When the world listened to Donald Trump on tape as he bragged about sexual assault, and then as a dozen women confirmed his assaults, echoing the disclosures (later modified under a legal agreement) of his first wife’s account of being physically and sexually assaulted, pundits fully expected women voters to reject him. We heard radio and television interviews, a catalogue of a life of insult towards women. Young women did reject him; women of color did reject him. Older white women did not. Why not?
They were voting for something that to them, was more important.
They have also normalized misogyny as the price of living in patriarchy.
They take for granted the relative safety they enjoy being white.
Normalization, Minimization and Internalization
“Hey, I’m not myopic; there are more important things in the world, like a good trade deal.”
“If he wants to grab me, go ahead! I like being grabbed!”
“It is not as bad as getting tortured like the women in the night club in Paris!”
Older white women have accumulated decades of assaults, insults, slights, sexualization and aggressions by men. Many see themselves through the eyes of what is acceptable to a distorted abusive male lens. They stifle other women’s complaints by telling them to stop whining because really, our human rights have always been compromised on this front, so get over it, there are more important things than this. Trumps’ acts only echo what has been writ large across their entire lives. It’s disturbing, sure, but not enough to repudiate him.
Also, abusive men always compare their abuses favorably to others’ acts or their own possible acts. They minimize the impact of what they do by asserting:
“I only shoved you, I didn’t hit you”
“I only hit you I didn’t put you in the hospital.”
“I only put you in the hospital, I didn’t kill you.”
“I did not do what Jeremy did to Maria. Did you see her?”
Older white women who voted for Trump accept a version of this minimization. They explain, for example, that violent politicized Islamic extremists torture and rape Europeans, and have slaughtered Americans. They feel that Trump’s being a serial sexual predator who has emboldened abusive men does not present as immediate a danger to them as these extremists do.
Protections of Being White
“It’s not that bad; we’ll see where we are in a year or so.”
“We need to curb the illegal aliens.”
“Roe v. Wade isn’t changing. Gay Marriage isn’t changing. If he tried to change those, I’d be the first one to fight!”
“I do NOT share the values of those KKK people and I have nothing to do with those attacks. Just because other people who are sick and violent voted for my candidate doesn’t mean that I am like them. I am not responsible for what they do.”
Women of color, especially black women, are exposed to even more assaults, insults, slights, sexualizations and aggressions by men than white women are. Racism intensifies misogyny in a way that few white women can imagine. Why is it then, that women of color did not normalize, minimize and internalize the misogyny of Trump?
Over their lifetimes, many older white hetero cis women have found their wealth and well-being attached the wealth and well-being of a white hetero man. They bind their fortunes with his, according to what works for him. The few families left in America where one income is sufficient and a second partner and even children can rely on that income is found largely within white families where white males are earning higher incomes. This economic reliance can intensify the minimization and denial of misogyny. The degree to which women experience cumulative misogyny as more or less intense is the degree to which they are protected by their color and their relative access to resources that comes with their color.
If hetero white cis women don’t tie up their fortunes with white men, they still enjoy a layer of unearned access to wealth and well-being not systemically afforded to women of color. They can afford to distance themselves from the oppression of women of color, and many chose to during this election because they could hide in their whiteness from the impact of Trump’s courting racists.
Some of the white women Trump voters found their home in his birther racism. Many don’t even see the birther ploy as racist. In my conversations with them, they explain that Trump gave them permission to openly question if racism really exists in America, or even, if women of color are just reading the signals wrong and it isn’t really there at all. They do not see fear of immigrants of color, but not white European immigrants, as anything having to do with race. News sites that parade as journalism supported their hope that all the data was wrong, after all. Some have said to me that this idea of “institutional racism” is just made up; it is white “self-hate” and there would be no issue with, for example, policing in America, if people of color would just behave. For these white women Trump voters, they have found the platform to express the implicit racism they do not even understand as racism.
A Cause More Important Than Misogyny
“I did not like what Trump said or did, but Hillary would not protect the unborn children, so I voted for him.”
“She is an evil, lying murderer. She went after Bill’s mistresses. And Bill was a rapist. Pedophiles are the worst sexual predators, and she protected them, so she was a lot worse than Trump for women.”
“We need to bring manufacturing and good jobs back to this country”
“We should be living according to Biblical Law”
“Our dealings with Radical Islamic Terrorism are a mess. Clinton would bring us to war and Trump would prevent war. He recognizes the danger of radical Islam and she does not. That is where I find my voice in him. I don’t like the rest of it, but I’m not really worried that it will impact me.”
Older white conservative Christian women found themselves in support of a rapist in Chief by choosing what they felt was a moral higher good: the protection of the unborn or the return to the idea of marriage as one between one hetero cis man and one hetero cis woman. For those who recognized that Trump did not do much of what Jesus would do, Clinton was a culturally untenable choice for they who had been raised on loving all thy neighbors, except her.
Others found their solace in Pence. If he could dismiss the facts of what Trump did and said, and maintain a centered practice in God and their faith, then they could, too. They could focus on the Supreme Court nominees which would be their just reward for overlooking Trump’s “faults” a.k.a. sexually predatory behavior, racist commentary, encouragement of violence and overt, continuous lying.
In conservative religious communities across traditions, women’s dignity and wellbeing is found in relationship to their roles as wives and mothers and within the faith. The faith and the males of the family purportedly keep them safe from the misogyny outside of the faith community. In this way, they could claim protection from Trump’s misogyny, and vote for common ground with him. Within the faith, all pains, punishments and shames heaped upon women are most often explained as deserved in some way. There is no clearly supported path for white conservative Christian women to stand up first and foremost for the dignity and safety of all women, including those outside the faith, when this is pitted against the rights of the unborn and the return to a conservative Christian definition of marriage.
Older white cis women described a lack of protection for women and the LGBTQ community from the violent acts of radical and politicized Islam as their primary motivator to overlook the courting of overt racism and the revelation of clear misogynistic acts by Trump. This fear is so encompassing that they have minimized his abusive values and his lack of preparation for the role he has assumed, in hopes that he will be able to protect them against attack. This can’t be underestimated as a motivator for the vote for Trump by older white women.
The most protected hetero white cis women are willing to overlook his ongoing contempt for women by shifting value to what they consider to be the more encompassing “global’ interests of trade. It is here that hyper capitalistic values, might most closely ally with the abusive values and privilege that Trump upholds. Hyper capitalism narrows the scope of its self-assessment to what benefits itself as capital producing, without calculating the impact to environment, the exploitation of people and resources, access to its products, or concerns for equity and safety. These are deemed outside its scope, secondary, just as Trump’s sexual assaultive behavior and racist remarks are secondary concerns to those who feel protected by trade concerns because of their privileged access to its products, namely, money.
We can, in a democracy, debate the role of trade, protections from terrorism, and the respect for religious norms within a free country as we jointly reject racism and misogyny.
But most older white women did not.