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Hillary Clinton's Candidacy Highlights Generational Divide Over Feminism

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female president has exposed a generational divide over what it means to be a feminist. That debate comes just before voters make their choices in the New Hampshire primary tomorrow. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This isn't breaking news, but not all women support Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Many women, especially younger women, support Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Comedian Bill Maher asked feminist icon Gloria Steinem about this on his talk show Friday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER")

GLORIA STEINEM: They're going to get more activist as they grow older. And when you're young, you're thinking, you know, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.

KEITH: For obvious reasons, an uproar ensued. Then Clinton surrogate Madeline Albright added fuel to the fire. The feisty former secretary of state was speaking at a Clinton rally on Saturday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADELINE ALBRIGHT: I see a lot of young women in this audience.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

KEITH: And then Albright chided women who don't support Clinton, saying the fight for equality rages on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALBRIGHT: It's not done, and you have to help. Hillary Clinton will always be there for you. And just remember, there's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Cheering).

KEITH: Clinton's team defended Albright, pointing out the hell quote wasn't new. It had even been printed on a Starbucks cup. Gloria Steinem issued an apology of sorts on Facebook yesterday. She said she misspoke, and didn't mean to imply that young women aren't serious about politics. But it turns out millennial women don't really liked being guilt tripped or belittled by baby boomers, no matter how famous.

REBECCA TRAISTER: I see so many echoes of what happened in 2008.

KEITH: Rebecca Traister wrote the book "Big Girls Don't Cry" about the 2008 election. Then, young women broke for then-Sen. Barack Obama, and there was much angst among feminists of different generations about how to feel about Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

TRAISTER: Generational tension over feminism is not only not new, it is perfectly natural. This is in fact part of how it's supposed to work.

KEITH: Traister says this is what happens all kinds of social activism. And Clinton, she says, is doing a better job this time around of dealing with Sanders's popularity than she did with Obama's, telling young women she hopes to win them over. But Steinem and Albright undermined that. Talk to women at either Sanders or Clinton events, and almost none will say they're voting based on gender alone. Take Margaret O'Leary, who was at a recent Sanders rally. She's ready to see a woman elected president.

O'LEARY: That is exciting to me, don't get me wrong. And I would cry, probably, she was elected because, I mean, that would be great. But as a feminist, I am not going to vote for someone simply because they're a woman. I'm going to decide based solely on the issues.

KEITH: And she says a vote for Bernie Sanders is a vote for women. Kim Frederick is an enthusiastic Clinton supporter and volunteer. She has a litany of reasons she's supporting the former secretary of state, from her accomplishments to her policy positions.

KIM FREDERICK: The added component is that she is a woman. And there's - and I don't think that anybody should be ashamed to say that that is one of the reasons that they're voting for her. We need to shatter that glass ceiling. There are so many children that need to grow up in a situation where it's normal to have a female president.

KEITH: And because it isn't normal, because there's no model for it, Clinton and her supporters argue she's had to tread carefully with her appearance, even her tone of voice. Mary Fagan, who is still undecided, is sympathetic.

MARY FAGAN: A lot of people say oh, you shouldn't count that for her or against her that she's a woman, but she's had it count against her her whole life. I think she's had to work harder to get done what she's got done.

KEITH: Here in New Hampshire, this conversation about feminism has been playing out mostly among white women of different generations. In Nevada and South Carolina, conversation is likely to shift with electorates that are far more diverse. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Manchester, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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