Even before Trump won I did a lot of reading to try to understand why he would even get one vote, let alone millions. There is literally an avalanche of analysis pouring out of the internet with thousands of writers doing the same thing I’m doing. Racism. White supremacy. Economic anxiety. Wealth inequality. Anti-establishment and anti-political-correctness. I won’t try to condense this down to one reason, or a dot point list, or to try to explain away something so multi-faceted that it will take years, perhaps generations, to see what really happened. But I did find one insight necessary to highlight, because I think this one thing matters.
White women. Over half of them voted for Trump*. (*Half of the white women who voted, voted for Trump). Let that one settle as you ponder the photograph below.
It’s easy, as a middle-class, educated, professional, white, politically engaged, feminist, left-wing working mother to assume women everywhere would unfailingly support a female Presidential candidate. When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s impassioned plea for women to reject the Trump-bully, and to reject the notion that women aren’t really people, I felt a rage and a sadness that made me want to scream. But what we have learned from Trump’s victory is that one should never assume everyone thinks like they do. And one should never assume all women feel the same way about feminism as feminists do.
A small note now about fear and the rural versus city divide. I tweeted last night that no more analysis was needed about how Trump won other than to say Trump did a good job of scaring people, telling them he’d fix everything and, because they were too scared to need details or to think very hard about what he was selling, they all fell for it all hook, line and sinker. I stick by this short-hand analysis; fear was the basis of Trump’s campaign and he was very clever at exploiting many and varied reasons for fear in all voting demographics. Women included.
The rural and city divide is also important here. This analysis of the difference between rural America and city America is crucial to understanding Trump’s success. As an Australian who has never been to America, the America I thought I knew and loved, for the most part, voted for Clinton. The Hollywood, city culture, is the only version of American culture my experience can bring to mind. The ‘fly over states’, the red states, really are a different America – they’re miserable, poor, resentful, often unemployed, left-behind and incredibly easy to scare because their lives are, well, pretty crap. When Trump came along and said ‘I’ll make your country great again’, ‘it’s going to be huge’, they were desperate for him to be right, and this wave of desperation delivered city-dwelling-Trump electoral spoils even he probably didn’t believe were possible.
Now hold that thought when it comes to scared, white, rural females. What are they scared of in particular?
They’re scared of women like Hillary Clinton.
One of the hundreds of articles I read about the election in my quest to understand was this interview with Stephanie Coontz, a gender and economics expert at Evergreen State College. You can read it for yourself, but I’ll pull out the key points. Coontz says that it’s ‘women who have the fewest opportunities to compete successfully in the labor market’ who are ‘much more likely to support the policies and values that reward a traditional division of labor in the household’. It all started to make sense for me when I saw this. She went on to say, ‘Women with more social, economic, or educational capital are much more likely to support the activities of women making their own way in the world, to be proud when they see powerful women who stand up or who are getting ahead of men in any way’. Yep. And then this: ‘Women with less economic or personal autonomy are often drawn to a culture of family values that emphasizes men’s responsibility to look after women’. Are you with me now? Suddenly the abuse of Julia Gillard by Australian women made more sense. And finally, Cootz says that when women who emphasize their role in the family as nurturer, as the one who stays home to look after the children, when they see women like Hillary promising more rights for women, equal rights for women, they are scared because ‘women having all these freedoms from male control, they believe… it actually threatens women’s entitlement to male protection’. If Hillary can be elected President, if women can get equal rights, if women are valued in the workforce at equal rates of pay to men, then, these women fear this freedom will lead to the end of their promised role in life as homemaker. They fear equality, feminism, will cause a shift in the culture where men will no longer hold the role of breadwinner, and the women will no longer be entitled to their self-identity as home-maker.
I’m not saying this attitude is the only reason the majority of white women, mostly in rural areas, voted for Trump. I’m not saying that his misogynistic, pussy-grabbing, boys-will-be-boys persona was totally ignored by women because they were more worried about what Hillary represented than what Trump did (a male culture, in rural areas, which these women are no doubt very familiar and comfortable with). I’m just saying, there is something to this. Many women reject feminism and reject female leaders and reject the notion that women should be equal to men in all facets of life, but perhaps don’t always understand, even in themselves, why this is so. In order to understand these women, we need to know these women. Somehow, Trump got it. His promises to ‘lock Hillary up’ resonated with women who wanted her to get back in her place. Now it’s time for those, like me, who oppose everything Trump is about to do to America, to start understanding this too.