Opinion

Feminists Must Ask Themselves Why Women Voted for Trump in Defiance

Forty-two percent of America’s female voters cast their ballots for Trump. Don’t they want to be treated fairly and respectfully?

A supporter holds up a "Women for Trump" sign at Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump's election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 8, 2016.
Brendan McDermid, Reuters

One of the most conspicuous and discordant aspects of Donald Trump’s election is the gender issue. After the feminist struggle’s crawling progress and a slow but consistent harvest of achievements, the United States turned its back on its first-ever female candidate and elected the candidate who voluntarily demonstrated his misogynistic traits.

These traits were shamefully exposed – recordings revealed the way he talks about women and 12 women leveled complaints against him for various forms of sexual harassment. None of this convinced enough American men – or women – that Hillary Clinton, for all her faults, was the better choice.

He was forgiven the various embarrassing acts and shocking utterances that attested not only to his contempt for women, but to his low moral standards, while Clinton was commonly called the “bitch” by supporters at his rallies. A large part of the public loathed her on the basis of demonic falsehoods, which turned her into a sort of modern witch (a customary way of delegitimizing strong women).

In her gracious concession speech, Clinton promised her female supporters that “someday someone will” shatter “that highest, hardest glass ceiling” and told young women, “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world.” But her words sounded more like slogans at a beauty contest that had nothing to do with reality.

We could lament this mournful situation endlessly, and it is mournful, but it’s more interesting to ask why this is happening. The first, self-evident reason is that no powerful group – let’s say older, conservative, white men – wants to relinquish its power. The only way to distribute that power in a more egalitarian, less centralized way is by protest, which will likely not win sympathy but will evoke violent reactions intended to silence it.

This is a solid, logical reason, but is not sufficient to explain what makes such a large public, even one without power and economic interests, including numerous women, vote for a candidate like Trump.

On the face of it, Trump’s strongest attribute, which was leveraged well throughout the campaign, was that he served as a fermentation vessel for every idea or urge that exceeded the politically correct limits. He announced this himself, and this approach bewitched people. As this seems to be almost all he had to offer – and in Trump we have a candidate who is indeed bereft of any agenda or serious plan – the election results reflect to a large extent the masses’ stupidity, and the masses are sometimes extremely stupid and make wretched choices.

But even this regrettable fact doesn’t exempt us from having to explore this passion he whipped up, the almost animal urge to defy, avenge, break and destroy. These are all passions that characterized Trump’s campaign and characterize similar figures who are thriving worldwide. Defy whom? Break what?

Forty-two percent of America’s female voters cast their ballots for Trump. Don’t they want to be treated fairly and respectfully? Don’t fathers and husbands want their daughters and wives to be treated equitably and decently in this world? How come the liberal merchandise, including equality for women, remained on the shelf, while the opposite, the rotten fruit, was bought so enthusiastically?

Those waging the liberal identity-politics and feminist struggles should be deeply concerned by these questions and by the furious outpouring of public sentiment aimed at them. A phenomenon like Trump doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It reflects an alarming reversal powered by a strong social undercurrent, and a feeling of breaking of chains. It also reflects a loss of direction by the forces for social justice and their disconnect with the public’s impulses.

The urgent mission facing liberal movements is to understand this mood and reconnect with those impulses.