What is wrong with white women? Why do half of them so consistently vote for Republicans, even as the Republican party morphs into a monstrously ugly organization that is increasingly indistinguishable from a hate group? The most likely answer seems to be that white women vote for Republicans for the same reason that white men do: because they are racist. Trump, with his raucous rallies and his bloviating, combative style, has offered his supporters an opportunity to savor the pleasures of being cruel. It is likely that the white women who voted for him in 2016, and who will vote for him again in 2020, find this racist sadism gratifying. It is fun for them.
But there is something else at play, something more complicated, in white women’s relationship to white patriarchy. White women’s identity places them in a curious position at the intersection of two vectors of privilege and oppression: they are granted structural power by their race, but excluded from it by their sex. In a political system where racism and sexism are both so deeply ingrained, white women must choose to be loyal to either the more powerful aspect of their identity, their race, or to the less powerful, their sex. Some Republican white women might lean into racism not only for racism’s sake, but also as a means of avoiding or denying the realities of how sexist oppression makes them vulnerable.
In her book Right Wing Women, the feminist Andrea Dworkin wrote that conservative women often conform to the dominant ideologies of the men around them as part of a subconscious survival strategy, hoping that their conservatism will spare them from male hatred and violence. It doesn’t work, she says. They suffer sexist oppression anyway. But the strategy continues. “Most women cannot afford, either materially or psychologically, to recognize that whatever burnt offerings of obedience they bring to beg protection will not appease the angry little gods around them.” Participating in racism does not exempt white women from sexism, as much as they might hope that it will. It merely corrodes their souls in the process.
Would it be mansplaining to suggest that the half of white women who are above average intelligence manage to recognise the above diagnosis as complete bullshit? And thus don’t vote or those spouting it?