Going into this year’s presidential election, I felt alone in my anxiety over the outcome. After all, almost every poll predicted a comfortable Clinton victory over Trump; some news sources even said that they’d be able to call a Clinton victory early in the evening.
That evening, my entire family sat in our living room, neighbors walked in and out, articles and political theories were read aloud, while I sat in a cold sweat at my computer watching Florida and Ohio turn from blue to red to blue again. I had every scenario mapped out in my head of how Clinton could pull through (“if she loses Florida and Ohio, but still gets Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, she can win!”)
As it grew later and later, and the evening turned into night, my anxiety began to rub off on other people. My mom had to go sit on the porch, occasionally calling out to me for updates on behalf of neighbors sitting with her or just passing by walking their dogs. I sat alone in our dining room, watching Ohio, Florida, and Michigan turn (and stay) red. I had to go to bed to prevent myself from becoming too frenzied.
When I woke up the next morning, Donald J. Trump was the next President of the United States.
I wasn’t surprised. Unfortunately, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the extent to which white Americans would go to remain superior. What did surprise me, however, was that 53% of white women voted for Trump. And while 56% of white women voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election, I was shocked that Donald Trump’s outright sexism, even bragging about sexual assault, didn’t turn female voters against him.
In other words, what was so outrageous about the results of this election was simply how ordinary it was. In an election cycle with our first female candidate nominated by a major party and a caught-in-the-act male chauvinist, sex and gender were clearly at the forefront, but women didn’t rally behind Hillary or condemn Trump. Kathleen Dolan, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, said in an interview with the New York Times, “[sex] does not change things at all. What matters 99.9 percent of the time is their political party.”
My larger question is “why?” Why did white women continue to support a man who clearly did not have their best interests in mind?
My initial conclusion was that white women saw Trump as a way to further themselves. To these women, feminism is more about personal economic gain than a collective movement to achieve equity for all genders. According to this brand of “feminism,” the best ally for these (white) women are the people already in power – white men. In the words of bell hooks, in cases such as these, “patriarchy has no gender.”
In this election we saw hooks’s claims clearly, as white women work with the patriarchy in order to remain superior and to be rewarded by men because they can simply disregard other systems of oppression.
However, as Audre Lorde said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” In other words, women cannot align with the patriarchy and expect to be liberated. Those individual women may receive some benefits that the patriarchy can provide, but in the end, they won’t be truly equal.
This begs the question, “What is the answer?” How do we teach white women that the patriarchy isn’t their greatest ally? How do we show white women that we are better united fighting the patriarchy instead of becoming part of it?
Part of the answer is simple: education. However, education isn’t the only answer. If it was, then 44% of white women with college degrees wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. This is because sexism is institutional. After all, not all colleges are hotbeds of female empowerment and feminism. Education doesn’t matter if we’re just teaching women to be part of the patriarchy.
So then we must give white women the right kind of education, the kind of education that will empower and radicalize them. We must teach white women that they cannot be so comfortable with what they have now that they won’t risk it for complete equity.
We must teach white women that the patriarchy will never work to benefit them. We must show them the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and many others. We must teach them about intersectional feminism and what it means. We have to essentially give these women an LREI feminism course.
The ultimate goal of this education isn’t to shame or criticize these women, but rather to help them gain more of an understanding of what feminism truly means in terms of it being an emancipatory tool to liberate us all rather than to benefit only those already in power. White women must also become allies and fight for all women, including Black and brown women. I can only hope that they begin to see the tremendous and dangerous gravity of Trump being in power. Soon.