Americans that the United States has become a land they don’t recognize, one in which opportunities are becoming increasingly available to Black and Brown people and less available to them.


Bristol Palin’s statements reflect an even deeper sentiment: that not only are opportunities evaporating for Whites, but that White resent this changing landscape because they already feel like they have done enough to right the wrongs of slavery and the Jim Crow era and that Blacks continue to press for me. The old “give them an inch they’ll take a mile” adage.


And, though I could take Bristol Palin’s statement point by point and offer evidence to refute each, see our book African American Families: Myths and Realities, instead I’ll offer a broader stroke comment. Bristol Palin and millions of Americans who subscribe to her beliefs, are really expressing a resentment based on their sense of entitlement. Like parents who get angry when the kids complain about what is prepared for dinner and threated them that they should feel lucky they have a plate full of nutritious food to eat and they are admonished to feel grateful, millions of White Americans believe that Blacks should feel grateful to them for what they have been given; as Bristol Palin noted: “we” abolished slavery and “we” ended Jim Crow segregation and “we” gave them Barack Obama. And, OK, so I said that I wasn’t going to nit pick her with data, Blacks should feel grateful for all of these things despite the fact that the unemployment rate for Blacks is twice that of Whites, that Black men are ten times more likely to go to prison than White men, that 50% of Black children are born into poverty, and that despite a Black president, Blacks are significantly under-represented in every occupation that is prestigious and lucrative, including as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, as college professors, or as US Senators—there are currently no Black US Senators.


Blacks, Bristol Palin seems to suggest should, like a child eating dinner, be grateful for what “we” have given them. And, not ask for more than “we” believe they deserve. It’s almost as if to say, “you can’t have everything!”


And, of course, never mind that fact that unlike the parent who cooked the unwanted dinner, its not White’s who dismantled slavery or Jim Crow segregation, these institutions were dismantled on the backs of Black people while the majority of Whites did everything they could, including establishing and fighting for the Confederacy, to prevent the dismantling of these systems.


So, this is really more like the child cooking a meager meal while the parent actively sabotaged the attempt—by not going grocery shopping, hiding the pots and pans, and even turning of the gas—and then telling the child whose efforts have produced an inferior meal to be grateful for what they have been given.


I’d suggest Bristol Palin go back to school and learn a bit more history, but then again, I’m afraid that’s where she developed these kinds of beliefs to begin with.


Finally, its probably not ignorance that led to Bristol Palin’s developing this ideology, its white privilege…the profound and unchallenged ability not only to control the circumstances—the abolition of slavery or the cooking of the meal– but to shape the narrative as well.



Several news stories are asking the question: “where have all the Black men gone?”  In fact the phenomenon has become known as the “missing-Black men phenomenon.”

This post is interested in looking at three seemingly unrelated yet interconnected occurrences in the lives of Black men since about 1960.  These are:

  • Vietnam
  • Drugs
  • Incarceration

And, while this post is not definitive, here we see the interrelatedness of these three “moments” and how all three work to remove Black men from their communities, from the probability of building a life of marriage & family and absence from the labor market — hence, not building  financial, human, or social capital.

It is important to remind the readers that America up through 1955 was a segregated society.  It was not until 1948 under President Harry S. Truman that the armed services were officially desegregated and not yet fully desegregated when Blacks were being sent to Vietnam.

Two hundred fifty years of slavery; Ninety years of Jim Crow; Sixty years of separate but (un-equal); Thirty-five years of racist housing policies, racism in the labor force (& US military), separate & un-equal -schooling, etc.,  yet, these Black soldiers went to Vietnam to fight for freedom.

Black soldiers, living in a segregated United States fought long and hard in Vietnam.



Black in vietnam

The Vietnam war (1964-1972) was American’s first integrated war. At least officially. There were all-white units in Vietnam and all-Black units as well (Terry 1984). American soldiers, Black and white, did fight side by side. Yet the issues for this blog are the disproportionate numbers of Blacks sent to Vietnam in terms of these young men’s representation in the general population. Few women soldiers were sent to Vietnam.

Four million Americans served in Vietnam from the early beginnings of the war in 1955 until it was officially ended April 30, 1975. Of that number approximately 58,151American soldiers were killed (Karnow 1997). Anyone who has payed attention to the “nightly news during the era of the war know full well that the “official” count of soldiers killed is an undercount (Sheehan 1989).

Just as the official numbers of those soldiers killed is low is it close to impossible to acturately know the number of young Black men who were sent to Vietnam and who came home from the war.  Black soldiers were drafted in huge numbers to fight in Vietnam from states with all-white draft boards, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Having all white draft boards especially in the south creates situations where disproportionate to their numbers in the age group of potential draftees, Blacks were sent to Vietnam at twice  the rate as their white counterparts.  That is to say, Black soldiers were recruited to fight in a war when at home they were discriminated against, living in states still operating under the last vestiges of Jim Crow.

That recruitment got a boost from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000. Project 100,000 began in 1966 intended to recruit Black and low income whites from the south. Especially important to understand in this movement to recruit Black soldiers for Vietnam is how disproportionate the numbers were.

Blacks were 45% of the 100,000 troops recruited mainly into the Army and Marines, those the most likely to see combat.

Considering the number of young black men eligible for the draft, their numbers in the age cohort 18-25, and the number of them sent to both the Army and the Marines, then it is conceivable to note they were overrepresented in frontline combat units which resulted in their being also overrepresented in total causality counts – however skewed these may have been.

Some would argue deliberately so!

According to Wallace Terry (author of Bloods: An Oral History of The Vietman War By Black Veterans) over 60 percent of the men on the front lines, dubbed “Soulville,” were black and they accounted for more than 23% of American fatalities even though blacks comprised only 10% of America’s overall population.

While the numbers vary, depending on the source, the argument here is that of the 47,356 battle deaths in Vietnam –wherein 23% of those deaths were Black soldiers– one black soldier killed in Vietnam is one soldier too many.

The argument here is that Vietnam is the first chapter in the “where are the Black men” story that has been a running commentary since the 1980’s.

A second chapter is drugs.

Some would argue that the returning soldiers from Vietnam were so traumatized that they took to drugs to ease the pain. This may be the case but it is not entirely so. Many black soldiers took up drugs while in Vietnam.

In the popular movie American Gangster the “Black Mafia” kingpin Frank Lucas is supposed to have had business dealings with the Vietcong to import heroin and marijuana into the US via dead soldiers coffins.


soldier snorting crack

American soldiers in general stationed in Vietnam and black soldiers specifically used readily available drugs including–but not limited to–heroin, marijuana, morphine, barbiturates and opium and brought these habits back home with them.

Many returned stateside addicted to some type of illicit drug.

Add to this the growing tensions around the embattled civil rights movement especially in the south and the murder of Dr. Rev Martin Luther King in April 1968, joblessness, despair and a lack of hope all pulled together to join with the inner city crisis of drug use and abuse, many Vietnam veterans got pulled along.

Perhaps in response to the high rate of drug use in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the early 1980s heralded in the War on Drugs. This war, rather than providing treatment for addicts and those traumatized by their experiences in Vietnam, criminalized many of the drugs that returning veterans, especially Black men, who returned not as heroes but as baby killers, used to ease the pain.  Lost in the War on Drugs were Black men who died of drug-related illnesses, including HIV, overdoses, untreated addiction, and those lost to the system of mass incarceration.

One way to gauge the destructiveness of drugs in the black community is to look no further than the controversial book by Michael Javen Fortner entitled “Black Silent Majority.”   According to the author the drug epidemic in Harlem New York, residents began to feel the ancillary impact of the drug epidemic, not just the crime, but also the rise of gangs, and in parts of New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, gangs control entire neighborhoods and are responsible for the skyrocketing rates of black on black homicide.  Much of this violence is related to the drug trade.


black men in prison

Drug using and drug dealing can (and often does) lead to prison time.  Between 1973 and 1988 the nations drug laws became more harsh. In New York State, under the moniker of the “ROCKEFELLER DRUG LAWS” prison sentences became longer with the 15-years to life sentence for selling two ounces, or possessing four ounces of cocaine or heroin (http://www.prdi.org/rocklawfact.html).

These stringent new rules for drug use and abuse and the sale of illicit substances are centrally important to the story of mass incarceration.  In fact it can be argued that drugs cements prison population increase to the proliferation we see today.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimates there are some 2.3 million people in the US incarcerated.  These data become more illuminating when you break them out to areas like probation, parole, home arrest etc.  Suffice to say that the US remains the world leading “jailer” far surpassing every other nation around the globe.  Furthermore, the majority of people, including Black men, under the control of the criminal justice system, were convicted of non-violent drug offenses.  As we have noted elsewhere, prison becomes a place to warehouse undesirable populations.


This post links the three interrelated phenomena of (1) Vietnam, (2) Drugs and (3) Prison in order to respond to the questions surrounding issues of “where have all the Black men gone?”

By looking carefully at these three items it become easy to see that death abroad and hopelessness at home as well as the L O N G stretches of prison time can account for some–if not most–of the missing Black men.

Starting with Vietnam these black men went to war against a foreign enemy who were not nearly as close to intruding on their citizenship rights as White Supremacy groups were doing at home. They were caught in a system of war and oppression that were designed to ensure that they would never gain any sort of freedom.

Secondly, the drug epidemic hit the inner cities hard bringing with it violent assaults and gun violence.

Finally, all of this violence comes full circle and you can see why some are asking where are the missing black men? Taking stock of these three items and their intersections contributes to the debate about missing black men.



This post is part 1 on this topic.  Part // will address the issue of homicide among Black males.


Fortner, Michael Javen. 2015.  Black Silent Majority. Cambridge, MA:. Harvard University Press.

Hattery, Angela J. and Earl Smith. 2010. Prisoner Reentry & Social Capital. Maryland: Lexington Books.

Karnow, Stanley. 1997. Vietnam: A History (2nd Edition). New York: Penguin Books.

Sheehan, Neil. 1989. A Bright Shining Lie. New York: Random House.

Robbins, Lee. 1993. “Vietnam Veterans’ Rapid Recovery From Heroin Addiction: A Fluke or Normal Expectation?” Addiction, 88: 1041-1054.

Terry, Wallace. 1984. Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. New York: Random House.