I’ve worn the same t-shirt to bed since the night of the election. It says, “When they go low, we go to the White House.” The writer Sara Benincasa produced them, an obvious homage to Michelle Obama’s stirring, “When they go low, we go high.” I bought it for my daughter, who worked her heart out for Hillary Clinton for more than a year, in five different states. Obviously, given Donald Trump’s devastating win, I couldn’t give it to my daughter. I can’t imagine wearing it outside the house. I was wrong, so very wrong. And so were you, Sara, and Michelle, and yes Hillary, you too.
The truth is when they go low, they go to the White House.
Part of my unrelenting sadness is a kind of narcissism that I need to get over: How could I get everything so wrong? Even worse, I feel like I’m part of the problem. I’m the kind of optimistic liberal feminist, maybe a tad bit on the self-congratulatory side, who would buy her daughter a T-shirt like that.
But that’s not entirely narcissism. A coalition of women as diverse as Tina Brown, she of haute journalism and her elite “Women in the World” conferences, and Nation writers Kathy Geier and Liza Featherstone, have come together to tell me that I am precisely the problem. Writing in The Guardian, Brown blames “liberal feminists” for making a big deal about Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” remarks. “The two weeks of media hyperventilation over grab-her-by-the-pussygate, when the airwaves were saturated with aghast liberal women equating Trump’s gross comments with sexual assault, had the opposite effect on multiple women voters in the Heartland,” Brown claims, citing zero data. “These are resilient women, often working two or three jobs, for whom boorish men are an occasional occupational hazard, not an existential threat.” To be clear, Trump’s own words really do meet the legal definition of sexual assault. But “liberal feminists, young and old” apparently ought to have shut up about it.
Geier blames something she calls “Big Feminism,” by which I guess she means Clinton-endorsing groups like Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, for backing a faux-feminist like Clinton. (Senator Bernie Sanders called them “the establishment.”) It’s puzzling to me that someone who considers herself a feminist would want to equate groups working to protect women’s rights to “Big Pharma” or “Big Coal.” Geier attacks Clinton for elevating the concerns of elite, upper class women over those of poor and working class women. And she promotes a worthy agenda for action: “The most promising path forward would be to agitate for a robust economic agenda focused on women’s needs: a $15 minimum wage, universal child care and pre-K, paid family leave, free college, and tough laws that crack down on wage theft and guarantee fair scheduling and equal pay for women.”