She lost. We lost. Women lost. Racism, nationalism, and “economic anxiety” won. Misogyny beat feminism. Wives with pro-Trump husbands didn’t secretly pull the lever for Hillary—only 8 percent of Republican women voted for her. Pussy did not unsheathe her claws and grab back with enough fire and ferocity. Yes, the gender gap hit a historic high: 24 percent. Yes, in every demographic, more women than men voted Democratic. Yes, a narrow majority of Americans voted for the sane, competent, qualified woman for president—and in a normal country, she’d be heading to the White House. But in the United States, having the most votes doesn’t mean you win.
There are dozens of reasons why Trump won, but misogyny was a big part of it. And if you didn’t know women can be misogynistic, now you do. Trumpettes, if you voted for a grotesque liar, bankrupt, and groper with no public-service experience, the only candidate in 40 years not to have released his tax returns, don’t tell me you preferred him just because Hillary is “unlikable.” Judging men and women by such different standards is what female self-hatred is.
The Trump phenomenon was like an Internet comment thread come to life: aggressive, bullying, ignorant, and contemptuous of women. Consider the T-shirts: “Trump That Bitch.” “Proud to Be a Hillary Hater.” “I Wish Hillary Had Married OJ.” “She’s a Cunt/Vote for Trump.” “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts… Left Wing.” (KFC objected to that one.) As Vox reported, one of the biggest predictors of Trump support was “hostile sexism,” as revealed by the responses to statements like “Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist” and “Many women are actually seeking special favors, such as hiring policies that favor women over men, under the guise of asking for equality.” The more you agreed with these statements, the more likely you were to be a Trump supporter. For his supporters, nothing Trump could say was so vile that it couldn’t be repositioned as a gloat: Get your grab-’em-by-the-pussy gear right here! In 20 years, will aging white guys don these items for special occasions—cherished trophies of their youth, like shirts from a favorite concert?
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As the spearhead of Republican rule, Trump will change the country for women in ways that won’t be easy to reverse. His Supreme Court nominees will shape our laws for decades; the coming gerrymandering of districts in 2020 will make statehouses and Congress even more favorable to Republicans. Abortion rights, access to affordable birth control, Title IX, equal pay—it’s hard to imagine any of them faring well under the new regime. Why do you think Trump chose Mike Pence? We now have as vice president a man who tried to shut the federal government down over funding for Planned Parenthood; who, as governor of Indiana, pushed through a bill permitting discrimination against LGBTQ people; who tried to force women to hold funerals for aborted or miscarried embryos. Conditions will be worst for the women already most disadvantaged: women of color, Muslim and immigrant women, low-income women, the disabled (did you know that Trump has promised to slash funding for services for people with disabilities?). If Roe v. Wade is overturned, or if the Supreme Court reverses itself and allows restrictions like the ones recently struck down in Texas, then getting a safe abortion will be hardest for women who can’t afford to travel to states where it remains legal. If social services are gutted, low-income women—disproportionately women of color—will be the ones with no place to go if they’re abused or homeless. If Obamacare is repealed, there goes medical care—including no-co-pay birth control and mammograms—for millions of women.
But white women, even if prosperous, may also find that their pedestal is shakier than they thought. Those women have unwanted and catastrophic pregnancies, too. They too are abused by partners, sexually assaulted, passed over for the good jobs, or have LGBTQ kids they love who may soon be deprived of their civil rights. Those white women, like the rest of us, now live in a country where the public humiliation of women has the White House seal of approval. They might not like having their divorces and their discrimination suits and their rape cases decided by judges and juries marinated in those views.
Trump and his followers have normalized the demeaning of women, even in its coarsest, crudest forms. You can say things about women in public you couldn’t say before and suffer no consequences. You can call a woman in public life a bitch and demand that she be imprisoned—or even executed. “Cunt” is now a regular word, not as an earthy Lawrentian synonym for vagina (“cunt, tha’s a good word lass”) but as what it’s always been: a synonym for women as dirty and disgusting. A week before the election, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller celebrated an encouraging poll for Trump by tweeting: “Trump 44 Cunt 43 Go Trump Go!” Sure, he took it down and claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked, but he’ll keep his job.
Like the gender gap in voting, the chasm between the sexes’ experience of life yawns ever wider. Or has it always been there, and the educated, liberal, middle-class woman’s conviction that the sexes were becoming better friends was a delusion? Maybe everyone else has understood all along that men need women but don’t particularly like them or want them around where serious business is happening, and what they like least of all is a woman who challenges their power. I’ve heard a lot of nice Nation-reading men insist they’d never heard the kind of gross sexual boasting in the locker room that Trump excused as typical. Perhaps men who talk like that were smart enough to wait for a more receptive audience. Or maybe those nice guys just weren’t very observant: One of the features of this election has been men’s astonishment at learning what the women in their lives routinely have to put up with. You can see why Trump-supporting women rolled their eyes when liberals were so horrified by the Access Hollywood tape. Of course men talk like that when women aren’t around!
There are feminists who say Trump’s crudeness usefully lays bare the truth of misogyny. That was a more tempting position when it seemed like the election of the first female president was at hand. But it wasn’t, and now the tremendous amount of collective work it took to create and maintain even the minimal norms of civility and respect for women has been undone. It won’t be so easy to rebuild those norms. We’re already hearing about Trump-supporting men harassing women—and people of color and Muslims—on the street. Why shouldn’t we see more of that? The penalties diminish, the rewards increase, and before you know it, it’s no big deal to sideswipe a car with a Hillary bumper sticker or tear off a woman’s hijab.
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As for feminists, Trump’s victory suggests that we’ve been living in a bubble. We’ve spent a lot of time arguing about things that either just don’t matter to millions of women or strike them as absurd: trigger warnings, safe spaces, whether Amy Schumer or Lena Dunham is history’s greatest monster. Perhaps we had the luxury of those debates because having Obama as president, with Hillary on the horizon, made us feel our fundamental issues were being taken care of—or at least acknowledged. We thought we were stronger and more numerous than we are, and that made us insular and arrogant. As Jeanette Sherman wrote on Facebook the morning after Election Day, “Over the last several years, I’ve heard a steadier and steadier drumbeat of ‘it’s not my job to educate you’ from so-called progressive activists. In many ways, this election shows why, if you are an activist, that is precisely your job.”
We Americans tend to think we’re unique, but the election of Trump is a version of what’s happening in many parts of the world. Look at Poland, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India, Egypt, and the Philippines: all ruled by more or less democratically elected strongmen who are rewriting the very rules of government, beefing up conservative religion, squashing intellectuals, activists and progressive NGOs, and giving free rein to the police—all in the name of a return to national greatness. Repressing women in the name of purifying a decadent culture is always part of this package, as it was in the fascist states of the 1930s. In all of those countries, feminists are fighting back. It doesn’t always work: In Russia, the women of Pussy Riot went to prison for a demonstration that would have gotten them, at most, a summons in the United States. (Vladimir Putin may not literally be Trump’s best friend, but they have a lot in common.) But sometimes, great things happen: In Poland, massive demonstrations and a women’s strike made the government drop a planned abortion ban, at least for now.
“Fight back” has never seemed more like a mere slogan. But what choice do we have? I’m not going to leave my beautiful, multicultural New York City, with its massive vote against Trump, for frozen Canada. No, we have to mourn, and then we have to get crazy busy. There will be lots of opportunities to protest, to organize resistance, to plan for 2018 and 2020, to figure out what happened and reach beyond our comfort zones. So donate now to the National Network of Abortion Funds, Planned Parenthood, SisterSong, the ACLU, Legal Momentum, or the National Immigration Law Center. Volunteer locally—I’ve been cheered that young women I know are signing up for the first time to be patient escorts at abortion clinics. Talk to people—even if your Trump-loving neighbor will never be an intersectional feminist, maybe she can be won away from supporting an outright racist who wants to deport her children’s classmates and take away her daughter’s dignity and her own. There’s so much we can do, but there isn’t a lot of time.
Editor’s Note: When first published, this piece stated that the Arab spring states, except Tunisia, are ruled by democratically-elected strongmen. In fact, several more of them are not. The text has been corrected.