Leave Gloria and Madeleine alone.

I don’t know if you guys know this, but Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright made a whole bunch of people mad recently.


Was it the smartest thing either of them have ever said?

Oh, no. Of course not. No, and I’m not going to pretend that it is.

Gloria Steinem remarked on an episode of Bill Maher, on the appeal of Bernie Sanders to young, millennial voters:

GLORIA STEINEM: When you’re young, you’re thinking, you know, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie …

And Madeline Albright, while stumping for Hillary Clinton, had this to say:

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT:  And just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.

Cue the the backlash, the vitriol, and the anger. Cue the thinkpieces. All of which point out — and they are not wrong! — that it’s pretty anti-feminist to assume that women are basing their political preferences on the availability of single men on the campaign trail, or that women should be shamed into voting for a particular candidate based on gender, and not on issues. They’re obviously not wrong. Those statements were pretty dumb.

Even though Madeleine Albright has been saying that statement for twenty years. Even though that statement has appeared on a Starbucks cup.  It was a dumb thing to say, at the time that she said it.

And hoo boy, are we still reminding everyone that it was a really dumb thing to say.

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Read that again, because I’m still re-reading it: How Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem Betrayed Women Everywhere. 

Okay. Let’s take a breath.

Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright said something dumb that neither of them thought through all the way.

They did not “betray women everywhere.” Come on now. Just … come ON.

Think back on the last time you said something dumb, that you would feel pretty stupid about if it was ever repeatedly publicly, outside of context. Good? You remembered a time you did something dumb? Probably in the last day and a half? Yeah, me too.

Now. Imagine that your grandmother has invited you over for dinner. It’s delicious, because it always is, and you and your grandmother are drinking and eating and laughing together, and she begins to tell you what her life was like when she was your age. And as you’re sitting together, marveling at this woman who remembers iceboxes instead of refrigerators, who lived through her own version of Mad Men, who has lived a history that you can only understand through books; as you’re sitting there looking at this incredible woman, awash in the power of all that she has given to the world in her lifetime, she says something that’s a little dumb. Maybe even more than a little dumb. Maybe it’s pretty freaking stupid.

You could say nothing and let it go and have a second helping of pie. You could even maybe gently challenge her on that idea.

But can we please just all agree that you probably shouldn’t flip the tables over, light everything on fire, and start screaming FUCK YOU, GRANDMA?

It’s been over a week, and both women have since offered statements and apologies. Madeleine Albright’s remarks are in the form of a New York Times editorial titled “My Undiplomatic Moment,” and it is a piece of writing that is worth reading.

I absolutely believe what I said, that women should help one another, but this was the wrong context and the wrong time to use that line. I did not mean to argue that women should support a particular candidate based solely on gender. But I understand that I came across as condemning those who disagree with my political preferences. If heaven were open only to those who agreed on politics, I imagine it would be largely unoccupied.

However, I do want to explain why I so firmly believe that, even today, women have an obligation to help one another. In a society where women often feel pressured to tear one another down, our saving grace lies in our willingness to lift one another up.

I’ve been reading Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road. I’m only about halfway through it, so perhaps I simply just haven’t arrived at the section where she rips off her alien flesh-mask and proceeds to pledge her loyalty to Zorp while drinking the blood of a puppy. So far, it’s just the thoughts of a woman who, without question, helped make the life I am living right now possible.

Really, you guys? This is the person who just “betrayed women everywhere?”

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I can’t pick a favorite section of this book yet because so far it’s all my favorite.

Maybe the part where she’s asked to speak at the Harvard Law Review banquet in 1972, and she thinks it’s a practical joke: it’s notoriously all-male. She can’t pass the invite off to Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a young lawyer she admires, so it’s up to her to walk onto the Harvard Campus, conquer debilitating stage fright, and address a room filled with political leaders and prominent scholars on the topic of her choosing.

The topic she chose was “Why Harvard Law School Needs Women More Than Women Need  It,” and she chose it after arriving on campus to discover that women, who make up seven percent of the law students, have just finished “Ladies’ Day”– an annual tradition that on one day a year, women would be permitted to be called on in class. Her speech included the line, “From now on, no man can call himself a liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women at home or in the office.” She was booed and screamed at by a professor in a tuxedo until the ballroom settled into an uncomfortable silence and she was quietly able to leave.

For the record, the latest incoming class of students at Harvard Law School is now 47% female and 44% students of color. Thanks, Gloria.

Maybe I like the part of the book best where as a young woman she describes attending a march on Washington led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. An older black woman befriends her in the crowd, and points out the lack of female speakers at the podium.

I hadn’t even noticed the absence of women speakers. I felt a gear click into place in my mind. I was impressed. Not only had I never made any such complaints, but at political meetings, I had given my suggestions to whatever man was sitting next to me, knowing that if a man offered them, they would be taken more seriously. You white women, Mrs. Greene said kindly, as if reading my mind. If you don’t stand up for yourselves, how can you stand up for anyone else?

Maybe I liked the part best about how she organized fifty-six open, racially and economically diverse conferences for women in each state, where delegates would be elected and then go on to a national conference for women to assemble the country’s first forum on women’s rights. It’s close to my favorite, that part where she managed to criss-cross the entire country to assemble a summit of women to debate, argue, explain, listen, speak, and vote on the issues that mattered most to them.

Or maybe it was the part where she traveled on airplanes more frequently, and began helping the stewardesses campaign for better working conditions. We maybe wouldn’t have the term “flight attendant” now if it weren’t for Gloria, alongside many other activists, helping these women campaign for their hiring and firing protocol to be based on their intensive six-week training of first aid, emergency procedures, underwater rescue, and plane evacuation … not their height, weight, appearance, race, marital status, age, or how well they filled out their slinky, sexualized uniforms.

Maybe it was the section where she describes meeting students at the Gallaudet school for the Deaf and recognizing that there’s an entire other civil rights battle still yet to be fought. Maybe it was the throwaway reference to Mitt Romney’s “Binders of Women” gaffe — referencing binders full of women candidates, properly vetted and prepared by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus, an offshoot of the National Women’s Political Caucus that Gloria helped found.

Maybe it was just the repeated reminders that a movement like feminism can’t succeed without a comprehensive understanding that race, age, class, and ability are all part of the intersectional puzzle that must be navigated together to get the oppressed on the same footing as those in positions of power. Maybe it was just the humor and strength and courage evident in every line, as she chronicles her extraordinary decades of travel, writing, speaking, organizing, and politicking.

So forgive me if I’m not willing to light the woman on fire for saying something a little bit dumb. I’ve said a whole lot of dumb shit myself, and I hope that I’m never pilloried in such a brutal manner for whatever dumb shit I will inevitably say next.

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The feminist activists who came before us were trailblazing in ways that you and I cannot possibly imagine.  What’s the hardest, most difficult thing that you’ve ever had to do in the name of the feminist cause? I dunno, publish a blog post?  Sit down. 

Those women said something kind of dumb, and you get to call them on that. Right after you write them a thank-you note, after studying what they did with their lives. In the wake of some stupid comments, perhaps it would serve us all well to remember that humans are imperfect, and these imperfect women have made the world a better place for my messy, female, and altogether far-from-perfect self, and yours, too.

The world is a better place for women now than it was forty years ago. It’s also still a mess. We still need to talk about the wage gap and our country’s abysmal maternity policies. We need to talk about the ways that race and gender and class and ability intersect with oppression. We need to talk about healthcare and reproductive rights. We are not done fighting those fights, and I’d like to get back to fighting them, rather than tearing apart the women who have spent their lives making my world a better place to be.

Thanks, Madeleine. Thanks, Gloria. Thank you for everything.



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20 thoughts on “Leave Gloria and Madeleine alone.

  1. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking. As a 64 year old woman, I’ve been present during the second and third feminist waves. These women were and are among my heroes. First and foremost, they are human beings (as are we all). They have made mistakes (as we all do) and used them to move on to clarifying their own ideas. I think that’s a fine example to set. Make a mistake, rethink your position if you need to, sincerely apologize and don’t do it again.

  2. I am a woman who is going to vote for Bernie Sanders. I was against Madeleine Albright when she worked as an Ambassador to the U.N. When she worked as an Ambassador to the UN, she was asked by a journalist whether she thought that the death of a 1/2 million children was worth it. She answered “Yes, we think it was worth it.” That was when I began to see that being a woman in a high place didn’t make you a good woman. Just like Clinton.

  3. I am not sure you are correct. I do think that now an apology has been made we should stop, but as a mother of two daughters in their 30s, I felt extremely let down, and sad that these things were said, especially about girls chasing boys.. I am in my late sixties, and yes, I would like to see women have full rights and opportunities — AND I think this is what we are seeing — that they (younger women) are confident in the idea and therefore don’t feel like they have to vote for A woman, but they can wait and vote for one they feel is the right PERSON. I am not sure you are making a good choice in using the grandmother simile, either. That was tempting to me — “Well, they are getting older and losing their edge,” but I felt that was way disrespectful of these two women and what we, with them, have worked toward. I can tell you, from raising daughters, that though they are totally in the game, they don’t like to be called feminists, because they see feminists except, apparently, me) as humorless and always angry, and I am upset that these two remarks fed into this feeling among younger women. We need the faith and energy of younger people, but scolding them is not in any way going to make that easier. Of course we all make mistakes, but most of us have raged at the stupid “misspeaks” conservative-ish people see prone to, so fair is fair. Anyway, I still think that I would rather tell my grandmother that I didn’t agree with her than write her off as an elderly dear — would I were still fortunate enough to have her here.

  4. I was present when women rose to power, and it was awesome. I set the precedent case as the first female seaman to be granted maternity rights through public health which was the system for mariners back then in the 70’s. I agree with what you said about Madeline and Gloria, BUT. As a woman who is fully supporting Bernie Sanders and having had to deal with the unbelievable suppression that he has been dealt by the press and the media that is somewhat controlled by the Establishment and it’s Candidate Hillary, who takes money from them and is supported by them.

    The inequity “this time” departs from women to 99% of the nation including men , women and children and the person trying to lead and advocate for them. I believe he supports women more than she does, but the facts have been handily distorted with illusion and exclusion. People will rail at that comment, why? Because of what they believe. Why do most people believe what hey do? They base their opinions on what they read in the media, what they see on TV, and what their friends say who get their information from the same sources. The media has been bought I’d say by at least 75% . Opinions and truth are being spun like cotton on a wheel and made into things that are just not cotton any more. Did you realize that recently NPR, Discovery Channel and the History Channel have been bought out by the same people who are buying up organic businesses?

    So the supporters of Bernie Sanders respond aggressively, fully, totally because they have some insight into why what he is fighting for is so important. Older people like me have seen the government horns-waggle people into Vietnam, destroying lives.

    People hear Hillary constantly staking her claim to much that is fluff and includes things like having gotten children health insurance. I rail when I hear her speak this because if she was for labeling at least and against the big agro Frankenbusiness which is and will continue to sicken all people who ingest it , either by their own will or under the heavy hand of force for lack of labeling, they would not need insurance perhaps they could be healthier. Why do the people who believe that GMO’s are not bad for you thinking that? They read that it’s ok for you. Who prints this? Where do you read it? They are controlling what is in the media, new science that makes no real sense. Hillary Clinton is not for women, she is for using powerful women from the past to carry her cause, which is she wants to be Queen and she needs women to help her get there. She is infact using women, which is why I speak up so out of line. I know this is not a response to the tangent you took in your writing but Bernie Sanders supporters are so ferverent because of the wool being pulled over the eyes of millions.

    I believe that you are a truly amazing writer and I can not encourage you more than to check out both sides WELL because the pen with the truth is the sharpest sword turned scepter, that will ever rule this world, and it’s not to kill with but to cut the lies away from the truth so that everyone can coexist in as much peace as we are able to abide. Please consider my response to you a compliment even if it doesn’t sound like one. It’s an older woman talking to another woman, who like a large sector of this nation might be believing the great illusion she is seeing. It’s all about Citizens United.. this is the crux. And it’s on the table right now. Thank you .. Love your stuff.. forgive me but as a woman I speak for the truth always, regardless of how it will fall.

  5. Perfect! Brava!
    In the campaign — In both parties– people are “single error” voters, simply picking on one mistake and trashing the candidate, taking pleasure in demonizing. Very troubling.

  6. I do believe that people like Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem have made the world a better place because of their fight. But their fight was based on principles of right and wrong and the battle was carried fourth because they were intelligent, articulate, and made sense. They could tilt the scale in favor of right because of their personal qualities, not really their gender.

    There would be a special place in hell for me if I reminded other men to vote for a male candidate because they had certain chromosomal attributes, or should be supported simply because of gender. Or because of “parts”, modified or native.

    It is precisely because Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright were successful that their comments were inappropriate. They like all who are in the spotlight, do have a responsibility for their words. Just as that buffoon Trump is responsible for his words.

    Because they won the fight, they were emblematic- proving by their lives and the success of countless women who followed their path that anyone who votes on the basis of gender alone is a fool.

    The best candidate for you is the one whose world view,ethos and ideas best express your own perspective-one which in your heart of hearts is the best representative for you and the governmental segment represented.

    It matters not a whit what that individuals gender may be. Let’s judge not on the color of the skin or the chromosomal allotment but by the content of the character, by the espoused principles, and by the statement of future plans.

    Let’s vote for the person that we feel is the best candidate, period. To do otherwise would repudiate the very success of Reverend King, Ms. Steinem and Mrs. Albright

  7. Thanks for this article. You took the words right out of my mouth. For all the women voting for Bernie… good for you for deciding on a candidate and not voting based on gender. For all the women voting for Hillary… I’m with you girlfriends, but I also hope you aren’t voting based on gender alone.

    Albright and Steinem said something stupid. We all agree and we are disappointed. No argument. The infuriating part is the out pouring of self-righteous outrage. Where was this outrage when Trump says “Hillary got schlonged” or “If Hillary can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”. Where is this outrage when the media consistently makes it a point to talk about what female politicians are wearing, or the tone of their voice, or their hair?

    So next time you feel a wave of anger towards what Albright and Steinem said, just remember there are far more sexist people who say and do far worst things. Those people also deserve to hear how unwelcome their words and views are.

  8. Thank you for the thought-provoking post. I love the analogy of the grandmother who, like all us, says dopey things from time to time. My beef this political season (and I can’t even comment on the disintegration of the Republican candidates/debates or I’ll go crazy) is the assumption that women will or should vote for Hillary because she’s a woman. I’m 62 years old and that is definitely NOT the message I want my daughter’s in their 30’s to absorb. They should make their decision based on ability, on substantive policy plans, not on gender.

  9. Thank you

    Judy Meredith Meredith & Associates Mass Policy & Organizing Leadership Academy judy@realclout.org 617 413 0954 http://www.realclout.org

    If you think you can or can’t, you’re right. On Feb 16, 2016 1:35 PM, “I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog” wrote:

    > Katherine Fritz posted: “I don’t know if you guys know this, but Gloria > Steinem and Madeleine Albright made a whole bunch of people mad recently. > Was it the smartest thing either of them have ever said? Oh, no. Of course > not. No, and I’m not going to pretend that it is. Glor” >

  10. I posted this to Facebook “I knew that there was an argument in support of these pioneering feminists. Everybody says stupid stuff, but we don’t judge all of their life or contributions based on that dumbass statement.

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