By Katie Staal
At the primary convention in Denver, Colorado in 2008, Barack Obama was elected as the Democratic Party candidate. A historic move for the United States, and one that is forever etched into my memory, and the memories of millions of people across the world. Obama, of course, ran against Hillary Clinton. When we discussed this at school the next day, my politics teacher clumsily explained in short that: ‘America was more sexist than racist’, at least in the Democratic Party vetting process. Of course I’m not sixteen anymore and I know now that both race and gender injustices are sourced from the same generic fear of the unknown. This is why feminism always stands at its most powerful when it is fully intersectional and inclusive.
Throughout the 2016 political campaign, the words from my teacher floated eerily back into my mind. How was America going to define itself when faced with the first election in modern history with a female candidate to complete the race? Post-Brexit blues had left many Londoners with a sour taste in their mouth so last week’s election found me pessimistic, and with a sinking feeling in my stomach. As I drifted uneasily to sleep, I considered that perhaps this time America was going to vote in force as a nation of unacknowledged sexists. Although the vote was close, this was ultimately confirmed as I woke up the morning after.
Hilary Clinton, although certainly a right-wing Democrat, has had a history of compassionate activism. She holds a bounty of political and legal qualifications along with a pre-existing reputation as the silent influencer of the Bill Clinton Presidency. ‘Mrs’ Clinton pushed for healthcare policy from within the White House before the nation had even muttered the name Barack Obama.
But after a thoroughly misogynistic campaign, America has voted for an unqualified candidate and, as a result, an unstable and unpredictable future. Perhaps people forget that ‘politician’ is a profession, just as a plumber or a builder.
As a woman I feel personally victimised by the white, uneducated men of the United States. The smug faces of those who believe so vehemently in the vague, impassioned, and colonial hyperbole of ‘taking back what’s ours.’ As white men, they have had undeniable privilege handed to them, and yet they feel the need to ‘take’ even more for themselves. The worst part: they have voted in this direction because of the years of pent-up frustration towards people who make a habit of calling out hurtful or derogatory behaviour. Political correctness becomes the enemy, and the extreme right surge into the mainstream.
All this aside, there is a lesson to be learnt here, and it is one that could potentially elevate feminism to a fully ‘commercial’ level in the eyes of a wider group of men. Since I discovered that there is a name for what ‘sexism’ is, I have realised how I am affected by it every single day. People are naturally opposed to strong inflammatory words, like ‘sexism’ or ‘racism’, but having a name to describe my experience gave me the golden opportunity to share it with others. Discussing feminism in social groups was both an emboldening and terrifying venture — empowering, as you find amongst your peers the feeling that you’re not alone. Terrifying because you live on the edge of an argument, with your feminist beliefs placing you on the knife-edge of often nasty and emotional disagreements. Often with a white man.
After a few pints, the rhetoric begins to flow: ‘Sexism doesn’t exist anymore’, ‘I’ve had women get paid more than me’, ‘I’ve never seen anyone get catcalled’. The list of argument catalysts is endless and tireless. These conversations permeate both our public and private spaces: from otherwise nice trips to the pub to the comments section of uni papers like The Tab or UniLAD. I almost cried with joy the day a male friend backed me up in one of these pub exchanges (he had started dating a feminist).
Getting into verbal fights over whether something is legitimately ‘sexism’, or being casually derailed by a man with a different perspective to you is undeniably a typically Western, middle-class and educated female problem. It’s not a new problem either. Nonetheless, it is an experience which quashes your sense of self, and this feeling is representative of everyone who has ever felt different or discriminated against, from all backgrounds across the world.
What’s interesting about the Trump vote is that his public ‘faux pas’, a.k.a. rampant sexism, provide a fairly foolproof example that can help us all silence mansplaining voices. Sexism does exist and here’s the proof! Ha! (Not that we need it, but here it is!)
This sexism is the very mandate that Trump has been elected on by the most powerful most assumed ‘forward thinking’ Western superpower in year 2016, now. Right now. His history of harassment and abuse towards women has been exposed for the world to see, and even the most loyal Republicans were reluctant to dismiss it as ‘locker talk’.
In case you need more fuel to the fire: Mongolia elected a female president in the 1950s and Argentina, Sri-Lanka and Israel followed suit in the 1970s. Yet the United States of America would rather vote for (someone polled as) the most unpopular political candidate ever. They would rather mobilise as a mob for this, than vote for a woman. That’s enough for us in the UK to combat a century of patronising pub talk.
As feminists, we have always known that this sexist community existed. We also know that this community was larger than many men would admit in the company of women (see: trendy ‘not all men’ arguments/’Mennists’). But now, this community has been placed on display on a global scale. Obama helped us to believe in change, but Trump is a visual embodiment of the USA’s true colours: and that colour is as white and male as it always has been. Trump has helped bring our attention to the problems that 21st century women have been screaming about since the day we understood — and felt brave enough to declare — what sexism is.
So, thanks for that Donald.