Tuesday! Whew. Folks, we have spent the past two years white-knuckling our way down a political slime-chute, but now the midterms are upon us and after Tuesday, we should at least know which direction the country is lurching. And behold: The lodestars in this endeavor, if you believe rampant political analysis, shall be suburban female voters.
Energized by #MeToo, President Trump, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and the climate-changed oceans preparing to rise up and kill us all, the suburban women voters — white suburban women, mostly — will tear themselves away from their “Killing Eve” marathons, get to the polls, and change this country.
“There is one key group of voters that both parties desperately need support from: suburban women,” MSNBC proclaims.
“The contest . . . is likely to hinge on the votes of suburban white women and minorities,” writes Houston Public Media of a congressional race.
Which — fine. All elections hinge on somebody. November 2000 stranded us for months in Broward County; 2016 launched a hundred doctoral dissertations on forgotten Appalachian coal miners. If we now want to talk about suburban white women, and how their votes might be swayed by current events, let’s do it.
But the way journalists and prognosticators are doing it seems off. It makes me wonder where men are supposed to be in this equation.
The New York Times ran a recent story about whether Trump’s nationalistic tendencies would be a “breaking point” for suburban women who, according to the article, disapprove of “divisive language on race and gender.”
I will go out on a limb to say it is great that suburban women do not like racist, sexist speech. I will tiptoe out further to say it’s weird that racist, sexist speech would not also bother male voters.
“President Trump’s personal attacks on women are fueling GOP fears that the party may lose suburban female voters in November,” the Hill declared in October, after the president had described Stormy Daniels as “Horseface.”
I’m not saying the “Horseface” descriptor wasn’t offensive; I’m wondering about the implication that it was only offensive to women. Do men not care when presidents call people Horseface? Are men supposed to care only if other men are called Horseface?
When Trump criticizes male opponents (“Lyin’ Ted,” “Rocket Man”), we have discussions about how the rhetoric debases the country and the office; we recognize the language is bad for everyone. When Trump insults women, though, the narrative gets a particular spin: “Is Trump driving women away from the GOP for good?” Politico asked after he’d mocked Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford at a rally in October.
Frankly, if I were considering leaving a political party, what would push me over the edge wouldn’t be one politician making fun of a woman. It would be the presumption that the men in the party were cool with it — that party leaders might fret about my exodus, but trust the men would stay put.
Mark Harris, a Republican nominee for Congress from North Carolina, is a pastor whose sermons have encouraged women to “submit” to their husbands. Ugh. A Politico reporter wrote a whole story talking to the women in that district, to see how the language and the race had affected them.
But shouldn’t the language also upset male voters? Shouldn’t fathers want independent daughters, and husbands want wives who are equal partners?
I’m bothered by all of this for the same reason I was bothered by liberals looking to Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to prevent Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. Because they were women, the thinking went, they should be sensitive to sexual assault allegations or concerned about the future of Roe v. Wade. As if men can’t also care about those issues in thoughtful, humane ways. As if men couldn’t also “remember the ladies,” as Abigail Adams nudged her husband to do back in 1776.
“Be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors,” she begged the future president. “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.”
There was a time when any right that women possessed was held in the hands of white men. And those white men somehow, eventually, managed to see beyond their own interests. They managed to recognize that the rights of women, and men of color, were actually the rights of other human beings.
We should think about that now. Any time we place the burden of the election on the shoulders of suburban women, we should ask ourselves why we’re not also remembering the men.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.