The election of Donald Trump signals a disturbing normalization of racism and misogyny. These odious worldviews, which many thought were safely on their way into the dustbin of history, gained a new air of legitimacy on Tuesday night. They won’t be going away without an engaged, grassroots effort to save the progressive project. After the shock of the past days, now is the time to focus on what each and every one of us can do to support this struggle.
Some observers interpret Trump’s victory as an expression of economically driven anti-establishment sentiment, arguing that he won not because, but rather in spite of his bigotry. This argument will be of little comfort to the many groups he incited against during his campaign, and who now rightly fear for their rights and safety. We ignore this fact at our own peril: Trump’s victory represents a backlash against the monumental cultural shifts of the last decades, most importantly women's rights and racial progress.
Millions of U.S. survivors of sexual violence now live with the knowledge that an alleged perpetrator who boasted about having committed sexual assault was elected President. As one woman asked on Twitter: "Tell me again how allegations of sexual assault will ruin a man's career?" The message this election sent to survivors is devastating, as it reinforces a long held suspicion that, despite progress made on paper, in reality women’s bodies can still be routinely violated with impunity. One of the reasons so few cases of sexual violence are reported is that survivors fear they will not be taken seriously. Let’s not allow this election to confirm these fears.
What can you do? If you hear someone boasting about harassment or assault like Trump did, call them out for it. As many men rightly noted after Trump’s reaction to the tape: this is not normal "locker-room talk." And if someone tells you about having experienced sexual harassment or assault, remember to in the first instance listen and take them seriously. Resist the immediate urge to ask to what they were wearing or what they had to drink. Think twice before carelessly stating that "boys will be boys." These reactions are deeply entrenched in our culture, and we must challenge them now more than ever.
In addition to legitimizing sexual violence, Trump’s loud and proud misogyny has sent a profoundly harmful message to girls about their value in society. When the most qualified woman for the job loses to the least qualified man, no matter what other factors were at play, women and girls around the world feel a stinging reminder that we will never be judged by quite the same criteria as our male counterparts. This election illustrated what ample research has shown: women pay a price for their achievements. Ambition and success are negatively correlated with likeability for women and positively correlated for men. This campaign, and the presidential debates in particular, also reminded girls around the world that if they do gather the courage to compete on such unequal terms, they will be confronted with the sexism Hillary Clinton endured along the way.
Clinton had planned to claim her victory as the first female president under an actual glass ceiling at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Not only was this final glass ceiling not shattered on Tuesday, the outcome risks reinforcing sexist beliefs still prevalent in the U.S. and beyond. "To all the little girls who are watching this”, Clinton said in her concession speech, “never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." There is a great deal of work ahead to make these words a reality. Without doubt, being a woman in the age of Trump will not be easy.
What can you do? Impart a sense of empowerment in the girls you raise and mentor, and a sense of respect in the boys. Fight the confidence gap that emerges between adolescent girls and boys by banning the word "bossy" for assertive girls. The next time you meet a young girl at a family gathering, resist the urge to comment on her looks over her interests. Make an active effort to detect and counter the unconscious biases we all share, in your work place and beyond. With Obama’s healthcare reforms under threat, access to contraception will become a challenge for millions of Americans, and Trump’s expected Supreme Court appointments could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Reproductive rights are not a luxury: without control over our reproduction, women lose the basis of our autonomy and economic freedom. Speak out where you can in defense of these rights. Donate to your local Planned Parenthood health center.
What can you do? Stand in solidarity with the groups victimized during this election and reach out to them. Imagine what it must feel like when the person who called for the deportation of a group you visibly belong to is elected to the highest office. If you have the privilege to feel safe in public, use that privilege. If you witness abuse in public, challenge it. Don't stand by. Sit next to that person on the bus or train. Offer to walk them home if they are worried.
Trump’s victory must be a wake-up call. This is not the time to despair; it is the time to make a difference wherever we can, in our families, work places, and communities, to halt the forces of misogyny and racism emboldened by this election.
Dana Landau is a political scientist specializing in peace and conflict studies. Before joining the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, she conducted PhD research at the University of Oxford, focusing on ethnic diversity and state-building in Kosovo. She has previously worked on women’s rights and minority issues in Kosovo, the U.K., and Switzerland. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaMLandau
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