When Beyoncé — Queen Bey — sang, “OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation,” the Super Bowl crowd and millions of television viewers went wild.
Beyoncé’s new song is actually a take down on critics, and a pump up for black feminism. Back to that later. For now, note that Beyoncé’s song dropped just as the political conversation between young Democratic voters and their older counterparts revealed the ladies were definitely not lining up in formation.
As polls were confirming that young women were overwhelmingly supporting Bernie Sanders, what had been behind the scenes grumbling by older female Hillary Clinton voters erupted into a public conversation. Stumping for Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeated what she’s long contended, “There’s a place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
But this time her popular refrain — so well known it’s on a Starbucks cup — came across as offensive to younger Bernie Sanders backers. Making matters worse, feminist icon Gloria Steinem said young women were supporting Sanders because that's where the boys are saying, “The boys are with Bernie,” as if women voters were looking for a date. Steinem quickly apologized; Albright clarified that Bernie Sanders’ young female supporters were not traitors to feminism.
But many are upset that young women are not working to realize what could be the biggest victory of the women’s movement. They resent the attitude of young women benefiting from the hard work of an earlier generation,and not understanding — as Madeleine Albright told the Clinton crowd — the work “is not done.”
Younger voters say they should not be expected to vote for Hillary Clinton just because she is a woman. They say Sanders has made their key issues — crushing school debt, living wages, the environment — a central part of his platform. It’s not that Hillary Clinton hasn’t talked about those issues, but as I learned from my own mini-survey of my niece and other young women, what she’s saying often doesn’t translate.
From my niece, “She does not have the connection I’m looking for.”
From another young woman, ”I’m not sure she gets who I am.”
Interestingly, most of them know little about Clinton’s own record as a feminist. Those who do say it’s not enough to erase her husband’s past history. Said one, “She stayed with Bill. That’s a deal breaker for me.”
Which brings me back to Beyoncé and her "Formation" song, an ode to black feminism, which Bey recognizes sits at the intersection of gender and race. Black women have been sidelined in this debate about feminism and Hillary Clinton’s presidential run. For many Democratic women voters who are persons of color, Sanders and Clinton’s record on race is a deciding factor. It’s why Clinton has spent a lot of time in South Carolina where half the electorate is black, and older black women are Super voters.
Hillary Clinton now finds herself in a delicate dance — embracing the enthusiasm of older voters, claiming her potential history making candidacy, while not offending younger women voters who might still come over to her camp.
Maybe some might see her differently if she channeled the power and words of millennial voter Beyoncé herself.
“I work hard, I grind ‘til I own it,” says Bey, “Because I’m a star! OK, ladies, now let’s get in formation.”
A version of this commentary first appeared on WGBHNews.org.