US Feminists sharply divided between Clinton, Obama
NEW YORK, Saturday (AP) - No constituency is more eager to see a woman win the presidency than America's feminists, yet - despite Hillary Rodham Clinton's historic candidacy - the women's movement finds itself wrenchingly divided over the Democratic race as it heads toward the finish.
At breakfast forums, in op-ed columns, across the blogosphere, the debate has been heartfelt and sometimes bitter. Are the activist women supporting front-runner Barack Obama betraying their gender? Are Clinton's feminist backers mired in an outdated, women's-liberation mind-set?
|Hillary Clinton at a campaign event at Portland, Ore., Friday. AP
Ellen Bravo is a Milwaukee author and activist who advocates on behalf of working women - and is an Obama supporter. She faults Clinton for her 2002 vote authorizing the Iraq war and believes the Illinois senator would be more supportive of grass-roots political action.
At times, Bravo, 64, has been dismayed by the harsh criticism directed at women like herself from pro-Clinton feminists."I felt it was an ultimatum - vote for Hillary Clinton or you're betraying the women's movement," Bravo said. "It's very self-defeating and alienating, particularly to younger women who, regardless of who they support, don't like to be told, 'Do this. Do that.'"
Clinton supporter Gloria Feldt, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, accepts that the women's movement is not single-minded, yet worries that the Obama-Clinton rift is eroding whatever clout it might have.
"We're squandering an opportunity to be seen as a voting bloc that turns elections," Feldt said. "Unless we are working together, in a strategically thought-out effort to vote in our own best interests, we are in danger of never having another election where people will say women can determine the outcome."
Overall, Clinton's now-endangered campaign has survived largely because of her 60 percent to 36 percent edge over Obama among white women voters in the primaries to date. But among college-educated white women - the demographic of many feminists and of Clinton herself - her edge is much smaller, 54 percent to 43 percent, according to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and television networks.
One factor in play is generational. There is a widespread perception in the women's movement that younger feminists tilt more toward Obama while most of their elders favor Clinton.
Indeed, 74-year-old Gloria Steinem, a Clinton supporter and icon of the women's movement, riled some younger, pro-Obama feminists with a New York Times op-ed suggesting that they were in denial about America's persisting "sexual caste system."