100 Years of Women Voting: Twisted

White Women Got the Vote, but Black Women Know How to Use It

COVID-19, mental health
Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

OPINION

According to a current New York Times poll of registered voters conducted by Nate Cohn, former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Donald J. Trump in every demographic — most impressively among women voters, where his lead is historic: Biden polls ahead of Trump by a margin of 25 percent. Of course, it’s only June; there are five long months until the general election, and let us not forget that in 2016, 53 percent of white women voters pulled the lever for Trump.

So it’s too early to suggest that all women are on the same page. Among the more than 470,000 people marching against Trump and Trumpism at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC, some discord among females of different races and ethnic backgrounds was palpable. Many Black women carried signs that said: “White Women Elected Trump,” causing the occasional chill. 

But the tension between Black and white feminists in the US is not news and wasn’t when voters cast their ballots in 2016 — it is nearly two centuries old. 

In the mid-19th century, countless women joined men in fighting to end slavery, but those striving to bring women the vote were not always in favor of abolition. In fact, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a founder of the suffrage movement and long considered a heroine of women’s history, was a racist and elitist of the worst kind. 

Historians credit abolitionism as the movement that birthed the American struggle for women’s rights; however, the early feminist movement in the US was predominantly white. Many would argue that the racial divide persists to this day, and the Washington marchers in 2017 provided evidence.

But the protests that began with the killing of George Floyd suggest a turning point, at last. The multiculturalism of the crowds provides hope for new solidarity. 

One of the slogans of Second Wave Feminism — the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s — provides an apt description of the current experience of both women and men, whether white, Black, Asian, Latinx, or LGBTQ: “The personal is political.” 

Despite the flaws of the American feminist movement, many hard-fought gains of 19th- and 20th-century women’s rights advocates have unquestionably bettered the lives of millions, and of course make it possible for women to be a powerful voting bloc this year. 

One of the slogans of Second Wave Feminism — the women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s — provides an apt description of the current experience of both women and men, whether white, Black, Asian, Latinx, or LGBTQ: “The personal is political.” 

Better Dead Than Live?

There is nothing more personal than life and death, and nothing more High Politics than an American presidential election. The relationship between the two this year is more than coexistence — they are, as the theorists would say, intersectional. And this relationship is further complicated by the constant misinformation spewed forth from the White House.

With a massive propaganda campaign dismissing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to believe what we’re seeing with our own eyes. One woman, quoted in the Seattle Times, said, “It’s bizarre — that’s the right word for it. I’m trying to raise awareness about a pandemic, in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t know why this needs to be done. It’s baffling to me.”

Oh, COVID-19 is there all right, though its denial causes dis-ease. The virus challenges each infected individual’s immune system; Donald Trump, guilty of failure of leadership, and rank politicization of millions of Americans’ fight for their lives, should not receive immunity for that crime. 

This at the same time that George Floyd’s, Rayshard Brooks’s, and Breonna Taylor’s lives, lost at the hands of police, are undeniable evidence that the most personal experiences of loss, grief, and anger are the flags flying atop our tall political mast, buffeted by Trump’s hot wind machine. Again, we question our own eyes: In crowdsourced videos, Twitter and YouTube document violence against Black people and demonstrators, while the White House press corps dutifully reports the president and his allies spouting fascist nonsense about protesters being the problem. Their solution: send in the troops, although they’ve already sent in the clowns.

If there were a contest for feminist slogan of the year, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the winner should be, “The personal is political.” Coming in second place? A Third Wave Feminism slogan: “The local is global.” 

I Saw Some Crazy Scenes

The pandemic of 2020 has produced a rare sense of global community. Each day we see numbers and stories about people in distant lands that, before COVID-19, we would have been hard-pressed to place on a map. We all fear the same symptoms but also face the same challenges.

For example, as reported recently by WhoWhatWhy, struggles of people in one of the poorest countries in the world, Nigeria, include lack of easily available testing, confused government messaging, and looming hunger and poverty — the same issues we face in the US, one of the richest countries in the world. 

Despite billions of people worldwide lacking access to the internet, and restrictions eliminating most international travel, this disease is bringing us together — if only to recognize that every human on the planet is related. We see and hear much more volunteerism and random acts of kindness than in pre-COVID America. Neighbors deliver food to shut-ins, friends gather to sew free masks for health workers, and musicians perform online to raise money for members of the gig economy whose jobs have gone with the wind. It seems… enlightened.

Philosophers of the mind define human consciousness as the ability to relate meaningfully to oneself, other conscious beings, and the unconscious world. Eastern philosophers (and French deconstructionists) add the notion that the boundaries among us are constructs — inventions of the mind. We must accept that our essence and that of, say, Mitch McConnell and the gulper eel are all part of a great cosmic oneness. For example, in order to survive we all share Sen. McConnell’s dependence on oxygen and the eel’s dependence on water. Walt Whitman would congratulate us on finally figuring out that we are all the same cell material, recycled Leaves of Grass.

And once we recognize our oneness and interdependence, we just might finally be able to save the world through more mutual understanding. 

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My Analyst Told Me… 

We also share a strange mood that is spreading throughout the nation and around the world. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of Americans report feeling… just a little bit crazy, and it’s easy to understand why.

First, no matter where we go, there is a microscopic creature lying in wait. This little virus piggybacks through the air on droplets of fluid and clings tenaciously to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us, gorging on systemic racism and economic disparity, driving fear into the hearts of those with neither medical insurance nor a clean bill of health. If that’s insufficiently worrying, inject a dose of guilt into the consciences of those fortunate enough to have a medical safety net (assuming these elites understand how the twin lotteries of birthplace and genetics play a major role in privilege). Suddenly, that speck of DNA and protein called SARS-CoV-2 seems visible to the naked eye, in its many-splendored horror.

Yet it is marginalized or denied — loudly — by Trump and his bleating allies, enablers, and followers. 

Second, there is full, in-the-public-view, no-longer-deniable racism, pure and simple. With every new act of police brutality, anger and grief explode like flash-bangs. Yes, there is a canyon to bridge between those who grew up knowing firsthand the weight of being Black in America and those who did not. However, the magnitude and composition of the protests suggest that maybe even white women are learning how to be antiracist.

Police brutality is rapidly becoming an equal-opportunity threat, driving home an important lesson about how Black Americans have felt for centuries. Indeed, pick up a sign and march too closely to that thin blue line, and you too can get tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets, whether a peaceful protester of any age, race, or gender, or a journalist with a press pass especially if you’re in the way of a Donald Trump photo op. Lie down in the middle of the highway like you really mean it — you’re fed up — and you’ll be waltzed off to jail in cuffs. Shatter a window into pieces, and you’re a “thug” and more of a danger to society than a steely-eyed murderer. 

And then there is the hysteria of the mainstream media: round-the-clock cable news coverage of death and violence, screaming banner headlines about an impending Depression worse than in the 1930s, and now, the returning coverage of Trump rallies, at which undoubtedly his base will hear what a superb job he has done eradicating any and all threats to loyal American citizens, while he does his level best through incendiary tweets to incite further chaos he can put down with law and order.

The resulting cognitive dissonance — conflicting thoughts and behavior that can’t be resolved — is so exhausting that it’s tempting either to assume the problem is all in our heads, or to bury our heads in the sand. Whether gasping for breath under a cop’s knee or an oxygen tent in the ICU, people are suffocating and dying by the tens of thousands — but we only see one or two atrocities on our screens. Is it possible we’ve made it all up? Do we need to go to the therapist and find a quick way to quiet our minds? 

Maybe. And maybe we should also make a cup of herbal tea and light some incense. It can’t hurt. 

But the truth is, our individual feelings of disorientation are just as endemic to our current culture as racism. Are the propagandists winning? We are confused. If it was hard before to reconcile what is reported on Fox News and MSNBC, now we doubt our own personal experiences and perceptions.

Only serious political and structural change will ease the real physical pain and hardship that millions of people experience every day, and quiet the current chaos in our heads.

Two Heads Are Better Than One 

Witnessing the outrage of people so tired of the status quo that they finally take to the streets suggests perhaps we are coming closer to the ideal of a higher consciousness, which the Buddhists would say is one of our reasons for being alive. 

Our virtual, socially distanced embrace of one another’s causes gives us hope that perhaps, in the face of death and despair, poverty and hunger, we are finally capable of making the epic leap we need. 

Witness it once more: Police taking a knee, children on their parents’ shoulders, aging Boomer faces etched with memories of the Vietnam War, women in sensible shoes who decades ago held aloft ERA and abortion rights banners, millennials in recycled #BlackLivesMatter T-shirts next to teens who have never marched before. If not a higher consciousness, at the very least a more productive sense of unity is growing.

Our collective woes, which of course include hunger, poverty, violence, plenty of non-COVID diseases, and the slow-motion destruction of our planet’s environment, are not of individual making. No single one of us is wholly responsible — not even white women voters — and yet all of us who benefit from centuries of others’ oppression and blandly accept the status quo are to blame. Only serious political and structural change will ease the physical pain and hardship that millions of people experience every day, and quiet the current chaos in our heads.

If we can march as one in mourning the lost lives of countless Black Americans — to neighborhood gunshots, police brutality, incarceration, addiction, poverty, and preventable disease — can’t we also stand together to demand that voting rights, our most precious democratic privilege, must be protected this fall? Otherwise, Trump and his lackeys will try to steal those votes as surely as they’ve tried to silence our voices and steal our sanity.

By crowdsourcing courage, we could transcend these last few years of gloom and the steady march of jackboots from neo-Nazis, far-right militias, and the halls of Congress. If white women vote the way Black women do, we could achieve the peaceful revolution that democracy has always promised. 

This much we know is true: Soothing ourselves individually, personally, with a glass of chardonnay or online retail therapy, is now more than ever not the answer. The great competitive individualism of America will not work. To keep the momentum going, we must pull together, pick up our placards, don our collective, politicized masks, and take to the socially distanced streets — all while keeping the personal political.

Those recent polls of US voters show the majority of women — 59 percent — strongly rejecting the politics of the last four years. An ABC/Washington Post survey shows that while support for Trump among non-college-educated men has not dropped one percentage point since 2016, his support from non-college-educated white women has dropped 11 points — from 61 to 50 percent — in the past weeks alone. 

Despite their best efforts, the Trump propagandists are failing to keep women divided racially — in fact, maybe he is the toxic therapy that can finally end the centuries-long divide. If this orange-haired imposter is sent packing in November, Kipling’s observation from a century ago will be proved correct, again: The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Note: Special thanks to Joni Mitchell, whose lyrics  prove crazy is genius.

Lisa Paige, PhD, has served as contributor to and editor-in-chief of city-regional magazines and city papers in Pennsylvania; she also taught literature, writing, and feminist history at Elizabethtown College, and edited multiple books. She holds degrees from Harvard University and Bryn Mawr College.


The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: woman at home (Smart Chicago Collaborative / Flickr), counselor (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), books (bobistraveling / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), and cup (nicehotcupofT / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Kat Jayne / Pexels.

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