Despite his boorish chauvinism, Trump won with the backing of the majority of white woman voters. An unthinkable outcome? Not if you've followed the Tea Partyby Melissa Deckman / January 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
America was supposed to elect its first female president in 2016. National polls, media elites and political scientists all pointed to victory for Hillary Clinton. Women’s rights organisations were certain that US voters would finally embrace female national leadership and give an inspiring example to America’s daughters. It was hoped that she would guarantee the continuation of practical advances on childcare to abortion rights, on which candidate Clinton had taken an emphatic stand.
To most feminists it was unimaginable that America and especially American women would embrace Donald Trump, the man who had shown the sort of contempt for the female half of the electorate which even bigots
with political ambitions would ordinarily reserve for small minorities. America had—lest we forget—heard him cuss one woman journalist for “bleeding out of her whatever,” blame Bill Clinton’s infidelities on Hillary’s inability to “satisfy” him, and bragged about his own ability to grab women’s private parts. In the end, women voters did vote for Clinton in higher numbers than Trump, but not by the margin required. The bitter truth for those women’s rights groups is that women were pivotal to Trump’s success: exit polls revealed, among white women, that Trump secured an outright majority of 53 per cent. How could this happen? What sort of women made it possible? And what sort of role will they play in the incoming administration, and indeed in Trump’s America?
Not for the first time, American feminists have been reminded that women in the US are far from uniform in terms of political ideology—many are deeply reactionary, and some are increasingly energetic about it. If November’s result—and particularly Trump’s advantage among white women—strikes many as a bolt from the blue, that is probably because they’ve not been paying adequate attention to the American right these last several years.
In Tea Party Women, I profiled a new generation of conservative women activists, many of whom first became active in politics with the launch of the Tea Party movement after Barack Obama’s election. While right-wing movements in US politics are nothing new, the Tea Party is distinctive in the leading role that women played as leaders. Decentralised and operating through social media, it allowed conservative women opportunities to become leaders in their own right, bypassing more hierarchical, traditional conservative organisations—including the Republican Party. And some female leaders of the movement have achieved an extraordinary profile—think of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann (opposite).