Dear White Ladies,
I write to you as one of your own as I, too, am a white lady. I know the sting of sexism and misogyny but I also am (at least somewhat) aware of my own privilege. It seems many of you are not.
In the aftermath of the 2016 POTUS election, I’ve been thinking a lot about you all, about us; the white, American woman. On the one hand, I’m (unfortunately) not that surprised that so many white people, including white women, voted for Trump. I know white people and I know how we can be, including us liberal ones, who often deny our own racism and white supremacy and become defensive and dismissive when people of color point this out to us – not to mention it shouldn’t be on people of color to point this out to us. We should be holding ourselves and each other accountable. Still. On the other hand, I am still deeply ashamed, disappointed and horrified by how many of us voted for Trump. And I’ve been trying to discern why this happened. I recognized and feared this could happen and yet I was too wrapped up in my own privilege before to really think of why…So let’s talk. Let me ask some questions and try to figure this out. I’m going to try to understand where you were coming from and then I’m going to help you understand that you need to cut the crap.
Just to put one thing out there…. However mind-boggling it is that any group of women voted against their own rights, I also think that significant focus on any one group of women detracts from the responsibility of those at the tippy-top; the straight, white, able-bodied, American cis men. Still as a white woman, I feel it is imperative to acknowledge the privilege white women do have and to ask those in my cohort why on earth they’d vote for one Donald John Trump. Also I think that, as a white woman, I have at least a little credibility when it comes to our experience.
So what the fuck happened last week? For what are we so willing to overlook society’s hatred of us? Is it white supremacy? Does white supremacy have such a hold on us that we’re willing to overlook blatant violence against women? I ask that rhetorically as it’s clear that it does. So I’m going to be blunt and say the ugly and awful truth… We are willing to look the other way and normalize sexual violence if it means our race stays at the top. We really are such xenophobes that we’ll brush off threats of sexual violence if it means we get to keep “those people” out. No matter what socioeconomic class we’re in, we know that our neighborhoods will always be safer and more desirable than the of color neighborhood in our class bracket (not that these class differences should exist, but that’s an issue for another post). And we, apparently, plan to keep it that way. At all costs. We want the guarantee that we will have – that our children will have – full access to better schools and healthcare than people of color and their children. If white supremacy’s existence is perpetuated then we are guaranteed comfort for ourselves and loved ones and we so uncompromisingly want that, want to be at the top, that we’ll risk our own degradation. Hey, we may not be safe or equal in our own homes but at least we are safe and superior outside them – better that than what women of color and non-cisgender folks of color experience, which is danger everywhere, always.
But here’s the thing, women of color and all people of color aren’t asking us to switch places with them. They’re just asking for equal access to the things we have. They’re asking for good schools, healthcare, ubiquitous safety and so much more. They want those things to be seen as they are; rights everyone should have rather than privileges afforded only to some. It is complete BS that some people have to be sacrificed for the sake of others and we white women know this. We know this but we make other choices because of our xenophobia and because we, as a group, apparently can’t stand the thought of people of color having what we have. Do I hear some of you saying ‘No that’s not how we are’? Well now that it’s post-election, it’s clear we are that way; that the majority of white women range from apathy towards people of color to contempt for people of color. And that is completely unacceptable. We need to hold each other and ourselves accountable for these harmful beliefs and behaviors.
I want to spend a moment acknowledging our own internalization of misogyny and how that plays out for us versus how it plays out for women of color. All women, including white women, internalize misogyny. After all I’ve heard liberal, supposedly empowered white women say their husbands are more rational and calm than they are because they (the ladies) have those pesky female hormones. Never mind the fact that women tend to still carry more of the home-life burdens and responsibilities, do all kinds of emotional labor and be exposed at higher rates to violence by someones they know and its subsequent trauma. Perhaps those reasons understandably make us more emotional. And seriously, does the ability to feel our feelings really make us less rational? Isn’t the belief that women are emotional and therefore less rational one of the root beliefs of patriarchy? Isn’t it the patriarchy that validates men’s anger and dismisses women’s sadness and distress (and anger)? Isn’t a systemically oppressive belief that you can only be one way or the other; stern, measured, rational and in control (male) or overwhelmed, hysterical, out of control and irrational (female). And yes that’s an over-simplified breakdown that’s strictly focusing on gender and not the many ways that people of color of all genders are labeled as too emotional.
And all this came up for me after a conversation with more progressive (white) women. So what do these beliefs look like for more conservative, “traditional” white women? Perhaps they look like this or this. So what happens when those white ladies are married and hitting the polls? Not to mention that far too many- though certainly not all or even most – straight, white women experience intimate partner abuse and can feel flat-out brainwashed by their abusive partners. If their partners are overt white supremacists then they likely internalize those beliefs even more so. I say even more so because all white women have internalized white supremacy. But chances are that a woman who marries a higher-up in the KKK (who, let’s face it, is probably a batterer) likely entered that relationship, at least initially, willingly and therefore was either pretty damn racist herself or pretty damn indifferent. Either one is unacceptable.
But lest we forget women of color experience all that same misogyny. They even further downplay their own needs because of the intersection of white supremacy and misogyny (not to mention any other oppression many of them also experience, i.e., homophobia, ableism). Also women of color are even further impacted by intimate partner abuse. But they didn’t vote for Trump at nearly the same rates. So what gives white ladies? Were we more apt to vote for Trump simply because the men in our lives, the overwhelming majority of whom are white, were voting for Trump?
Even though that may be part of the truth, the reality is not that simple. And none of this excuses white women’s white supremacy. However dominated by our male counterparts, we do still have agency and certainly have societal power and we need to make better choices. We can be both privileged and oppressed at the same time. Responsibility for our privilege and internalized supremacy is not minimized by our oppression. So why did I even bring it up? To provide context. And to alleviate confusion (feigned or real) about where we stand and why we must hold ourselves accountable.
All of the things I have mentioned are true; white women experience oppression by men and they also are so racist that they’ll sacrifice their rights in order to maintain white supremacy. So let me break it down for you. White ladies, this isn’t about you. On many levels, it is not about you. The world makes us feel less-than as women but that’s not because we are, it’s because men created a gendered hierarchy wherein any gender that is not cis male is inferior. Society’s disdain for us is not our fault and it’s not because of anything wrong with us but rather something wrong with society. And if your partner puts you down and assaults you verbally, emotionally, sexually, financially and/or physically, it is not your fault and it is not about you. It is about your partner’s beliefs and bad decision to abuse you. So white ladies this is not about you and this is not just about us. We aren’t the only people oppressed by cis men. Women of color and non-cisgender folks of color also experience misogyny as well as racism. Perhaps we white ladies didn’t initiate white supremacy but we certainly participated in its creation and perpetuation. It’s not just about us. Think what it’s like for people of color, all people of color and then think what it’s like for people of color who aren’t cis men. We have to think of others. It’s not just about us. So even if you prefer a more traditional marriage, remember it’s not only your preferences that matter. If Clinton were president, you could keep your traditional marriage but with Trump as president many people fear they will lose their lives or their loved ones.
And this isn’t just for Trump voting white ladies. I was shaken to my core by the recordings of Trump in 2005 talking about assaulting women. It dredged up bad experiences and memories for me, both personally and through my work. Those tapes left me reeling for the last month of the election and this past week. And while I donated to Hillary and posted in support of her, I was still so content in my white comfort that I took little meaningful action. Even though I feared and dreaded there was a good chance Trump could win, which he did, I wasn’t driven to action. I know people who voted for Trump and I did little to reach out to them and talk about this. I didn’t join BLM marches and actively support women of color. I hardly acknowledged that Hillary called children of color “super predators.” I mean, I could have supported her and asked her to provide restitution to people harmed by such beliefs. Why didn’t I? What unchecked privilege and supremacy led me to be relatively passive in the face of such violent talk towards women and about people of color?
And now I have to dig deep in myself and realize what a hold white supremacy has on me and just how much of myself I’ve been willing to give up because it keeps me overall comfortable.
Well I’m not comfortable now. And you shouldn’t be either. I’m keeping front and center in my mind that it’s not just about me. And I’m going to do better and I’m not going to stop. And I urge those in my privileged white lady cohort to do the same.