Every so often, when you suggest that Trump’s win might have been the result of sexism, some men—somehow, it always seems to be men—will exclaim, “It can’t have had anything to do with sexism! Because women voted for him.”
To which you will no doubt be tempted to reply, “Not black women, you idiot.”
But that doesn’t change the fact that 53 percent of white women did vote for him. Maybe they did so because they hate immigrants, or because they hate Muslims, or because they hate the economy and the government. But maybe, just maybe, some were able to overlook Trump’s glaring, terrifying flaws because sexism shapes nearly every part of our lives.
Women, even in America, even in 2016, are made to walk a pretty narrow path essentially all the time. Part of that has to do with being afraid for our physical safety—there’s a reason women often walk with their keys clutched in their hands when they’re going home at night. It’s because one out of every six women in America will be a victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.
But as some sort of dark, satanic bonus, we also get to worry about all the other actions we might do that would result in being socially shamed. If we have too much sex, we’ll be shamed for that. If we are made to have sex we did not want to have, or touched without our consent, and we report it, we’ll be told we’re lying, even if the men who did so are on tape saying they do that kind of thing. If we do not report it, we’ll be told we are lying, because otherwise, we would have reported it. If we have too little sex and want to stay a virgin until marriage, well, judging from the treatment of the teen pop stars who went this route, we’ll get mocked for that and also told we’re lying. Basically, if we say anything about our sex lives other than we are happy existing to please men, we’ll be told we’re lying.
All of this allows us to register the message that we’re just supposed to make men happy. So we invest thousands on our hair or makeup or diet regimen in the hopes that maybe men will not shame us, as Donald Trump does, by referring to us as fat, grotesque pigs with faces no one would want to look at. If we look thin and our hair is beautiful and we appear traditionally attractive (by white standards, and there is no question this exceedingly narrow path is still easier to walk if you are white) and we are sweet every moment of every day, then, best-case scenario, nothing terrible will happen to us.
These are the sexist constraints of the society that all women live in. But women have a few different ways of coping with it.
One way we’re told we’ll have at least an illusory sense of safety? Aligning ourselves with a strong man. Women learn that people will pay more attention to even the idea of a man than they will to our feelings. That’s why, when a man asks us out in a bar we know that the quickest way to shut it down is not to say, “Not interested!” It is to say, “I have a boyfriend.”
Because people like men. People believe men. Men are seen as being stable, while women are temperamental. (Think back to the debate when Trump exclaimed that he had “the best temperament.” Then think of all his 2am tweeting sprees.) But still: If a man people look up to—or, barring that, are a little bit scared of—says that you’re okay, well, maybe people will think twice before they call you a slut or grab you without your consent.
If you are looking to a man for defense, well, the stronger that man appears, the better.
Peter Pomerantsev, in his book Nothing is True And Everything is Possible: The Surreal Heart of New Russia, describes disenfranchised woman searching for “a man behind whom you feel like behind a wall of stone.”
The woman he spoke with goes on to say, “We all know how to spot them. The strong, silent men. They wear dark suits. They have deep voices. They mean what they say. These men are interested in control.”
They sound a lot like Trump; his dark suits, his elaborate pantomimes of strength. If you ask the women who support him, they’ll often say that they like that he means what he says. It does not matter to them if everything he says is terrifying. They will quite literally say, “I heard that he said something about groping women, and I’m thinking, Okay, No. 1, I think that’d be great. I like getting groped!” If you think you’ll be safer from the negative aspects of society if a man like Trump gropes you, then, yes, that is a reasonable thought to have. White women who enthusiastically vote for men like Trump surely hope that if they just look the way he wants them to look, if they support him without question, then he will keep them safe.
They hope this because it is how so many of us are trained to interact with men like Trump for much of our lives.
Trump’s female fans are not thrown by him. Perhaps that is because he’s the kind of man they’ve been told all their lives it’s to their advantage to like. Donald Trump is the sort of fellow, perhaps, your mother or grandmother might have hoped would marry you if you played all your cards right. He is intimidating. He is focused on projecting strength. Above all, he is rich (and in the many communities where women can’t make money without being seen as career bitches, that matters). Your mother and grandmother likely didn’t want this because they hated you, but because they thought that being aligned with a strong man might protect you from the some of the horrors the world wrecks on women. And if you are a white woman, there’s no doubt that you have been taught these things as, at least in part, a way of protecting your particular status in society, one not shared by women of color. As a white woman, you’re taught that a man like Donald Trump will help you stay in the position of power that you’ve been granted thanks to the accident of birth, and that while you might be second to men, you can still stay above people of other races, religions, and ethnicities.
But there is a new legion of women coming in this 21st century. They will not stand for horrors. They will no longer settle for the illusion of safety that’s found in aligning themselves with men, particularly at the cost of other women and POC. Instead, they will demand that people stop calling them fat. They will demand that men stop grabbing them. They will demand that their feelings and truths begin to matter. They will insist that no woman is safe unless all of them are safe. Hopefully, the generation of women who are not content to stand by the side of men like Trump will start demanding as much right now.