White and Female: Looking Back at Race, Gender and the Establishment in the US Elections

Written by: Hannah Bondi, a second year BA Philosophy undergraduate whose main interests lie in intersectional feminism, the refugee crisis and politics. She is currently working with Women for Refugee Women and European Network of Migrant Women.

Like so many others I was shocked by Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States of America. That shock grew as we entered Trump’s first week as president. It started with the reinstatement of the ‘global gag’ rule, then escalated to his executive order banning people from entering the United States from seven different countries (effectively a Muslim Ban). On top of that, Trump has made Steve Bannon his senior advisor, previous executive chair of Breitbart News that has been described as the “platform for the alt-right”. The list goes on and on.

As many others are, I am worried. I am worried because Trump is indicative of a move towards the right that we have seen in America, across Europe, and even here, in the UK, with the rise of UKIP and the impending Brexit. I am worried about the spike in hate crimes. I am worried about the lack of respect for basic human rights that people like Trump seem to have. I am worried as a woman but, more importantly, for other women who will be more affected than I.

One thing that I can’t quite shake is the fact that 53% of white women who voted in America voted for Trump. This staggering statistic shocked everyone considering the remarks Trump has made about women (saying that as a famous man he “can grab ’em by the pussy”), his ongoing sexual assault claims and his general lack of respect for the dignity and rights of women. The next step was to ask why. Why had so many white women obviously gone against their own interests?

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Rally in Charlotte, North Carolina (The Independent)

Some have said that the reason that white women voted so heavily for Trump was precisely because they are white. They, as much as the white men that voted for Trump, were participating in a “whitelash” against globalisation and growing campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter, that aimed to remedy the wrongs that the U.S. had perpetrated against racial minorities. This does seem to be the case considering that the majority of African-American and Latina women in the U.S. voted for Clinton. Indeed, as Judith Butler stated the election of Trump gave many people a “license” to voice their bigotry. Before Trump there was no prominent politician who spoke about race, gender and religion in the way he does now. Suddenly, Trump appears on the scene and starts disparaging any minority he can think of. Finally, across America, those who held bigoted sentiments were given a “license” to voice their own prejudice. When the man who represents the people of America says such disgustingly racist remarks, then other Americans feel that they too can speak this way and act on their prejudice.

I completely agree that the reason white women voted for Trump was because they were participating in a “whitelash”, whether consciously or not. However, I think this “whitelash” was part of a much bigger picture that pushed white women, along with many others, to vote for Trump. To me the reason that so many voted for Trump is similar to the reason why so many voted for Brexit; it was the anti-establishment vote. People, especially the downward-mobilised, middle-classes, have become disillusioned with politics and politicians. They feel lied to and betrayed by those who supposedly work in favour of their interests. They see the world changing in a way that they can’t understand and they are afraid. They are looking for someone to deliver them a sense of security, something that they feel they no longer have. The political elites have made sure to distance themselves from the people, and the people are back with a vengeance.

But how does this translate to women? Of course, African-American and Latina women would have felt this disillusionment as well, if not more acutely, so why did white women vote the way they did? What should be noted is that white women are secure in their place in society due to their whiteness and therefore feel that they do not have as much to lose as African-American or Latina women. Because of this they can cast their vote for Trump with confidence that most of his hatred is focused on ‘others’ and not themselves. But how could white women vote for a man, despite their racism, that advocates for sexual assault? In the end it seems that these women were so desperate for some kind of voice that was anti-establishment that they plunged into supporting Trump, no matter his out-and-out hatred for women.

It is hard to homogenise a whole group of people in any meaningful way. The women who voted for Trump had an array of reasons for making their decision; they voted for a Republican, for better infrastructure, for more jobs, etc. But in the end, whatever their reasoning, they would all have to accept his hatred of women and minorities. It is this acceptance of misogyny that is critical to me. Trump talked about women in a way that even women who declare themselves as anti-feminists would find hard to swallow. Yet, they were able to weigh up the risks and decide on voting for Trump nevertheless. Their disillusionment with the current establishment, whether it be Democrat or Republican, was stronger than their own interests when looking at it from a feminist perspective. For this reason, 53% of white women felt that they must take extreme action in order to be heard and vote for a man that does not listen to women.

The cry to ‘anti-establishment arms’ seems to have just been too loud for these women to resist, and their internalised misogyny went marching along, beating its self-hating drum.

For the sake of protecting feminism, we must remember that this drum is still beating.

 

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