White women failed to redeem themselves. Again. During the run-up to this election there was lots of talk about white women abandoning Trump, Trumpism, and Trump’s Republican Party in large numbers. Even the king of denial, Trump himself, bought into this narrative, telling a group in Pennsylvania, “So can I ask you to do me a favor? Suburban women, will you please like me? I saved your damn neighborhood.”
Trump didn’t “save” anything, but most white women still voted for him. This did not fit the pre-election narrative. We were told again and again that white women were sorry and that the wine moms would redeem themselves in 2020. Even I was hopeful, predicting that the president letting many Americans die in a losing, half-assed war against “the invisible enemy” of the coronavirus would be off-putting. Well, I was wrong.
The wine moms did not lead the revolt against Trumpism. The wine moms did not abandon Trump despite the revelations of the payoffs of two of his sexual partners during his first campaign, the expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, 860,000 women falling out of the workforce, Trump’s callous indifference to the carnage wrought by the pandemic, and his botched handling of it that produced said carnage. No, 55 percent of white women still voted for the guy who separated 5,400 children from their parents at the border, according to the exit polls, which should always be taken with a grain of salt—a 2-point improvement for Trump on his 2016 performance. And so I ask my fellow white women: What the actual fuck?
We want white women to be part of the progressive base because it makes us (or at least me) feel less bad about being a white woman, but they just aren’t. I see three reasons.
Reason one is that white women have always been this way, acting in the interests of their race as opposed to their gender. As Anna North notes in Vox, “White women’s support for Trump has historical precedent—they have long been able to gain power in a sexist society by allying themselves with white supremacy.” Historically, white women have not been the changemakers we want them to be.
Second, and even worse, white women have actually throughout history been at the forefront of oppressing others, like the Trump administration’s secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, who provided cover with her large smile for the administration’s inhumane child separation policy. As Julie Kohler wrote in Democracy journal, “White women led the support for school segregation and Jim Crow in the South. Famously, white women like Boston’s Louise Day Hicks led the fight against busing in the North and became some of the nation’s leading voices of anti-integration in the 1960s and ’70s… White women “knitted [ideas about race] into the fabric of their communities. They were not simply victims of false consciousness; they actively maintained racial hierarchies to their own (perceived) benefit.” So wine moms have a long history of being more Phyllis Schlafly than Gloria Steinem.
Katie McDonugh argued in Splinter, “A majority of white women have supported the Republican candidate in nearly every election since 1952,” with the exception of 1996 (Clinton vs. Dole). The question is why? As Rebecca Traister put it to Bill Maher, “There have always been incentives on the table for white women who benefit in a white patriarchy via white supremacy and their proximal power via white men in upholding a fundamentally conservative, white patriarchal power structure.”
Third, being a woman doesn’t necessarily make you good. As Michelle Ruiz wrote in Vogue, “Emotionally, though perhaps irrationally, we want to believe in white women’s better angels. We want to believe that certain issues should be universal to all women (and, really, all humans): a right to health care, to choose what’s best for our bodies, that our children should be safe at school. But, clearly, it’s not so simple. Even as we rightfully mourn their voting habits, we may be misguided to hold white women voters to a higher standard.”
But really the problem with white women is that they’re such a diverse and disparate voting bloc that they can’t really be treated as one whole. White women aren’t a monolith. They vary greatly from region to region, city to countryside, and of course class to class. Another issue is that they lack the powerful history of community organizing that African American women have excelled at.
White women may not be a completely lost cause. As the Brookings Institution pointed out, “White female college graduates boosted their Democratic support from 7 percent to 9 percent nationally and in key battleground states, white female college graduates generally registered greater support for Biden in 2020 than they did for Hillary Clinton in 2016.” So I guess that’s something, though it is still quite crappy and lame. White women may be getting marginally better, but they are no one’s saviors. Much as we might like them to, the wine moms aren’t coming to rescue us from fascism.