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To Every Little Girl: No, You Can’t Be President

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Hillary Clinton speaking at the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds celebration, Washington, November 16, 2016.
Hillary Clinton speaking at the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Odds celebration, Washington, November 16, 2016.Credit: Cliff Owen / AP

Since the results of the U.S. presidential election came in, commentators both men and women have spoken a lot about women’s voting patterns. With astonishment, or sometimes schadenfreude, they mention how 41.5 percent of women voters chose Donald Trump, while support for him among white women and married women was even higher, at 53 percent and 47 percent respectively.

The election’s gender aspect is incredibly important, but the question isn’t merely how many women voted for Trump. The main question is the men-women gap among Hillary Clinton voters, compared with the same gap among Trump voters. It turns out that the gender gap in the presidential election was the largest ever a gap that had already grown consistently over the years.

Considering that in 1980 women’s voting patterns were identical to men’s, this is a significant achievement. It reflects the empowerment of women over recent decades, and shows how education and positions of economic power let women express a different political voice than the male voice.

Clinton’s gender gap the difference between the number of men who voted for her and the number of women who voted for her was 13 percentage points. It seems it’s not by chance that this gender gap, the largest in U.S. history, was recorded in the first election in which a woman ran for president. For Barack Obama in 2008 the number was only 7 percent. Clinton lost mainly because the majority of men didn’t vote for her.

Of course, it’s impossible to ignore that a great number of women (mostly white and married) voted for Trump, despite his problematic attitude toward women. This shows that women are still the most effective agents of gender inequality in society. The gender power structures in society couldn’t have existed for so many years without the cooperation of those who make up at least half the population.

This complicated issue is related to the uniqueness of the gender story. As opposed to other underprivileged groups, women live with men, they’re mothers of men, and from this position it’s very difficult to challenge the social order. This is especially the case because in the patriarchal world men see such a challenge as an act by the people closest to them.

In addition, in the world in which we live, marriage still often results in the economic dependence of women on men and perpetuates power differences  based on gender. This in turn impedes the empowerment and liberation of women.

Women who voted for Trump said, for example, that he’s a good father. This was seen as more important than his noxious comments and actions concerning women. They forgave him for the “less important things” because in other contexts it seemed he behaved as a proper gentleman.

This isn’t the first time in U.S. history that a deep chasm has been exposed among women over gender equality. In the 1970s, many American women fought against an Equal Rights Amendment that would have enshrined in the Constitution the principle of equality of the sexes.

Many women mostly older, married and white, led by the charismatic Phyllis Schlafly sent homemade cakes to their legislators and begged them to vote against the amendment. These efforts came to an end in 1982 after the final deadline for the amendment’s ratification passed.

Today, just like back then, it turns out that many women (and men) still aren’t ready for a world of true equality between women and men.

My 9-year-old daughter, who followed the presidential race with great interest, was especially excited when Clinton said: “To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want even president.” My daughter didn’t stop reciting this sentence with sparkling eyes. Since the election results came in, I've found it hard to look her in the eye.

Noya Rimalt, a member of the University of Haifa Law Faculty, is an expert on criminal law and feminist legal theory.

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