feminism

White Women: Come Get Your People

It’s no secret that white women fucked up this election. Not to say they don’t fuck up regularly, but 2016 was an especially disturbing case, with 53% of white women voting for an egomaniacal cheeto who’s now busy maligning a civil rights hero because governing is overrated.

Today, though, the New York Times published an article about said women. And I do mean white women when I say that, because those highlighted were all white women. Probably because 81% of non-white women voted for Clinton.

She wasn’t perfect, of course. She wasn’t a flaming orange human dumpster fire, either.

But I digress.

The contents of the article are not surprising. We’d heard these justifications long before a single ballot had been cast. Intense distrust of Clinton. A willingness to overlook racism and sexism because of the deranged traffic cone’s supposed business prowess. Actual agreement with racist drivel. And before the New York Times even thought about writing this piece, we learned there were even women who voted for this man-baby because they liked his daughter.

None of these arguments are ok. And on the first read of the article, I thought my head was going to explode.

 

“If I turned down every candidate who objectified women, I’d vote for no one.”

He didn’t just objectify women. He bragged about sexually assaulting them.

 

“Do I think Trump’s trying to send women back to the kitchen? No, his daughter is a great example.”

You do realize he said he’d want to have sex with her if she wasn’t his daughter, right?

 

“Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me?”

You keep using this word “racist.” I do not think it means what you think it means.

 

“He says what everyone’s thinking and is afraid to say. That doesn’t make anyone bigoted.”

Actually, denigrating entire portions of the population based on race, gender, and religion makes you precisely that.

 

“He wants to bring America back to what it was before. I don’t think it’s taking us back to women have no rights or slavery days.”

Um, that’s exactly what it was before. One could argue we haven’t come that far, actually.

 

“Obama was out for himself. I think it was more about him being a celebrity than a president.”

YOU VOTED FOR A REALITY TV STAR.

 

“And it’s like Hillary has the right to talk about Trump when she stayed with a guy who was in the White House and took advantage of a young intern? Why would you stay with him?”

You are quite literally blaming a woman for a man’s misdeeds while simultaneously voting for a sex offender. I cannot.

 

“I looked at that more as bravado, his audience needed that to get the applause.”

So, you’re super concerned that she might have lied but voted for a man that you know to be lying?

 

“You don’t pay more money out than you have.”

He is literally BILLIONS of dollars in debt.

 

“He’s not getting large amounts from donors based on what you’ll do for me later.”

You are correct on that point. He just traded appointments for campaign support. Wait a minute…

 

“I felt like once you got past the bluster, he really was interested in helping everyone.”

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” – Maya Angelou

 

The whole article was stomach turning and enraging. But there were two quotes that really bothered me.

“Trump’s not a perfect man, by any means. He kind of reminds me of my ex-husband. I think he’s a really good man, deep down.”

“You get through the bad and you focus on the good.”

At first, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. And then I remembered a TED Talk I’d seen from Leslie Morgan Steiner. In it she explained:

I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on earth who could help [him] face his demons.

ALARM BELLS GOING OFF EVERYWHERE.

In so many of the testimonials you read from women who voted for Trump, you’ll find justifications which make little sense, forgiveness of the unforgivable, discriminatory perspectives expressed as lessons from the men in their lives. The same sort of rhetoric you hear from victims of domestic abuse, whether it’s acknowledged as abuse or not. In many cases where the individual is being abused but is in denial, they internalize feelings that they’re unworthy of support or security, and defensively posture when it’s implied their experiences constitute abuse.

Do I think that means that the 53% of white women who voted for Trump were all victims of domestic abuse? Absolutely not. Do I think their words, vote, or perspectives are somehow justifiable? Nope. No get out of jail free card here. That’s not what I’m trying to say.

What I’m trying to say is that in a world where misogyny and institutional racism are a thing, at least some white women are bound to make decisions that run counter to their self-interests. Think about it. On the one hand, they perpetually encounter misogyny. On the other hand, they benefit from their white privilege.

Put in a different context: A woman in an abusive relationship is subjected to physical, emotional, and psychological torment. But damn, the good moments are good, right?

(Whoa, whoa, whoa, you might say. Women of color got it right, though. This is no excuse.

Yeah, they did. And if you ever wanted more proof that women of color are strong as hell and utter badasses (there’s already so much out there), here ya go. They experience both racial and gender discrimination on the regular, but faced with a spray-on tan obsessed bully, they said fuck no. There’s a reason they’re the most fearless leaders on the frontlines of any fight against oppression you could imagine.)

Yeah, it’s no excuse. Again, this analogy is not about absolving white women of their crimes against humanity in the voting booth. And dear god, it is not my intent to shame victims of abuse who stay with their abusers.

It is, however, another way of considering the impacts of white privilege. It is individuals of color who suffer most, but white women, in particular, are doing themselves no favors when they squeeze their eyes shut and put their fingers in their ears. They’re not helping themselves by nodding along with ideologies that advance a white supremacist agenda and shrugging off misogyny. But that’s what they’re doing.

Like Steiner once did, they don’t see themselves as battered or abused. They take the hits and believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re loved because a different attribute of themselves is put on a pedestal.

Steiner got out of her abusive relationship when she finally accepted that her husband’s behavior was abusive. To this end, maybe the key to getting white women to recognize the toxicity of today’s conservative politics is to get them to understand the impact of misogyny. If they can understand one form of oppression, it gets harder to ignore other forms of oppression.

In fairness, that’s not always the case. White feminism is a thing (I know I’ve fucked up on this note on occasion), and that shit needs to get burnt to the ground. But understanding the necessity of feminism and what it means can be a starting point in terms of understanding intersectionality. When it comes to the female Trump voter, we’re going to have a hard time starting the conversation at white privilege because acknowledging that leaves them with zilch.

As Steiner points out, leaving an abusive relationship is scary. Why? Because it can be dangerous. Statistics indicate that women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after they leave an abusive partner than they were at any point in their relationship.

I’m not saying white women leaving conservatism and acknowledging the oppression in the world around them are 70 times more likely to be killed than those who stay with their backwards political partner. But as women in general have left the Republican party, what’s happened? A surge in extremist laws attacking reproductive rights. An uptick in the shaming and blaming of survivors of sexual assault. Boiling outrage over “P.C.” culture. I could go on. And all of these developments, frankly, put women’s lives at risk.

But there’s power in numbers. A strong support network makes all the difference for someone trying to leave an abusive relationship, right? The sooner white women figure that out, the better. There is a massive support group comprised of women who have turned their backs on the oppressive rhetoric and policies of the GOP. And just as leaving an abusive relationship can help someone grow to their full potential, white women turning their back on misogyny can grow to better understand the intersectional nature of oppression, and join in the good fight.

I fully acknowledge that the fact that they need to be handled with kid gloves to stop being assholes is fucked up. To that end, it’s important that the folks doing that work — moving these women towards the right conclusions — has got to be done by white folks. Asking people of color, and especially women of color, to take on that emotional labor is unacceptable and the height of privilege. They’ve been fighting. It is us who need to step up to the plate.

So white women who give a shit: this is your call. Come get your people.

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The Feminist Fail

This one’s for the women.

When I was growing up, for a silly while there, I refused to call myself a feminist. I didn’t know any better at the time. Living in a super conservative community, the only thing my history classes had taught me about feminism was bra burning, and as a teen who developed early, I needed my bras, thank you very much. (I wish I was kidding.)

Then I got to college. It didn’t take long for my views on the f-word to change. OF COURSE I was a feminist. YES to pay equality. YES to reproductive rights. YES to bodily autonomy. FUCK YOU rape culture. I was a loud, proud, in your face feminist determined to raise my daughter as such.

When I left college and began writing in earnest, though, that badge of honor grew heavier and more cumbersome. The bright and shiny feminism that had so inspired me now seemed strikingly white, painfully straight, and more than a little out of touch with the times. I was uncomfortable watching women with skin like mine telling women of color to pipe down and get in line. I remember my horror when learning about Sangers’ eugenics and the “lavender menace.”

I tried to quell my misgivings with self-assurances that it was all just a part of “growing pains” for the movement, but in the past several months, I’ve grown more uncomfortable still. The pace of that growth in an era where technology gives us the ability to connect and learn from each other in an unprecedented manner seems exceedingly slow.

I’ve watched TSwift and Miley spouting the feminist version of #AllLivesMatter as women of color in the industry lamented racial disparity. I’ve watched Meryl Streep don a shirt proclaiming, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave,” before she today shrugged off film festival diversity laments by saying, “We’re all Africans.” I’ve watched people complain about Jenner receiving attention that should be reserved for “real women.” I’ve watched women of color criticizing Sanders lambasted by men and women supporting him for advancing the “politics of division.” I’ve watched Gloria Steinem tell me that I’m only supporting Sanders for the boys. I’ve watched Madeline Albright tell me there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support Clinton while the candidate herself laughed. I’ve watched feminist friends who I respect echo the same damn things with condescension that sounds a whole lot like, “GET OFF MY LAWN” while younger voices ignore entirely the historic moment we face in today’s political climate.

And you know what I think? I think there’s a special place in hell for this kind of tone deaf feminism: this feminism that says the experiences of women are homogeneous, this feminism that thinks the movement needs a singular voice, this feminism that tells people saying otherwise to shut up and sit down.

I am all for empowering women. I am there for the ongoing battles and the battles we’ve yet to wage. But we’re going to lose the war if we keep trying to corral people onto this path that ignores the battles going on to our left and right, because that strategy leaves a lot of people behind.

You may not see color, but the economy sure does. Unemployment rates for white women in the last quarter of 2015 may have been at 4%, but it was 6.7% for Hispanic and Latina women, and 8% for Black women. White women may make $0.78 to a white man’s dollar, but Black women make $0.68 on the dollar, and Hispanic and Latina women bring in only $0.54 on the dollar. And these figures can vary dramatically by region, state, and city.

And violence against women of color is not just structural. It’s estimated that 17.7% of white women will be victims of sexual assault at some point in their lives, but the numbers are worse for women of color. Approximately 40% of Black women report encountering coercive sexual activity by the age of 18, and it is estimated that for every Black woman who reports a rape, there are 15 that do not. Anti-immigrant vitriol can frequently discourage Hispanic and Latina women from reporting, regardless of immigration status. But migrant workers know all too well the dangers they face, with more than half a million women calling the fields they work “fields of panties” due to the prevalence of unchecked sexual assault.

And there are other issues that are distinctly important for women of color that white women may not give a lot of thought to in the end. Black women are eight times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated, while Hispanic and Latina women are four times more likely to face jail time. When women of limited means face the legal system, they overwhelming lose.

It’s not just about color, though; sexuality and gender identity can play a significant role in risk factors, too. Half of bisexual women and more than 64% of transwomen will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  It’s estimated that at least 20% of homeless youth are members of the LGBT community, and 41% of transwomen will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Let’s not forget age, either. Young women today identify as feminist in record levels. They may not have experienced the battles faced by their foremothers on the ground level, or the days before Roe v. Wade, or a world without women in politics, but they face a new set of demons. They’re the ones punching up in the face of widespread digital harassment. They’re the ones born into an economy ruined by those that came before them, a climate exacerbating the gender gap in the workforce. And their voices, in today’s political climate, are chastised for not directly aligning with women in leadership on all issues, the assumption beneath it all being that they’re not smart enough/informed enough to know what’s what. Silly little girls.

That doesn’t mean that older women don’t have unique struggles. They know, perhaps better than most, exactly what’s on the line today because it’s what they sacrificed so much for in their younger days, and are frustrated when young women remain apathetic. They’ve been hit hard by the economic downturn, as well, with wiped out retirement savings pushing them back into a workforce that doesn’t know what to do with them. Their ballooning healthcare costs are nearly incomprehensible to many younger women with relatively more robust health. The bottom line: age matters no matter which side of the spectrum you’re on.

And how about a shout out to the often dismissed women with disabilities? These are women who are statistically far more likely than other women to be assaulted, unemployed, and discriminated against, but you won’t hear much about them in feminist cannon. From forced sterilization to police violence against those with mental illness to feminist events that consistently fail to accommodate those with special needs, women with disabilities are left out in the cold at every single turn. They’re footnotes. It’s repulsive.

The point of this very surface level collection of differences is to highlight that every woman’s experience in life is unique. It’s going to be influenced by their race, their income, their sexuality, their gender identity, their location, and more. Those experiences are important, and the stories they tell should inform that fight instead of being pushed to the side if we want changes that actually make a difference. Those experiences are going to foster unique perspectives that shed light in the gaps that pepper our own. Those experiences make women as a collective so much stronger.

To argue that a feminism that does not recognize these differences and raise up the distinctive voices who can speak to them is somehow representative of the women it purports to support is breathtaking in its idiocy. When the movement and its figureheads say we only need to hear from someone that looks like them, loves like them, lives like them, they make it clear that this is not about fighting for women; it’s about fighting for women like them. It’s a demonstration of a willingness to sacrifice the women not like them to advance themselves.

So stop telling women they’re distracting from the cause when they voice an experience that deviates from the central narrative. Stop telling women they’re traitors when they dare to criticize the mainstream feminist culture. Stop telling women that the only way they can be supportive of women is if they support your woman. Stop telling women the battle they’re fighting doesn’t matter.

Just stop. Listen. It’s the only way the war gets won.

Hillary, Rape Culture, and an Uneasy Agreement with Trump

The Trump campaign has, since the beginning, seemed a caricature of what conservative politics has turned into over the past two decades. Instead of hiding behind dog whistles, he’s blatantly, proudly blasted out sexist, racist, classist and xenophobic rhetoric like it’s going out of style. It’s working for him, which is more than a little unnerving.

His sexism, in particular, is beyond question. This is a man who told an employee she’d look pretty on her knees, who disparages women’s appearances instead of engaging with critique, who accuses media members of being on their period when they dare question him, who dismisses fellow conservative competitors for not being pretty enough to win, who — when running out of options — chooses to leap on his female opponent’s use of a bathroom.

He’s a misogynist asshole. Point blank.

Last week, in yet another chapter of absurdity, he claimed that women were yuge fans of his, and that stalwart feminist icon Hillary Clinton was anti-woman. Derision, side eye, and shade came down in an avalanche, and rightfully so. There is no world in which Trump could be considered a greater ally for women.

And yet…

Alright, stay with me for a minute. Set aside your fervent love of Clinton. Simmer your Sanders adoration. Acknowledge your intense fear and loathing of the GOP field, but don’t let it cloud your vision. Put down the pitchforks for a second, and please just listen.

Because I’m about to agree — in part — with Trump. And I might hate myself more for it than you do.

See, Trump’s criticism of Hillary’s record on women wasn’t just a random jab; it was connected to the philandering ways of Bill Clinton.

At first I snorted at the support he provided for the conjecture. Frankly, I don’t care who sleeps with who and who accepts it or doesn’t. The Clintons are ostensibly good with each other despite past dalliances, and since it’s really none of my business, it’s a non issue in my mind.

If that had been the extent of his attack, I’d have gone back to a Netflix binge and chalk it up to another transparent GOP smear attempt. But Trump wasn’t just talking about the consensual extramarital affairs. He was also making reference to the accusations of sexual harassment against Bill that have come to the forefront over the years, and Hillary’s role in those sagas.

Bill has been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment or assault since his career began. Some of those accusations wound up in court. Some of them were settled outside of court. Some of them were shouted into obscurity. But they’re there, as are accounts of Hillary’s attempts to bury them with private investigators and bullying.

And this is where I get stuck as someone who tries very hard to be a good ally for survivors of sexual assault and an advocate against rape culture.

On face, I want to holler with the rest of my progressive friends about all the good Hillary’s done in her life for women, about what a positive role model she’s been. I want to say that those allegations were never proven and this is just another desperate Republican attempt to quash Hillary before she gets the nomination.

But I can’t. Because I get angry when people say that Cosby, despite numerous accusers and a record of out of court settlements, doesn’t deserve our disdain. I get frustrated when people say that Woody Allen marrying someone he’s accused of molesting excuses his gross abuse of power. I get sick when people shrug off player after player in the NFL for their assaults because the women accusing them are obviously just seeking attention. I get exasperated when people tell me to stave off judgment until a legal system (that has proven itself woefully inadequate) adjudicates another woman’s trauma, like their decision is the ultimate arbiter of reality.

And to look at Bill Clinton’s tattered history without the same critical lens because I think his wife is better than the horror show in the GOP presidential field would make me a massive hypocrite.

We can say that none of these cases were ever proven in court, but that’s a bullshit dodge. The legal system fails survivors of sexual assault early and often, starting with authorities questioning attire and prior relationships and ending with a he-said-she-said deflection.

We can choose to say fall back on the he-said-she-said excuse in general discussion of the topic, too, but that’s crap, as well. How many allies posted about how absurd it is that we discount the trauma of multiple women in order to defend the acceptance of one man’s denial when the Cosby travesty gained public notoriety once more last year? Bill has had multiple accusers, as well. He also had out of court settlements. Why does he get a pass?

We can roll our eyes and say he’s being targeted because he’s a prominent public figure. He certainly is, but that’s the exact reason why we should be willing to look at the situation critically. It is not easy for survivors to come forward under far less visible circumstances; it is infinitely harder to do so when being put under a public microscope and having your story and person torn to shreds is a certainty. Multiple women have been willing to face that level of scrutiny. That’s not something someone does for fun. And as the data shows, false accusations are exceedingly rare.

We can look the other way when considering Hillary’s behavior involving the accusations. And maybe, to some extent, that’s fair. Yes, there have been reports that she hired private investigators in order to bully accusers into silence, but a lot of those reports have also been circulated by notoriously unreliable conservative pundits and politicos. I’m willing to concede that those reports might not be true.

But those aren’t the only criticisms that can be made of Hillary on this note. Indeed, her response to Trump’s comments was problematic in and of itself. After being pressed on the subject at a New Hampshire event, Hillary replied:

I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.

It was a safe response, of course. Nothing wrong on the surface. But when you look at the history of the allegations against Bill and the way those cases were handled, the dismissal of the accusers was not a function of evidence; it was a function of politics. Hillary knows (or should know) about the infrequency of false allegations and how that information interacts with Bill’s track record, but instead of grappling with that, she’s buying whole hog into the fallacy with this comment.

And yes, we can talk about how she really doesn’t have any other pragmatic response. Evidence shows that her numbers surge during attacks like these; buying into them would be like refusing a gift horse. And the idea of having to grapple with such a disturbing reality in such a personal relationship is overwhelming, to say the least. I absolutely get that. 

But you know what’s even harder to deal with? The trauma of sexual assault. Political convenience is a crass and callous excuse here.

And while Hillary’s record is largely a positive one for women, she’s never been a particularly vocal advocate for sexual assault survivors. She’s apologized to other nations for rapes committed by American troops, but unlike her fellow female Democrats, she’s yet to call for reform in how the military handles rape cases internally. In fact, outside of rather soft rhetoric (as seen above), she’s stayed away from any substantive engagement of sexual violence issues.

Again, probably because it’s not real convenient.

And before it’s said that I’m targeting Hillary, let me make it clear that the Sanders response wasn’t a good one either. When asked about the ongoing feud between Hillary and Trump, Sanders said:

I think, you know, we have enormous problems facing this country and I think we got more things to worry about than Bill Clinton’s sexual life. I think — interestingly enough, maybe Donald Trump might want to focus attention on climate change, understand that climate change is not a hoax, as he believes that it is, that maybe Donald Trump should understand that we should raise the minimum wage in this country, which he opposes, and maybe we should not be giving huge tax breaks to fellow billionaires like Donald Trump.

So I think maybe he should focus on those things.

This is just as bad as Hillary’s deflection, if not worse. We’re not talking about “sex”; we’re talking about assault. And while I’m not going to deny that the other issues he references deserve attention, to argue that sexual assault is somehow unworthy of attention as well is an asshole move. It’s also a common move in positions of privilege to deflect conversations that are uncomfortable or politically perilous.

To be fair, I can’t let this critique discount Hillary or Sanders as candidates. Both have a lot of good to offer, and both are infinitely better candidates for president than anyone the GOP is offering. The stakes are too high to dismiss them out of hand. But being willing to accept the lesser of evils during such a time doesn’t mean we stay quiet about imperfections in the candidates we’re willing to consider. When we prioritize painting candidates as perfect over demanding they do better and be better, nothing changes, and we’re no better than the rabid GOP supporters who refuse to criticize their own party.

Listen, I hate having to give anything Trump says the time of day, but I cannot, in good conscience, just ignore this issue. And if you’re calling yourself an ally of sexual assault survivors, neither should you.

(Waits patiently for the tomatoes to start flying.)