White Women, WTF

A friend challenged me to explain why white women voted for 45. Rightly so. She’s not white, and like a lot of women in the non-white world, has decided that it’s no longer her job to explain race to white folks. I suspect that many Black/Latinx/Asian/Native women have been tired of explaining things to us for ages, but have collectively (insofar as it’s possible for me to speak of collectivity in very diverse communities) hit some sort of wall and have given up on us in some senses.

It’s a pig-dog of a question—ultimately there is a sliver of mystery in human behaviors that no one can define, and in 2016 that manifested in large numbers of humans voting for a man who was certain to hurt them and theirs. I didn’t. I only know for certain that two women in my extended community did vote for him, and I’m not sure they constitute a sample. Both have degrees. Both are smart. I can’t really have extended conversations with either of them because they are my daughters’ mothers-in-law and I don’t have the right to make things worse than they already are in both situations.

Here’s what I do know: There is a new “Diversity Café” here at Pretty Good U run by the Women’s Studies program. The first speaker was a Latinx sociologist. Attendance was good—about 30 women and a couple of male grad students. Most of the 32 were white, and the whole group was a mix of grad students and various stripes of faculty (adjunct, not-yet-tenured, non-tenure track, tenured). Most were visibly and seriously concerned about What’s Going On outside of the Academy, and very happy to be there listening. An International Women’s Day teach-in came out of the meeting, so it was not without fruit. But the speaker said, almost casually, that white women need to step up and start talking about race. I got kind of excited and thought that would happen, but I don’t know that I have ever seen so many people nod in agreement and switch topics so quickly. It was stunning.

So there’s one reason—even highly educated, deeply politically aware and progressive white women really don’t want to confront their own whiteness or talk about what that whiteness means—at least if that one meeting is an indicator. I’ll keep bringing it up, and we’ll see if I can ever get that conversation started (as if I have any idea where to start it…though I am not too worried about that part, since much of my adult life has consisted of getting really good at flailing about until something happens). But I am construing on the basis of this one experience with elite white women that there are deep, deep wells of avoidance in which we are still choosing to drown ourselves. And if that is the case of a bunch of humans who probably all voted for Hillary, then you can begin to imagine the extent to which that kind of blindness drives all sorts of women who don’t have PhDs. Or therapists. Or self-awareness.

There is also that other thing women (this may be a white thing, but I don’t really know) don’t want to talk about: the misogyny of women. Some of the worst misogyny I have ever experienced was at the hands of women. I’ve written before here about my theory that there is only ever allowed to be one brainy fat woman in a room at a time, and the Alpha Fat Chick will go out of her way to see to it that the focus stays on her. And that’s just one of many facets of one of many issues. So, I’m going to assume that a chunk of the women who voted for 45 suffered from what I think of as Phyllis Schlafly Syndrome, which I think the APA really needs to list in its diagnostic bible.

I also assume that some of the women were fundamentalists of one sort or another (Jewish & Christian, to be honest—I doubt very much that any significant numbers of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists voted for him) who voted the way their husbands told them to. Because.

I am also fairly sure that there are a number of women who voted for him—maybe on purpose, or maybe without realizing it—precisely because he is a woman-hating, abusive, moral-less mountain of lies. In my own defense, the “demon lover” types I was involved with when I was younger were smarter and better looking than he ever was, but many of us, if pushed, will admit that there is still a pull for us in dangerous men. And he is definitely dangerous. Not all of us have been lucky enough to (mostly) grow out of that attraction.

It’s unlikely that I have covered all the reasons my white sisters voted for a repulsive, destructive, inexcusable, unconnected-to-reality narcissist. We’re no more of a uniformity than any other group of women. Then again, I doubt that there are all that many other statistically significant factors. I am most emphatically NOT a sociologist, though.

There is, I think, a list of what seem to be “tipping point” issues that drove the election results other than the votes of white women (though that is certainly one of the most important ones): in historical terms, the chances of the American electorate going from one revolutionary president to another, back-to-back, might have been nearly non-existent; the white Patriarchy is not going to go down easy, no matter how much progress we like to think we’ve made, and it is a boiling sea of rage; the no-one-really-wants-to-talk-about-it misogyny of the Bernie voters; Bill Clinton. Then there’s the Electoral College.

But the bottom line here is that white women, as a block, have to deal with collective responsibility for what has happened. That is one reason I was unbothered by the mostly-whiteness of the crowd in DC on January 21st—it’s our blasted JOB to get out there and fix the mess. The other reason is that The March was not (at least in DC) quite as pale as folks have charged, though it was pretty white. I’m fairly sure that the whiteness was not the reason, as some writers have suggested, that the DC police were so nice to the marchers. I was at the Standing Rock March, and the cops were polite then, too. That crowd was definitely not predominantly white. The DC cops have no investment in supporting the current administration—the city is predominantly non-white, it is taxed without representation, and he is causing them to work a lot of overtime.

So, collective responsibility: In my lifetime, I’ve watched Germany go from being a deeply wounded (and often unpleasant to be in for long periods of time) nation determined to avoid its past, to being a healed/healing nation that is alive to its past and committed to not repeating its own horrific errors. Basically, they’ve spent a long, painful time staring at and telling their own truths—a kind of collective confession and penance. They also got the other half of their country back, which was a mess, but an important mess. We’ve never really put our country back together since 1865. White people might want to take note of Germany’s choices. Of course, Americans are justly notorious for refusing to learn from any other country’s successes. American Exceptionalism and The Partriarchy have been festering together for ages. In the best of all possible worlds, this administration will have burst the boil and we’ll be able to move on soonish. My Pollyanna half is allowed a few minutes to contemplate that each day. Then my non-Pollyana self goes back to screaming in a corner for the other 23 hours, 57 minutes of the day.

I don’t know what to do. I’m pretty sure there is no one answer, and pretty sure that answers are going to prove hard to come by. So I now have a “White silence is violence.” button I intend to wear to church and sometimes to teach. I’ve started talking about race in my classes whenever there’s the least excuse. And I’ve kind of made peace with the idea that I will screw it up sometimes, because thinking it’s my job to do it perfectly is permission to be silent. And in the tradition of English law, silence gives consent. I think many of those white women who voted for 45 did so silently.

If I figure out any other ways to add my infinitesimal efforts in any right direction, I’ll try to find my way to acting on them. It won’t be enough. It never could. And it certainly doesn’t make me particularly righteous. This isn’t nearly enough of an answer. I am profoundly sorry not to be able to do better.

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