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Barbershop: Feminist Pioneers, Young Women And Hillary Clinton


Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we gather a group of interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this weekend are Barbershop regular Jolene Ivey. Jolene has a deep background in politics and in activism. She was a state representative and was a Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in Maryland. And we're very happy to have Roxane Gay. She's a professor and blogger and writer. You might have caught her best-selling collection of essays "Bad Feminist." Also happy to have Emily Peck - she's the executive business editor for The Huffington Post. We got everybody together in the Barbershop to talk about something that's been brewing in the political races for some time but this week kind of boiled over. On Sunday, the Clinton campaign called up Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state, to re-up a rallying cry for women to support one of their own. This is what she said.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We can 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, and you have 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.


MARTIN: Well, that comment was not well received by many people, especially after feminist icon Gloria Steinem weighed in.


GLORIA STEINEM: When you're young, you're thinking, you know, where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie or (laughter) you know...


MARTIN: That was from Steinem's interview with Bill Maher last weekend. Since then, both women have walked those comments back, most recently in an op-ed Madeleine Albright wrote for The New York Times. But the comments still sparked a lot of conversation when the Barbershop gathered yesterday to talk about it. I went to Roxane Gay first.

ROXANE GAY: I think that these women made mistakes, but I'm actually more appalled by the backlash, especially toward Gloria Steinem, who also had a lot of really great things to say about young woman being engaged and being intensely invested in this political cycle. And, you know, Madeleine Albright's comments - she's been saying that for years. And it was just the wrong time and the wrong place and the wrong message to send to young women, who we're supposed to be encouraging to get out to vote for the candidate they feel most aligned with. Again, we can critique her, but I think that feminism is held to unrealistic standards. And any time a woman makes a mistake, we then say, what's the problem with feminism or has feminism failed because one individual made a mistake. There is no other movement that is held to the standard that feminism is held to in the public eye. And I think that people have just been gleefully waiting for a woman to make a mistake with regards to how they promote Hillary Clinton and her candidacy for president.

MARTIN: All right, Jolene, you are the politician in the group. What's your take on this as a person who's had to give a lot of speeches yourself?

JOLENE IVEY: Well, I definitely see where anybody can say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But you just have to put everything in context. And of course, Madeleine Albright has said it a million times. This is just, you know, a time and a place she probably shouldn't have done it. And as far as Gloria Steinem's comments, who knows what that's about? But I give those women a lot of space because we don't know - or I would say the younger women, they don't know the scars these women have been carrying. They don't know how they've gotten to where they are today. You know, they've been the ones doing the hard work to pave the way so that I could be a state rep and also choose to stay home with my kids for those years and also be married now to a politician in his own right, of course. So there's a lot of choices available to me, and it's because of Madeleine Albright; it's because of Gloria Steinem; it's because of Hillary Clinton. And I really have to give them their props for that.

MARTIN: Emily Peck, you are, you know, like, I hate to say how "Saturday Night Live" says our resident young person, but I think you're the younger - the youngest person of the assembled here. And I was just interested in your take on why it is that that Madeleine Albright comment hit so many people so wrong.

EMILY PECK: Well, I think no one wants to be bullied into voting for someone based on one single issue, and no one wants to feel boxed in in that way. It's just the reality of sexism in the workplace and in politics that you don't maybe realize when you're just starting out. You don't see it. You know, you see your peers doing really well. You see women - smart women all around you and smart girls, too, but then they drop off. They're not there, and it's really a lack of support in the workplace and in our politics for women and the choices they make.

MARTIN: OK, well, another issue that did surface here, another thing that has surfaced pretty recently is this whole question of former Secretary of State Clinton's husband's record as president. And Jolene, I'm going to start with you on that because you're in a dual-politician family. I mean, there are times when your husband has been in office. There are times when you have been in office. There are times when you've both been in office. How do you suss that out?

IVEY: Well, the way I look at is this - I have benefitted from my husband's great reputation, and it has helped me win office and it has helped me to do well in office and to be known in a wider circle than I otherwise would. Therefore, if he does something that makes people angry, I get stuck with that, too. And, you know, I accept that. We don't agree on every little thing. But when you look at the whole big picture, I accept the fact that I benefit from him and he benefits from me and we're also stuck with each other. And the same certainly is true of the Clintons, and it's true of the Bushes. I mean, look at that family. You get the benefits, but sometimes you get stuck with the parts that you don't agree with. And if there's something that you truly are not on the same page on, then I think you have to make that statement clear.

MARTIN: Emily Peck, I don't know if you feel comfortable taking that question since you're obviously actively reporting, as am I. What do you make about that? You know, we've never had a president's spouse run for the same job before Heather Clinton. We've certainly had members of - women who've run for the same seat that their husbands have held before. In fact, that has traditionally been a way that a lot of women got into Congress, right...

PECK: Right.

MARTIN: ...Before they started winning on their own.

PECK: Right.

MARTIN: Do - thoughts on that?

PECK: I mean, it's tricky - I don't know that I agree that partners should have the same policy positions, and I don't think that Hillary Clinton should be held to the same account as her husband for decisions he made when he was president. That seems - it does seem unfair. I mean, it's valid to raise these concerns. I think it's all on the table when we're talking about electing the president of the United States. But I wonder if the situation were reversed somehow and Bill Clinton was running and, you know, Hillary had been president for eight years if we would hold him to the same account if there isn't a little bit of maybe sexism going on or just unrealistic expectations of what it means to be in a partnership and what it means to be a spouse. You know, supporting your partner doesn't mean agreeing every time. It means backing them up even when you don't agree. And when your husband, your partner, is the president, I mean, you can have influence. But at the end of the day, he's the one making the decisions. And to hold her accountable for them seems - it seems a bit of a stretch to me.

MARTIN: Roxane, you want to jump in on this, and then Jolene wants another bite of that apple. She's thinking - she's got her politician hat on again.

GAY: Sure. I think it's absurd to hold Hillary Clinton responsible for the actions of her husband in equal measure. I do think that couples are connected, and Hillary Clinton has certainly benefited from being married to Bill Clinton. And quite frankly, Bill Clinton has benefited from being married to Hillary. But he was the president, and as such he deserves - I don't know - 80 percent of the responsibility for his decisions - or, I mean, he deserves 100 percent of the responsible for his decisions. But Hillary - I mean, give her, like, 20 percent accountability because she was not in office at the time. I'm more interested in critiquing her on her record and on her actions than I am her marriage.

MARTIN: Jolene, final thought on that?

IVEY: Well, I guess my point is not so much that it's truly correct that she be held accountable for his actions, but that's just politics. Your haters are going to find reasons to hate. And I don't care if it's the man or the woman or whoever, they're going to drag it all out of the closet and they're going to throw it at you. And the good news is that she has enough good things that come with being married to Bill Clinton - his charm, his brilliance, you know, he's got his great relationship with the African-American community. I don't know that hers would be as good if it weren't for him. So you've got to take the good with the bad sometimes, and life's not always fair.

MARTIN: Well, lots to think about here. Before we let you go, you know, tomorrow's Valentine's Day. Is it played out? I'm kind of on the fence here (laughter).

IVEY: I love Valentine's Day.

MARTIN: Do you, Jolene? You do?

IVEY: I do. And actually, for our family, it's been a great way to send out cards because you will always remember that you got it.

MARTIN: All right, professor Gay, I know you're a serious scholar, but where are you on Valentine's Day? Are you pro or con or...

GAY: You know, I've changed - I used to hate Valentine's Day, and I do think it's a very corporate holiday. But man, I guess when you find the right one, Valentine's Day becomes a lot of fun. And I'm loving it, and I kind of feel like I killed it this year. I got a really good gift for it. So...


GAY: ...I enjoy Valentine's Day.

MARTIN: All right, Emily Peck, what about you?

PECK: Yeah, it's a corporate holiday. But at the end of the day, chocolate is involved and I'm a fan.

MARTIN: Duly noted, and anybody listening Emily Peck likes chocolate - just thought of making that super clear.

PECK: Thank you.

MARTIN: So do I, by the way, anybody...

IVEY: Me, too, me, too.

MARTIN: Anybody interested in my opinion about it.

GAY: We're all taking notes, Michel.


MARTIN: OK, all right, that's Roxane Gay, Jolene Ivey and Emily Peck. Thank you all so much for speaking with us.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

GAY: Thank you.

PECK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.