We need to talk about the white woman vote

17 Nov

With Trump’s election, there seems to be more fingers pointed in blame than actual votes. Many point the finger at white women, with only 43% voting for Hillary Clinton, a candidate mocked as so white and privileged she could only get votes from other privileged white women. Meanwhile, Clinton secured an overwhelming 94% of votes from black women.

Exit poll data shows consistent voting difference in three intersecting areas: gender, race and income/education. Mix in the racialised difference in votes from white-dominant American heartland to racially diverse cities, and these three elements form Trump’s trinity to power.

The wide disparity in votes from white and black women voters is interpreted as yet another sign of white women ruining for everyone. White women’s racism made them embrace Trump and leave women of colour to the xenophobic alt-right domestic terrorist wolves.

But can we blame white women for the election?

It’s a tempting proposition – blaming women is a popular past time with fans all around the world.

White women are particularly annoying; we drown out intersectional discussion and believe feminism could be successful if we just placed a few more women on boards, leaned in and found more opportunities for empowerment instead of structural change. Plus, it’s easier to yell at a white woman than it is at patriarchy, which would be telling if anyone indulged in self-reflection.

Undoubtedly, white women benefit from a culture of racism that ensures they’re stopped less by police, are less likely to be imprisoned, will earn more than black women and other women of colour, access housing and services with greater ease and appropriate black culture. In our quest to ignore and erase race from white discussion, white women are consistently intentionally and unintentionally racist.

So can we blame white women for the election too? Not entirely.

The white woman vote didn’t just recently convert to Republicans in a fit of racist pique: they’ve always preferred Republicans, even if they’re Donald Trump. Over the past four elections, voting data consistently shows white women vote for the Republican candidate.

The Democrats have a problem with every election – they require extraordinary vote surges to win. Over the last four elections, Republicans can sit on 58-60 million votes and win. To beat this holding pattern, Democrats have to truly leap over the Republican standard to win popular and Electoral College votes (Obama managed 65-69 million, Clinton was neck and neck with Trump at 59 million).

Mix the Republican holding pattern with white women consistently voting for them and consecutive drops in voter turnout, and suddenly the role of white women changes. The question isn’t why did more white women vote for Trump – it’s why didn’t they change their vote to Clinton?

For all their talk of empowerment, women have tacitly absorbed the message they are not as competent as men. Known as internalised sexism, women often cling to sexist reinforcements – they are unworthy of senior appointments and reject women in political or media roles unless they are presented in a non-threatening way (friendly and hyper-feminised, no angry women here, please). One study found that women show signs of internal sexism 11.29 times in 10 minutes of conversation [PDF].

It’s almost touchingly naive to think Clinton ever had a shot at the presidency when Australia’s fractious political history. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard faced a similarly split vote, gaining power after careful negotiation with minor parties. Her administration gained buckets of vitriol – a feat for Australia – and women denounced her dexterity to be both a “reverse sexist” that “let women down” – and those women made their anger known in disapproval ratings .

But Americans shouldn’t be surprised women vote against themselves. A Washington Post survey into American feminism found 58% of women would not vote for a politician based on their support of women’s rights. The same survey asked “which of the following do you think is a bigger factor keeping women from achieving full equality with men?”, only to discover that while 44% said sexist discrimination was to blame, another 44% maintained it was because of “the choices women make themselves”. A sizable 39% of women don’t consider themselves feminist at all.

It is highly probable that white women betrayed women of color with their vote – but that vote was always a betrayal – of color, of economics and of their gender and independence.

The big question is whether white women will mobilise themselves to become a true political force, one that votes for intersectional equality. Hopefully that change occurs before people wonder why all women are expected to act as janitors for male misbehavior.

[This was a commissioned piece for a news publication last week that closed commissioned content an hour before it was supposed to publish. I hate wasted words.]

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