With recent revelations about BBC gender pay disparities making headlines, and a magazine like Maclean’s going so far as to ask men to pay more for their issue about the pay gap, it’s fair to say that gender equality, or a lack thereof is on people’s minds.
Over the past century women’s rights have made great leaps and bounds, particularly in the West. Women have earned the right to vote, we are able to participate in the military, in political life, and we can hold any job that a man can.
Unfortunately, with power comes responsibility. When looking at women’s actions, past and present, we need to remember that we are just as capable of making bad decisions as men. Even though the idea of women’s historical agency and participation is fairly progressive, that doesn’t mean that all women are progressive.
According to exit polls, in the 2016 presidential election, more than half of white female voters cast their vote for Donald Trump. While the overwhelming majority of women voted for Clinton, this subset exists and it exists for a reason. When given the opportunity, women are just as capable as men of picking the wrong side. While this sort of misguided political support has always been more systematically available to men, it is not unique to them.
Another, more recent example of this misguided support is the support of Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Despite allegations that Moore pursued sexual relationships with teenagers, white women rallied around him. According to CNN one woman, Jane Porter, went as far as saying, “Because it’s not about facts. It’s not about trust. It’s not about women. It’s about the assassination of an honourable man who is running for Senate.” Saying that allegations of sexual misconduct with female teenagers isn’t about women is ridiculous. Or is it?
Both Trump’s election and female support of Roy Moore show that white women are more interested in supporting men who share their ideologies than they are in supporting other women. And supporting your ideologies is fine, it isn’t inherently wrong, men do it all the time. However, it starts to be wrong when these ideologies are problematic. When they become racist, sexist, xenophobic, classist, or otherwise oppressive, that’s when we have a problem. And unfortunately, white women have a habit of showing their support most strongly when one of those factors is at play.
White women are drawn towards extreme beliefs when it benefits them in some way, real or perceived. In her book, Hitler’s Furies, Wendy Lower uncovers and explores this idea. German women flocked towards the Nazi regime not just because of its ideology, but also because of its practicality. It allowed young German women freedom unlike any they had ever experienced. Supporting the Nazi party was beneficial because it allowed them the freedom to leave the home, serve the military in some capacity, and have “adventures” that would have been otherwise unavailable. Many German women may have genuinely believed in the Nazi ideology, but for others supporting the party was simply a gateway into a new, more interesting life.
The Ku Klux Klan is an even more recent example of white women supporting an ideology that left them feeling empowered. They may not have been superior to white men, but at least they could feel superior to everyone else. For women who are used to submission and subservience to men, the opportunity to dominate other people, to get to be better than them, could have been incredibly appealing.
Gender equality means giving women a deeper, more nuanced identity. This depth and nuance can make women’s identities more complicated, and not always as nice as we would like to imagine. Allowing women to express and experience these complex identities means accepting the good, as well as the bad.
Getting closer to gender equality means having the first woman in U.S. history win the nomination of a major political party, but also allowing American women to vote freely. Even if that means voting for an unqualified, sexist, xenophobic man instead.