I’m a feminist writer. I am inundated with sexist harassment and political ugliness more or less constantly; I know that the history of women’s progress in the United States has been uneven, and often marked with big setbacks just as we were on the precipice of real change.
This, though, I did not predict.
I’m writing from my current, and I assumed temporary, home in Nairobi, but now I wonder whether the United States — this United States, the one that just elected Donald Trump — is one to which I want to return. That sounds melodramatic. But what a clear statement of what so many of my countrymen (and the people who put Trump in power are mostly men) value: white male supremacy above all, especially over female ambition, intelligence and basic competence.
Still, abandoning the playing field is not an option. It’s hard to think about tomorrow when today is so crushingly awful. Take a day: hug your kids, drink your wine, punch a pillow, go for a run. Then let’s get to work.
For feminists, getting to work means plowing forward, not second-guessing our mission. This is a big setback — a phenomenal, shocking setback. It is not the first, and it will not be the last. The only way to change is to change, and when our project is so immense — changing no less than the foundation of our society, our very ideas of what it means to be male and female — it will take a very long time to complete. We know, now, what so many Americans think of successful, ambitious, intelligent women: They think we are a threat. They will choose almost anything to avoid putting us in charge.
We fix this with more feminism, not less. And given who Americans just elected, we have to focus first on the women a Trump presidency will make most vulnerable: immigrant women, women of color, lesbian women, transgender women, women seeking abortions, women seeking asylum, women seeking protection from men. If there was ever a time to donate to your local domestic violence shelter, your local abortion fund, Black Lives Matter, your local group helping refugees apply for legal status, your local nonprofit group that shelters and assists undocumented immigrants, this is it. If there was ever a time to refuse to cower in the face of defeat — to speak louder, even in our female voices — this is it. Because what Trump wants us to do is sit down and shut up.
We should pay attention, too, to the many men whose lives are about to get significantly worse under Trump. Immigrant men. Gay men. Black men at risk of police violence. Men who rely on the Affordable Care Act for their health insurance. Men who reject traditional masculinity. And even the men and women who voted Trump to victory — white people who traded racial resentment for the kind of progressive change that would have improved their lives, too. They surely think feminism has nothing to offer them compared with a promise to restore them to their former position of unearned power; they are about to see how wrong they are.
For the many women who were surprised by this result, myself included, we need to take a good look around and quit excusing bad behavior where we see it. There’s a huge gender gap in this election, the widest since 1976: Early numbers point to women favoring Clinton by 12 points, and men favoring Trump by the same margin. Clinton’s strength with women was mostly due to women of color backing her; where Trump’s support was overwhelmingly white, Clinton’s was incredibly diverse, and she won majorities of African Americans, Asians and Hispanics. Clinton’s base looks like America’s future, while Trump’s looks like the waning white face of American power.
It doesn’t matter: Old America won. And New America is scared: Nearly 70 percent of black voters say that they’re afraid of a Trump presidency,
But we don’t live in different worlds. Many of the same women who voted for Clinton live with, work with, date and befriend men who voted for Trump. Women have always paired off with misogynist men and have always excused bad male behavior, defending sexist men as simply “old-school,” shrugging off sexual assault as boys being boys, concluding that because a man loves them, he must not hate women.
Misogyny isn’t the fault of women, and it’s not up to women to force men to treat us like human beings. But it is incumbent upon us to not buoy bigotry. A majority of white women voted for Trump, disproportionately those who are older, religious and without college degrees — in other words, women who may be more steeped in, accustomed to and dependent on male authority. For these women, it seemed race trumped gender, and white supremacy was more important than broader freedoms for women. While this is disappointing, it’s also perhaps to be expected: White women in many of the states that supported Trump have historically been supporters of segregation and racism just as surely as their husbands, and have also typically opposed many of the laws that would improve conditions for all American women.
And make no mistake: A vote for Trump is a vote against women. He has bragged on video about committing sexual assault, and nearly a dozen women have accused him of doing exactly what he claimed, though he has denied those allegations. He evaluates women not on their intelligence or good characters, but on a physical attribute scale of one to 10. Women he doesn’t like are “pigs” and “dogs.” He has said women who have abortions should face legal punishment, and he is sure to appoint Supreme Court justices who would dismantle abortion rights if given the opportunity. He has few women on his shortlists of appointments for Cabinet positions or the Supreme Court.
Women should refuse to tolerate men who would vote so clearly and aggressively against our interests — against the idea that we’re equal citizens, that we’re human beings.
Women and feminists cannot do this job alone. Many millions of American men cast their votes for Clinton in this election, and many millions of American men are just as heartbroken as I am. Women have been carrying the heavy weight of fighting sexism for a long time, but what this election makes clear is that little changes if men don’t change. This is where we need men to step in and work on one another. Even the brightest, best-qualified woman can’t win the white male vote; feminist-minded men need to convince other men that more women in power, and a more gender-egalitarian society, is in everyone’s interests.
With a Republican House, a Republican Senate and Trump in the White House, a lot could get ugly in the next four years. Supreme Court appointments will probably mean the end of safe and legal abortion access. The border with Mexico could become an even more dangerous and deadly place for people trying to cross it, and the rest of the country may grow even more hostile. Anecdotally, it seemed that sexist abuse was worse online and off during this election — I saw it for myself on social media and heard story after story of female friends being grabbed or called misogynist slurs for wearing pro-Clinton T-shirts or simply being at election-related events, often in tandem with a declaration from the grabber that Trump would win. These attacks large and small may very well ramp up now that Trump has normalized it and voters have supported him. This election is a huge blow, and it’s women and Trump’s favorite minority targets — Muslims, Latinos, African Americans — who are going to suffer first.
If you weren’t a feminist before, or if you were an ambivalent or quiet supporter of women’s rights and the rights of minorities, now’s the time to get loud. Because as much as we needed you before, we need you now more than ever.