What the US election taught us about feminist rage

// 18 November 2016

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Woman looking worried

If you’re anything like me, right now you’re still reeling from the US election result. Politics aside, it is an emotional blow, to say the least, that a man who has bragged about being able to grab women “by the pussy”, amongst other sexist things, has just been elected the president of a global superpower. A democratic, economic powerhouse that is a key engine of global media and popular culture. How did this happen?

Well, 53% of votes from white women certainly helped.

At face value, this feels like a betrayal. Sisters, why did you vote for a man that has expressed what is at best disdain and at worst genuine hatred towards you? Where is your feminist rage?

The silver lining of all of this — and I promise, there is one — is that this result can teach us a lot about how we understand our sisters’ experiences, and offer guidance on how our rage can be used as a uniting force rather a divisive one.

Being white seems to have everything to do with this majority vote. Women of colour voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, with 94% of the black vote and 68% of the Latino vote. Critics and commentators have attributed the result to the tunnel vision that can result from racial privilege; racism is likely to be seen as not as big a deal to those who have never experienced it or have a limited understanding of it.

Racial privilege creates a view of the world that defaults to blinkered. Unless we know the blinkers are there, we won’t try to remove them.

It is wrong to explain the votes of this 53% of white women as pure expressions of racism, sexism or xenophobia. Yes, these were as much, if not more, a part of the campaign trail as the candidates’ policies. Visible and palpable, they invariably played a part in any woman’s decision-making process. Every woman will feel differently.

She will feel emotional about issues she experiences and the changes she imagines. Here is where the filter of racial privilege comes in and directs her thoughts a particular way.

The Guardian names Trump’s experience as a businessman as a strong drawcard for white female voters. Some felt that despite his sexist transgressions, he would still be able to put forward changes they wanted to see. These thoughts have sprung from a range of experiences that include, but cannot be limited to, racial privilege. There is work to be done in dissolving this filter.

These women are not immune to experiences of sexist discrimination. In 2015 the average gender pay gap for full-time workers in the US was 20%. The United States is the only other country besides Papua New Guinea that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, according to the UN agency the International Labour Organization. 57% of women who are of reproductive age are living in a US state that is “either hostile or very hostile” to abortion rights.

Every iota of this discrimination is felt through the prism of these women’s identities: a woman, a woman of colour, a mother, a Muslim woman, a poor woman. Their experiences of sexism are just as poignant and intersectional as those felt here in the UK, only with different complexities.

It is perfectly likely that their votes were angry votes. They too were likely feeling rage at their situations, and willing to do what they felt would work best in making change. This rage, at this time, manifested into the idea that Trump might be able to do something about it.

Their rage should have been shared and actioned strategically in wider groups. It should have been better shared, understood, and channeled into collective action. If it had, maybe there would be been progressive, open discussion about better ways to use one’s vote.

Feminist rage sits within the beating heart of the women’s movement and is essential in shifting the balance of power. But the ways we need to fight have changed. Modern discrimination is subtle and nuanced. As well as pushes for particular legislation, women are largely fighting for social and cultural equity. Doing so requires a shift in collective consciousness, which is much more complicated to pull off than a good old-fashioned protest. There are times, however, when protesting is the way to go.

Women need a space for their anger but this election proves that aggression isn’t good enough. This election has given women so, so much to be angry about. But now more than ever it has warned us of the need for rage that is inclusive, smart and strategic.

When left unbridled, privilege can form a devastating eclipse over our perception, but privilege in itself doesn’t need to be something to be ashamed of if you take responsibility for it and use it as an organising force.

Image by Joe Gardner, from Unsplash. Used with Creative Commons Zero licence.

Image is of a blond, white woman who is facing the camera, but looking away as if lost in thought. She looks unsettled, and perhaps a bit worried.

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