Written by Frances Kunreuther
The day after Trump’s inauguration, I was one of the 500,000 or 1.2 million who marched in Washington, D.C. I was glad to be there, even with the flaws. There was a feeling of optimism reflected in the pussy hats, homemade signs, different issues that were represented, throngs of people, and general good will. That feeling is quickly fading as our new President’s actions wreak havoc on the environment, Muslims, people in need of health care, refugees, women who are sexually active, people of color, immigrants, workers, those without resources, and so much more.
Being at a march that was dominated by white women, I kept thinking about the ‘other white women’ – the majority who voted for Trump. They were not wearing pussy hats or holding signs that read “Free Melania” or shouting, “Our Bodies, Our Choice.” Trump’s denigration of women, or anyone else, didn’t seem to matter to them, or to matter enough to keep them from casting their vote for a self-avowed sexual predator, and the question is why not?
I began to wonder if white women are just used to men like Trump. Maybe he is not that different from the other men in their lives: husbands, fathers, partners, sons, co-workers, neighbors, friends. White men who feel it is fine to talk about, or grab, someone’s pussy and claim it’s a compliment; who believe they have power that should not be challenge.
Back in the day, I worked in what we called the battered women’s movement. We saw intimate partner violence as an issue of power. We knew it was systemic, that institutions – school, communities, laws, policies, families, and in places of worship – kept gender-based power differences in place. We heard the justifications for the violence, and we listened to the reasons why women did not leave. They were dependent on their partner financially, no one believed them, the criminal justice system ignored their pleas for help and often told women they were responsible. Women didn’t have control over their lives, they were told they were worthless and over time they started to believe it. They loved their partner and hoped he would change. In response, we wanted to raise consciousness, help women see our own agency, and support each other. We wanted to offer an alternative, for the victims of violence, and for all of us; to change the systems that kept these power differences in place. Many women stayed with their abusers, and it was just as difficult to watch then as it is disappointing to learn that 53% of white women, and almost half of college education white women voted for Trump.
Much has already been written contrasting how white women voted with the fact that only 4% of black women and 26% of Latinas were Trump supporters. We know that women of color, too, experience violence from within and outside of their families. But women of color – especially Black women – also know what violence has been perpetrated against their communities in order to “protect” white women. So maybe when they looked at Donald Trump, they also saw in him other white men they had known, making his presidency even scarier.
And white women? Is our trade-off to ignore the slights all women face – about our competency and interests, judgements about our bodies, harassment in public spaces, and fear of verbal and physical violations at home or by strangers – so we can be “protected” by white men whose power is enhanced by Trump’s reactionary populism, meaning a political climate that tilts male, white and Christian? Will there be a time when the majority of white women will recognize the costs to them and their mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters and sons of this compromise, and have the courage to bond with their sisters of color, just as so many brave women have taken the risk to leave the “normality” of their abusers? And will that build a soon-enough, strong-enough movement to stop the madness– the greedy financial interests, male privilege and white supremacy – that has led us to Donald Trump?