PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — Most of the women here had already heard about the comments. And as they waited for the candidate, Bernie Sanders, to arrive for a campaign rally in this coastal town on Sunday afternoon, they said they’d like to tell Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright: We know exactly what we’re doing.
"It is offensive. It's totally offensive,” said Amanda Hansell, a young woman backing Bernie. When Hansell, from Portsmouth, heard about remarks from two of Hillary Clinton’s prominent surrogates, both iconic feminists, she was stunned, she said. Steinem, the legendary women’s rights activist, and Albright, the first woman to serve as secretary of state, each in recent comments attempted to cajole young women to Clinton’s side with suggestions that they simply weren’t thinking if they stood for Sanders, and against a first woman president.
“I consider myself a feminist. I consider myself a supporter of Hillary Clinton running a campaign. I'm also voting for Bernie Sanders,” said Hansell, who voted for Clinton over Barack Obama in 2008, and supported her up until eight months ago, when she saw something in Sanders that made her switch sides.
The Sunday event was a Sanders “Get Out The Vote” rally, held two days before the primary here on Tuesday. Many supporters waiting in the community college where Sanders was set to speak mentioned Steinem’s comments in particular. Last Friday, on the set of Bill Maher’s show in Los Angeles, Steinem said, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.”
Seperately, in a campaign event on Saturday with Clinton in New Hampshire, Albright reminded the women in the crowd, "We tell our story about how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women don't think you have to — it's been done. It's not done. You have to help Hillary Clinton. [She] will always be there for you.” Albright then dropped her famous, oft-repeated line, “Just remember, there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other."
Afterward, together, the comments immediately drew criticism from Sanders supporters. Nomiki Konst, a political commentator supporting his campaign, diagnosed what she described as a presumption within the “feminist establishment” that women supporting Sanders haven’t thought it through.
“This institutional feminism that exists within the Democratic Party doubts the intelligence of the millennial feminist,” Konst said on CNN on Sunday. “I worked under Hillary Clinton when I was 15 and 16 years old. I am very aware of her record and I admire it and I know my friends are purely aware of her record.”
Polls show young female voters have more interest in Sanders than Clinton — the first woman to achieve mainstream success as a presidential candidate and the person establishment Democrats see as best positioned to keep the White House next year. The milestone would, of course, be historic.
But in Portsmouth, young women Clinton has failed to win over say the Clinton campaign has ignored them or mistreated them in a way that’s very similar to the kind of politics women like Steinem and Albright are trying to put an end to.
"It was a surprising thing to hear from Gloria Steinem,” said Juila, a young undecided voter from Manchester who asked that her last name be withheld because of her job.
It’s possible for a woman to be proud of Clinton’s candidacy and also think Sanders better represents her, said Hansell, the Portsmouth voter. And that’s feminist, too, she added. "I'm not anti-Hillary. I support Hillary running for office from a feminine standpoint. I think it's amazing that she's running yet again,” Hansell said. “I just think in terms of policies and platforms that Bernie Sanders represents what I want in a president more so than Hillary Clinton."
Clinton’s campaign has tried hard to convert young women to her side. Prominent celebrities like Lena Dunham, who are often in the cultural conversation around feminism, have made campaign appearances for Clinton.
Angela Mudd, a young woman from Manchester who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, is undecided in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. She stood in the back of Sanders’ Portsmouth event with her boyfriend, Houston Green. Mudd said she’s seen more to Clinton’s message than just “vote for me because I’m a woman,” but warned that women like her can’t be convinced only by gender.
"If it was based just on the fact that she's a woman so support her, that would be offensive to me,” she said. “I don't think I have. I think they combine that message with other positive things that she's doing, but if that were the sole message, vote for her because she's a woman, then I would be mad at that."
The Clinton campaign — and Clinton herself, in an interview on Meet the Press — has pointed out that Albright is known for the “special place in hell” line. “Madeline has been saying this for many, many years,” Clinton said. “She believes it firmly, in part because she knows what a struggle it has been, and she understands the struggle is not over.”
Clinton said she did not want anyone to be offended. Though when asked whether she understood why people might be offended, she called it a lighthearted remark and said, “Good grief, we’re getting offended by everything these days! People can’t say anything without offending somebody.”
For her part, Steinem has already apologized — for a “misinterpretation” of her point. In a Facebook post Sunday, she wrote, “In a case of talk-show Interruptus, I misspoke on the Bill Maher show recently, and apologize for what's been misinterpreted as implying young women aren't serious in their politics.”
Women backing Sanders filled the comments with dismay over Steinem’s “boy crazy” explanation for their Sanders support.
“You chalked up an entire generation of women as brainless who vote for a man's approval,” wrote one. “That's not why we earned the right to vote.”