author – activist – faculty – mom
I am a cliché—one of the millions who got this election completely wrong. I see many contending with a newfound understanding of the depth of this nation’s racism, or particularly the racism of white women. But none of that was news to me. I was woke to the racism. My blind spot was the depth of white women’s internalized sexism. I completely underestimated how Rape Culture would shape this election.
After PussyGate, I just knew it was a wrap. White women weren’t going to vote for a perpetrator. He was caught on tape. He actually had to apologize. And then women began to come forward with stories of how Trump had assaulted them. The All-American-Girl People Magazine reporter. Plenty of women. Game over. Yes, I saw the photos and footage of women with Trump signs and t-shirts. But I thought they were a fringe element. An extreme faction. A minority.
But it’s a story as old as patriarchy. How many times have I heard women tell stories of being sexually abused by their fathers, uncles, stepfathers, mom’s live-in boyfriends? They speak of telling their mothers. “You whore!” the mothers roar back (in an affront to whores everywhere). “Filthy lying whore!” And they cast their daughters out into the street, or worse yet, the daughters continue to live under the same roof with their abuser and his cheerleader.
It is this betrayal that I didn’t see coming. Perhaps because when I was molested in kindergarten (outside the family, by an older neighbor kid) my single mom went to his single mom and threatened to “beat the shit out of him” if he did it again. Their family moved away. I learned that sexual abuse must not be tolerated. And that women protect their daughters. Years later, I also learned how to heal from the traumatic residue of the abuse.
But many women aren’t protected. And many women don’t heal. Epidemic levels of sexual and gender-based violence affect all women to various degrees. Between child sexual abuse, other forms of abuse in girls’ childhood homes, and domestic violence that women experience as teens and adults, women in our country are collectively traumatized. Rape Culture places blame on the victim: she deserved it, and dominant Christian narratives command wives and daughters to “forgive” the perpetrators, but forget about scriptures of justice and consequences.
The patriarchal narrative is that father knows best and stand by your man.
The victim blaming stance is simultaneously that he didn’t do it, and that if he did, it must be her fault.
As a mother, I have a visceral response to even the idea of someone sexually abusing my daughter. I understand how my mother could threaten that kid. How much would I personally have to be traumatized to have my motherly instincts broken? In order to allow someone to hurt my child? And I know, there are survivors who will read this and think I’m making excuses for privileged women, who will say but I was brutalized and it didn’t confused me into siding with the perpetrator. But many women do side with perpetrators; some women even become perpetrators.
There are so many complex and tangled reasons why women respond differently to sexual and gender-based trauma, but this election has revealed to me how widespread it is to side with the perpetrator in Rape Culture.
Trump was the beneficiary of thousands of years of patriarchal training. Shut up. Scorn the woman. Stand by your man.
What we saw play out in our election is the politics of of trauma on a grand scale. The deep well of hatred for women could be leveraged against Hillary. I have many differences with her, but I woke up the day after the election in gratitude for her willingness to stand against Trump. While we need to hold white women accountable for their racism, I see a lot of bashing of white women, and I think that response also falls squarely within the patriarchal narrative of blaming women. To be clear, I am here for POC’s rage about this election, yes, we have a right to be furious about racism and a right to express it. But white women haven’t just sold us out, they’ve also sold themselves out. That 52% isn’t going to have it easier under Trump. That is the lie of patriarchy: that women can give up their rights to dominating men, and that those men have their best interests at heart. As Indian/British writer Meena Kandasamy put it, “This is what your everyday sexism and rape culture has led us into–where even the most structurally privileged women have swallowed their shame and have normalized your violence.”
Also, I have heard some folks blaming white feminism, which doesn’t make sense to me. White feminists were the 48% that voted for Hillary. She was their girl. My takeaway is that this election shows how many white women are not feminists, and just how many hits feminism has taken from years of backlash and co-optation that have undermined its effectiveness.
My takeaway is that feminism needs to expand its reach. We need to develop more resources to give women—particularly women in rural and heartland regions and Bible Belt regions—tools to make sense of their experiences of trauma outside of Rape Culture’s patriarchal explanations.
As a black feminist, as a mom, and as an activist, I am clear that we have so much work to do.