If Donald Trump loses the election, political solidarity among women will win. But interestingly, the desire to elect another woman for president is not the main force driving this solidarity. Rather, resistance to Trump and his exceptionally toxic attitudes toward women is the major force propelling women in droves toward Clinton.
Polls now show that women voters alone are set to crush Trump in the election, though this hasn’t long been the case. Early on, Clinton’s gender wasn’t enough to lure young women voters away from Bernie Sanders. It wasn’t enough even when prominent old-school feminists Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright called out millennial women for a lack of solidarity because they were prioritizing other political concerns above getting a woman into the White House. Their call-out brutally backfired, in fact, alienating those of us who believe the right to make political choices based on more than a candidate’s gender is also feminist. On the Trump side, up until recently, many Republican women had also contributed to his close distance behind Clinton in the polls.
No longer. Support for Clinton is now dramatically higher among women than among men. Legitimate fans aside, Clinton’s recent breakaway lead with women hinges neither on her policies nor her debate performances. Instead, we know that snowballing revelations into Trump’s racism, sexism and sexual assaults are the cause.
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Many non-stoked Clinton voters will be effectively engaging in acts of resistance. But whether out of anger, triggered anxiety or disgust, we can also view our resistance against Trump as a sort of political solidarity among women gone mainstream.
Solidarity Against the Subordination of Women
Trump’s insults to women show no sign of slowing. Fed up, some Republican women leaders have joined Paul Ryan in rejecting Trump specifically over his sexism and recent sexual assault revelations. Conservative blogger Marybeth Glenn recently unleashed a well-publicized tirade on Twitter in which, among other things, she warned fellow Republicans: “If you can’t stand up for women & unendorse this piece of human garbage, you deserve every charge of sexism thrown at you.”
The president of the Iowa Federation of Republican Women, Melissa Gesing, resigned in protest, claiming Trump’s views on women as the reason. Others will surely follow. Yet, what if we could convince more Gesings to channel their outrage over gender inequality and sexual assault into support for bipartisan leadership and policies that help women? Because within the Republican Party, it appears many women are still blissfully pledging support for Trump regardless.
It’s also imperative that we not let this discussion about misogyny in mainstream politics fade post-election. Support for what are typically deemed “women’s issues” — abortion access, reducing pay disparities, fighting domestic violence, and determining parental rights — tends to split down party, class, LGBTQI and other intersectional feminist lines. Though these factions successfully push progressive policies, they often operate without a clear unifying message against patriarchy. Instead, we continually waste time tearing each other apart on social media about who is and isn’t feminist.
Electing a woman with moderate political positions as president isn’t enough to advance gender equality. Without a central anti-patriarchal platform acknowledging the fact that US women are still far from equal in many ways, it’s difficult to take aim at various disparities and forms of gender-based violence that are deeply rooted in our culture. The normalization of rape culture promoted by Trump was hardly his idea. It’s based on myths that underpin our highest social institutions: medicine, justice, education, arts and sciences. That many accept gender role expectations and forms of gender-based violence as natural is a result of our social conditioning.
Let’s not forget: gendered social conditioning is the sneaky undercurrent that tells us that our laws are just, though we can’t control what our health care covers or access abortions. It tells us our judges are impartial, though we see them consistently disbelieving sexual assault survivors in favor of rapists. Gendered social conditioning also tells us which bodies are normal while shaming us into obtaining them through messages of self-hatred and the remedy of consumerism. And it tells us what to expect of “good” wives, mothers, daughters, partners and female friends.
Calling Out Male Solidarity
Trump’s uncensored viewpoints have reminded us how gendered social conditioning defines women’s lives. They have also cast a spotlight on how normalized sexual violence affects women universally.
Some will frame a call for more political solidarity among women as promoting “reverse sexism.” But that view overlooks an essential talking point the Trump conundrum has unveiled. Unabashed bragging about sexual assault — what Trump has described as “locker room talk” — is being denounced en masse, but it’s actually quite common. As feminist historian Marilyn French argues in A History of Women in the World, the widespread societal acceptance of rape culture and the social dominance of men over women is made possible through men and women’s indoctrination into “male solidarity” — the idea that men’s dominance over women is “deserved” and “natural.” Yet “female solidarity” to resist it, she argues, is hardly ever taught or encouraged. Women are taught to demonize one another when we resist domination from men.
At least we can channel our outrage into our own feminist solidarity and aim it back at Trump.
Indeed, we already have. These issues now fuel the rage that’s catalyzing women not just to pledge their votes for Clinton, but to rail against the Trumps we consistently encounter in our daily lives.
Trump’s claim that he could “grab ’em by the pussy” is case in point. Despite the collective outrage it has provoked, his supporters continue to downplay it as “just words.” Worse, Trump has deflected responsibility by bringing up similar sexual assault allegations against Bill Clinton in an attempt to damage Hillary Clinton. If anything, his deflection should teach us that “male solidarity” goes beyond Trump’s ugly character and party lines; it’s an outcome of toxic masculinity.
But infuriatingly, Trump’s deflection works. Despite the media’s barrage of editorials denouncing locker room talk and Trump’s overt sexism (many of them authored by men), major news outlets continue pumping out patriarchy-friendly election coverage on all fronts.
Leading up to the second debate on October 9, for instance, Trump distracted us with a Facebook live video featuring Bill Clinton accusers, which received widespread press coverage as a neutral pre-debate news conference. This would have made sense if Bill Clinton were running for office, but given that he is not, it was a striking example of patriarchy that mainstream outlets treated the accusations against Bill Clinton as directly relevant to Hillary Clinton’s upcoming debate.
It wasn’t Hillary Clinton accused of sexual assault; instead, her social role of wife was tacitly called into question. By covering Trump’s video as a tit-for-tat accusation of sexual assault between the two candidates, the media gave viewers the message that Bill’s actions are also Hillary’s. Let’s reject this false message regardless of what we feel about Clinton the candidate, and let’s also reject the pressure to negatively judge the women who came out against Bill Clinton. Regardless of the circumstance, we should view them not as pawns of dirty campaigning, but as real people whose stories also deserve to be told.
More solidarity among women would encourage us to ask these questions of the media and our social institutions. The connections between Clinton’s recent surge in the polls and women’s political solidarity against Trump are clear: Trump hates most women, and a good number of us hate him back. But the election could be just the beginning. Resistance to sexual assault is a catalyst for solidarity among women in a way that few other issues still are. Let’s not forget about the undeniable political power that this holds.