Wednesday, November 9, 2016

To the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump

Every time you or your daughters or granddaughters or nieces talk about college and your dreams or your business or your decision to start a family only when and if it is right, every time you get a raise at your job, or sit in a bar or restaurant alone, every time you or your daughters or granddaughters play a sport because of a federal law called Title IX, every time you use birth control and enjoy a healthy sex life without having to fear that it could determine the rest of your life, every time you walk into that voting booth, every time you get a mammogram with your insurance or at an affordable cost through Planned Parenthood or a clinic, every time you believe what your husband or your son or your dad or your boyfriend or Breitbart or Fox News tells you about women in power or women who seek power, every time some stranger comments on your appearance as if it is his right, every time you are uncompensated for all your extra work on the job while your male colleagues get promoted for doing half as much, every time you tell a little girl in your life that she can be anything, you'll do so without feeling the sharp sting of betrayal that so many of your fellow Americans, so many fellow women, feel today. You're free to make up your own mind, and you made up your mind. May you continue to enjoy all the benefits that women like Hillary Rodham Clinton fought their entire lives for women to have, in spite of the fact that you voted for a misogynist, in spite of the fact that you discredited the sexual assault claims of more than 13 women and even downplayed what you heard with your own ears on the Access Hollywood tape. And you voted for the man who built his alt-right base trying to delegitimize the nation's first African American president.

One generation before me, my very intelligent mother had no way to go to college--it simply didn't happen for young women of the working class; she told me that, when she was young, people started to worry if a woman was 25 and not yet married. Every one of the 53% of white women who have faced similar limits and still voted for Trump--how hard are your hearts? how deep your resentment? Those days when you had to ask your husband for a few dollars so you could take a break from your uncompensated 16-hour day as a homemaker and caregiver to have lunch with a friend? Or were you one of the women who stayed in an abusive marriage because it would have been impossible to support your children if you left? How far inside did you stuff your dreams? Is it too painful to see another woman attain hers? I can understand white men's sense of wounded privilege leading to a disastrous vote like this; I don't approve of it, but I understand it. But women? You all talk so openly and lovingly about life. Are you that threatened by others who don't look like you or believe like you? Has your world shrunken that much? Or are you well-off and simply want to make sure that you continue to be well-off, the way the past 12 years of the Bush tax cuts have enriched you even as you drove past middle-class homes in foreclosure, even as the record number of personal bankruptcies were filed? Didn't you think: "We're doing so well, but so many others are struggling?" Or did you tell yourself that you and yours were special, that you worked harder, that the others mustn't be as "smart" ("smart" in the way that your new president has been in avoiding taxes)?

If this sounds bitter, it’s because it is.

I have been around well-meaning white women who probably voted for Trump. They are generally good women, kind and nurturing. Many are religious. Often, they are single-issue voters and believe that abortion is a sin. I was actually in the pro-life movement in high school and used to get out of classes at my all-girls' school so that I could go, under the aegis of a so-called "pro-life" organization, to address my peers at assemblies, showing horrifying slides of butchered fetuses and uttering the usual talking points that included a strong anti-birth control stance. That's right. We hated abortion so much that we hated the use of pills and other devices that would have prevented the need for abortion in the first place. I knew women who went to their parish priests to ask permission to go on birth control after their family had reached a certain unmanageable size. This was not that long ago; was America great then? Maybe you do really care about unborn children. But I also hear you complaining that Black and Latina women have too many babies. How come? Shouldn't you be over the moon that they didn't stop a beating heart? If you're married and your husband hasn't had a vasectomy and you haven't had your tubes tied but you don't have a ton of kids, you're either on some form of birth control or not having very much sex. But you've just elected a president who plans to take down Planned Parenthood in his first 100 days of office. Where do you get your birth control? What about your teenage daughter with the steady boyfriend?

My question to the 53% of white women who voted for Donald Trump, the majority of them Christian (in name at least), is this: Why does most of your religious fervor center on sex--abortion, birth control, sex out of wedlock, LGBTQ+ sex? Jesus Christ had very little to say about abortion or birth control; in fact, you'll recall that he came to the defense of the woman caught in adultery who was being stoned by an angry crowd ("Lock her up! Lock her up!"). Jesus Christ had much, much more to say about love, charity, and justice. It is far easier to get an anti-racism message from the New Testament than it is to get an anti-birth control message, which you really have to construe with smoke or mirrors--or with the "expert" guidance of a clergyman who has read scripture and filtered it through a lens of social control, first and foremost of women. I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood and attended private Catholic schools. I'm willing to wager that well over 50% of you who were my classmates voted for Trump. How does that happen? Weren't you in religion class with me? Weren't you at Mass every first Friday and every Saturday night or Sunday morning? I know that some of our teachers also had skewed lenses through which to view the teachings of Christ, only seeing the things that mattered to our middle-class, white community--only reinforcing the fundamental teachings of the men of the Catholic church (not of Jesus Christ himself) portraying the female body as a vessel of sin and placing the entire burden of chastity on women. Isn't it true that we were taught to be charitable to those of other races only to a point--only when they were few and not "too black"--, that we were directly or indirectly raised to close off our generosity as soon as it appeared that our dominance, a dominance so many like to deny that we have, might be threatened? So that, in your workplace or school or neighborhood, if more minorities than you were accustomed to were present, you might find yourself thinking, "They're taking over," or when a group of two or more gathered to talk, you had this visceral sense that they were talking about you, laughing at you? I'm not exempt; I've had these feelings. They are hard-wired into us, white women.

So at least be honest--since what so many of you like so much about your now victorious candidate is that he says what he thinks: You are okay with minorities, as long as they are somewhat sequestered from your day-to-day life—out there in Trump's Dantean "inner city" or sparsely distributed in your halcyon suburb. Heck, you even read The Help in your book club! You watch Oprah a lot. In fact, you enjoy the company of Black people, as long as there aren't too many in any one place you want to be (like a school or a job--because, admit it, you think they were handed free college admission or a job over you or someone white you know, who, of course, was much more qualified) and as long as they are cheerful and never call anyone out for anything--even for killing their 12-year-old son who was playing outside with a BB gun. You like it better when minorities are the object of your charity; you like it less when they live and work as your equals, and less still when they are your superiors. Eight years of an African American family in the White House must have been tough for people who think that way, or for those who don't even know that they think that way. Feeling whipped by the experience, your voting bloc lashed back by gifting us with the most frightening president in my memory. That's what I think. Give it some real thought and please prove me wrong.

So many of you protest that it's not that you're racist. It's that Hillary is dishonest. Really? And Donald Trump is honest? Excuse the language here, but you must be fucking kidding me. I'm too exhausted by this campaign season to even begin to list all of the Trump lies; they infest the past 18 months like termites in our national mansion. He denies his practice of groping women. Try to imagine a situation where you have been sexually harassed by someone who later was running for a prominent position: Under what conditions would you come forward? Would you do this just to help the opponent? Would you do this for attention? Would you do this for money? What are the chances that nearly 15 women are all mentally troubled attention-hounds to the point of risking vilification and lawsuits and mean Tweets and even death threats? This is a man who has not shown us his tax returns and may well have ties to Putin's Russia; we know through some solid journalistic investigation that he is indebted to foreign interests, including the Bank of China. But you have handed him one of the most powerful positions in the world, overlooking his utterly dishonest refusal to let the American public see how he has amassed his wealth and in what ways that might compromise his ability to lead in dangerous times. Sorry, but the "lying Hillary" label seems a bit wan against the landslide of dishonesty you have literally put us all in the way of.

Maybe my view of this startling demographic will evolve with time. Maybe I'll learn more from you about your choices. But today, you are a large part of the America that has betrayed a very large number of other Americans. You have betrayed the work of women's rights. You have betrayed the work of civil rights. You, who just try to be kind, do your best, and make a nice simple life for you and yours? Yes. You. You have played a big part in endangering the stability of this country. I pray that we all get through this without any of the nightmare scenarios Donald Trump has spread before us actually playing out. I pray that one day soon I will be proud to be part of a demographic that doesn't so easily follow the will of the men around them.


  1. Ellen, this is extremely powerful, moving, and beautifully written. You speak for so many of us. Thank you.

  2. Ellen, thanks! My moms always tells me stories about how she needed my dad's permission to open a bank account. When she wanted to get a driver's license, my dad said "why, where do you need to go?" And my dad was progressive. He married my mom when she already had a small son and was pregnant with another man's baby. That stuff just didn't happen in the 50s. Women have had to fight so hard. That is what is so hurtful about this vote. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ellen, the balance between your impassioned message and your beautifully constructed, restrained polemic, is just incredible. Thank you for posting it.