By Jackie Acho and Eva Basilion
A fascinating thing is happening. Young women are not on board. They are not swept up in the excitement of breaking this highest of all glass ceilings. They are not rushing to back Hillary Clinton for President of the United States in the 2016 election. Why? Hillary has called in some high-placed friends to help shine light on this issue. Is it because…
- “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” Gloria Steinem said, explaining that younger women just wanted to meet boys?
- They do not understand history or realize that the fight is not over? “It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” lamented Madeleine Albright.
Or as HuffPo author Kathleen Reardon suggests, is it because young women are in that “cute-and-little phase…and know little of the politics that ultimately will keep them out of leadership positions?”
None of the above.
These comments suggest that the elders know something that young women don’t. In fact, the reverse is true.
Here is what young women know:
They know that they have opportunities today that their grandmothers did not. But they also know that these opportunities came and continue to come with a price. They witnessed their parents struggle in systems that don’t support the integration of caring and work, especially at the high and low ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Some of them suffered from parental absence and are still trying to make sense of it. Today, these same women watch as their aging parents and grandparents need help. Yet, due to our very busy schedules, the best we can do is nowhere near good enough. And it’s painful.
What young women don’t know and are looking to candidates to tell them (and their young husbands, husbands-to-be, or partners) is how they will blend caring with their hard-won work. They want to know how caring has contributed to Hillary (or Bernie, or Donald, or Ted, or Marco) as a leader. A woman who presents herself as competent as any man is not news. A woman or man who is working to resolve this conflict will have their attention. Human beings are built to care, but our economic systems, which are built for efficiency, allow no time to care. So far, Hillary and her feminist compatriots have failed to shed light on this central dilemma, making Hillary’s candidacy no different than any male candidacy.
And what a lost opportunity it is. Madeleine and Hillary raised 4 women between them. They likely have stories of hands-on parenting and knowledge of what children need which no other candidate can match. They struggled to combine caring with work in systems which made it very difficult. They came up some solutions, albeit imperfect. Their grown daughters seem to get along with them, have their own children now, and are working effectively in the world…sometimes, it seems, making it better. Would both Madeleine and Hillary have been different (and better) leaders if they had not had to keep their caring in the closet? Probably.
There is no changing that history, but now they have a chance to change the conversation. If she wants to set herself apart, Hillary should talk about how caring for children, even as an ambitious, talented woman with options (which few men have or take) has made her a different kind of leader. That’s real choice. And don’t just tell us about it, show us. We’ll know it when we see the empathy that can only be learned from rocking infants, helping toddlers avoid that full-out tantrum, working through acne with teenagers, and supporting children as they themselves take a leap of faith into the difficult and joyful work of parenting.
When hands-on caring is as valuable as a Harvard degree for men and women alike, we will know we’re on the right track. In this next revolution, empathy is power.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail