White Women are Failing to Push Equality Forward in Favor of Keeping Societal Power


Erin Holve

Graphic made by Erin Holve

The coffee shop I work at serves plenty of Trump supporters who walk in wearing their Trump merchandise with pride. When I heard the news that former Vice President Joe Biden won the presidential election I was at work and ran to the backroom to shout for joy as not to disrupt the Trumpers. 

While I enjoyed making direct eye contact with people who were willing to support a fascist rather than stand for justice and equality, I also had to come to terms with the idea that 71,955,623 Americans voted this way. Knowing that Biden received roughly five million more votes than President Donald J. Trump helps, but doesn’t detract from the reality of how many people looked at the last four years and said yes to Trump. 

We have to look at the demographics of who voted and why they voted. First we need to address the gender gap in American politics. The gender gap has been progressively sliding into the title of the male problem. If only men were allowed to vote, more specifically only white men without a college degree from an older age bracket, this country would look completely red.

BBC News shows the breakdown of the election by ethnicity, gender, age and education level. The data that has been collected tells us that 49% of men voted for Trump. Moreover 57%of white people voted for Trump. 

So we have to ask ourselves, why are white men voting this way? Why are white women voting in higher numbers than expected for Trump?

A New York Times article breaks down the gender gap in voting by talking about how gender affects the way we vote as a nation. They found that women tend to vote based on the overall benefit to the country and their communities. It seems men are more self-interested, looking to cast their vote based on economics that benefit them the best. 

Political scientists often use the word, salience, when talking about the gender gap. It’s a way of analyzing what issues matter most to voters. There are two main characteristics of salience, the importance of issues and the degree to which those issues are a problem. These issues and problems may themselves be fundamentally different from one another. 

If we analyze the last four years with Donald Trump we can see where salience comes into effect. A male and female voter may both have been disgusted by the president’s sexist language toward women, about the handling of the pandemic and his policies on immigration. 

They may both care about these topics but how they approach them and deal with them are vastly different. These men may care, but due to male privilege they don’t care enough to enact change. There are plenty of men and even a large number of women who are attracted to Trump’s racist, nativist and misogynistic rhetoric. The question in this day and age is why? 

Trump has been turned into a figurehead of masculinity for many men in American society. His misogynistic language and threats of harming those who do not comply with his rhetoric creates the image of an aggressive, macho man who doesn’t back down from a fight. We see that portrayal currently playing out with his reluctance to concede that he lost the election to Biden. 

KCRW Radio in the Los Angeles area recently sat down and talked to Matthew Gumann, a professor of anthropology at Brown University about how male privilege affects how men vote. “Trump stands for white privilege as well as male privilege,” Gutmann said. “There’s a lot of white people who think that’s just dandy.”

Gutmann goes on to talk about how this privilege isn’t just for white men, it extends to white women. As a white woman who absolutely opposed Trump, I struggled to understand why my fellow compatriots would vote for a man who so easily degraded them? 

An article in the Chicago SunTimes by Natalie Y. Moore dissects this issue by looking to white women’s roles in the past. The article analyzed the era of Phyllis Schlafly and her work to denounce the ERA, an important piece of legislature for women’s rights. 

“I see the white women who lined up behind Schlafly as defending their own status in this country,” Moore said. “They were, in their own words, ‘protecting their way of life.’ White womanhood and femininity is revered and white women historically have benefited from white supremacy.” 

Looking at history shows us that whiteness in our society is seen as aspirational and powerful. White women would rather vote against their gender than sever ties with the traditional, societal views of femininity. To do so for them is to relinquish their power over other women of lower hierarchical status. 

Sociologist Martin Gilens, now the chairman of the public policy department at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, argues that the gender gap reflects the traditional differences in male and female values and personalities. “Differences such as men’s greater competitiveness and concerns with issues of power and control, and women’s greater compassion and nurturance, rejection of force and violence, and concern with interpersonal relations,” Gilens said. 

An article on the Psychology Today website discusses why these gender values play a role in how women and men vote with Kelsy Kretschmer, an Oregon State University sociologist. She explains that due to women consistently earning less money than men and therefore power, married women tend to vote for politicians and policies that protect their husbands and families in hopes of improving their status in society. 

The article goes on to discuss how the white fragility of men plays a role in how white, married women vote. These women may see more equality between the sexes as taking away jobs and success from their husbands. 

Due to women’s higher percentage of caretaker roles they tend to vote for a more activist and supportive government. Men tend to take the don’t tread on me stance, hoping to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. “Men consume more political news, but for a lot of them, especially younger men, it’s like a hobby and a sport,” said Eitan Hersh, a professor at Tufts University and the author of “Politics is for Power.” 

Many expected women to serve as key swing voters, but Erin Cassese, an associate professor of political science at the University of Delaware whose research focuses on the behavior of women as voters, suggests otherwise. “It’s really about partisan identity,” Cassese said. 

A Washington Post article talked with Christina Wolbrecht, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, who argues that when it comes to voting, race and education tend to matter more than gender. “Women vote more similarly to the men in their own racial group than they do to women in other racial groups,” she wrote on Twitter.

Sadly to say, Wolbrecht argues that women are less motivated to vote based on how misogynistic a candidate is, rather it’s more likely that women vote based on economic concerns or racial identity. Party is usually a stronger force in presidential politics than gender.

Now it would be remiss of me not to talk about the immense roles that people of color played in the 2020 elections. Black, Latina, Asian and Native women all voted at higher percentages for Biden. It is safe to assume that without their votes, Biden would not have won. 

They came out in droves to vote and that’s why it is offensive for the Republican party to cite voter fraud as the reason the Democratic win. It shows how little they value the vote of minorities, predominantly women, when they don’t vote in their favor. 

Preliminary results from exit polls conducted by Edison Research suggest roughly 9 in 10 Black women voted for Biden, compared to 8 in 10 Black men. About 7 in 10 Latina women voted for Biden, compared to roughly 6 in 10 Latino men. Meanwhile, preliminary exit polls suggest more than half of white women voted for Trump.

Even more striking is that Latina and black women are more likely to show up and vote than their male counterparts. Black women in particular likely played a key role in this election, not only for their voter turnout but also for their voter registration activism.

“A lot of the attention on women voters was on white suburban women,” Cassese said. “But the story is really secondary to Black women’s activism, Black women’s organizing.”

All this information tells me that we have undervalued people of color, as is consistent with our history and culture, especially women of color. The Demoractic Party needs to stop looking to suburban white women for a turn in votes. 

The sad truth is that until white women can learn to separate themselves from traditional gender roles and party affiliation based on the men in their lives, they will never be the group to push progress forward. It will happen, as it always has on the backs of female Black, Native, Latina and Asian voters. I want to keep fighting for white women to wake up and do their part for democracy, but that will take time and a lot of activism. 

For the next four years white women need to be activists and have difficult conversations with their fellow white women about why they are voting for a patriarchal party that wishes to confine their ability for power and movement within society. These will not be fun or comfortable conversations to have, but we need to stop asking for the women who are the most oppressed to keep carrying the heavy load of democracy upon their shoulders. 

Erin Holve can be reached at [email protected] and @Erin_Holve on Twitter.