How White Women Defeated Hillary Clinton

I’ve been asked to participate in a UN Women social media campaign that addresses Pakistani societal and cultural misconceptions that “Women are < than men.” Of course I’m going to give it my complete endorsement, but in light of the US presidential election, I had serious pause for thought. The message that women are “UNbeatable” rings hollow in light of how Clinton was trounced by Trump, and the factors that allowed this to happen.

I wasn’t surprised that America elected Trump. In the last few days before the election, I began to feel that he would win. Not because Hillary was a weaker candidate, but because I was in London during the Brexit vote this summer. And I remember how similar the mood was on the eve of the election: “They’ll never vote to leave. They’re not that irrational. We don’t have to worry.”

And then we woke up the next morning to beautiful blue skies and the pale, shocked faces of people all around. They had done it.

That was how things were feeling to me before the US election.

Although I’m not American, and am ineligible to vote anywhere other than Pakistan, I lived in America for eleven years, and I attended Wellesley College, Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. The mood amongst Wellesley alums and the American feminists in my networks was high, almost euphoric. This would be America’s first female president! It’s about time! Hillary is the most qualified, the most experienced. I didn’t find her cold, or robotic, or unapproachable. I had reservations about her war record and her foreign policy, but once Trump won the Republican nomination, I too felt that Clinton would have been the better person to win the presidency.

As all women decent human beings should be, I was extremely offended by Trump’s attitude toward women, not just in that notorious “Grab them” conversation, but overall, as the champion of beauty pageants, as a modelizer, as a man who cheated on his wives. Not just that, but the men he allies with are in favor of enacting policy that is incredibly anti-women: defunding Planned Parenthood, making abortion illegal, ending the nascent universal healthcare plan started by Obama.

But I remembered what happened before Brexit. And I remembered my experiences in America, not just as a college and grad student, but also in my travels to the midwest, outside the bubble of the east and west coasts. I’ve met many mid-Westerners and the way they look at life is completely different than how it goes on the coasts. And I remembered my experiences with racism and sexism, some of which happened even on the Wellesley campus.

So I decided not to discount how strong Trump’s support was amongst the Americans that we never hear from on CNN or mainstream social media. And once I did that, the scales fell from my eyes. “There are a lot of angry men who will come out and vote for Trump,” I said. “And even men of color will come out and vote for him but not tell anyone.”

Well, I was wrong on one account. Because look at how the votes broke down in terms of gender and race:


That’s right. Black men and black women came out in strong support of Clinton. The statistic that astounded me is how many white women came out in support of Trump. White women voted for Trump EIGHT TIMES more than they did for Clinton.

How on earth did this happen? How did women vote for a man who so clearly disrespects them, who thinks of them as sexual objects, to be grabbed and groped and judged on their looks and discarded after the age of 35?

Jill Filiopovich breaks it down very well in this essay for CNN. She says, “The conservative evangelical vision of America, so mainstreamed into the Republican Party, sees white women as delicate, maternal, and dependent, not authoritative and powerful. Trump knows this, and he plays on this racialized gender anxiety….Many white women will choose the authority and protection of men over the responsibilities and duties that come with real freedom.”

My friend Meredith Froemke, a professional life coach who is very wise in the ways of the world, had this to say, in a more straightforward way:

“This is my opinion, that many won’t like. Women who voted for Trump are not self-empowered strong women. They have serious daddy issues that align with a patriarchal thought process, desperately needing and wanting a man to “FIX and SAVE” them from the ‘bad guys’. They are used to a strong daddy that did this for them, or they never developed the ability to step into their own rightful power. They believe this SHELL of a MAN will be their daddy and save their world. HA! This is a statement that women, here is the Good ol’ US of A still need to become empowered in their OWN strength. This is proof that sexism is alive and well in this white-BREAD world. I’m UTTERLY DISGUSTED!”

I don’t have much to add, really. Women who voted for Trump prove the power of misogyny. They prove that the patriarchy still has a vice-like grip on the throats of everyone, no matter where they live. That enablers of patriarchy are still frightened by the consequences of stepping out on their own.

This is also proof that intersectional feminism is an extremely valid concept. That unless we understand how race and class affect issues of gender, women will not be empowered across the board. This is why black women AND black men voted in such high numbers for Hillary Clinton.

The white women who voted for Trump voted to preserve their position in the existing power structure, as second class, subservient objects, not subjects. It was safer for them to do so.

What a shame, America. As my colleague Lina Abirafeh says, what a bad example to set for the rest of the world who needed to see a woman break the highest glass ceiling in existence. And it’s going to be so much harder for the next woman who tries to do it.


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