The midterms were a feminist triumph: Tuesday was dominated by wins for women — women of color in particular — leading to a record-breaking number of women who will be serving in Congress. There was also a slew of notable firsts, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the youngest woman ever elected to Congress), Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland (the first Native American women), and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar (the first Muslim women). As Cecile Richards put it, “women were the heroes of this election.”
Some, however, were the villains.
While women were a driving force behind many of the Democrats’ successes, some were also responsible for some of the party’s major losses. After all, it was white female Republicans who brought wins home for Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and, possibly, Brian Kemp. Despite efforts to reach across the aisle, the majority of white women who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 have not realized the error of their ways, and likely never will. The hope of changing these key voters’ minds by pointing out the craven bigotry of the GOP or the president’s distinct lack of moral compass was, and remains, a fantasy.
The truth is that white Republican women are not waiting for their minds to be changed by well-meaning feminists.
It’s time to dispense with the myth of American sisterhood. Women are not a monolith, and the women who support Trumpian Republicans — in the face of horrific injustices — will not change.
If they were unmoved by traumatized children being ripped from their mothers’ arms, there is little hope of reaching them on a moral or maternal level. If they are not disgusted by the President’s racist and misogynist speech they are not likely to be swayed by arguments about civility and equality. If the women who are voting for Republicans can look at what is happening to this country and the most marginalized people in it — including themselves — and continue to support them, it may be time to write them off as a lost cause.
The truth is that white Republican women are not waiting for their minds to be changed by well-meaning feminists; they are happy to vote for Trump. As author Rebecca Traister has written, “White women, who enjoy proximal power from their association with white men, have often served as the white patriarchy’s most eager foot soldiers.” (Brittney Cooper and Elizabeth Gillespie McRae’s work is invaluable on this front.)
I used to believe in spending political energy and capital on changing these women’s minds; I suspect many other women still do. In the run-up to the election, there were think pieces about evangelical women, for example, who could not square their beliefs with Trump’s cruel policies and bombast. I also know plenty of white women who try to chip away at the beliefs of their Trump-supporting female family members, hoping that if they say the right thing or debate convincingly enough, their loved one might see the light.
I admire such efforts and imagine it occasionally works. But those who believe it’s possible to flip female Trump supporters on a mass scale are overlooking how unwilling these women are to give up the benefits that white supremacy and patriarchy have bestowed upon them.
Instead of focusing on women who have long shown us where their loyalties lay, Democrats are better served by continuing the grassroots organizing we saw by some of the winning women this week: Reaching out to voters who have been abandoned by the left or working to enfranchise voters whose rights have been suppressed.
So I’m still counting this week as a feminist win. America’s political representation is one step closer to looking like Americans, and there’s no going back from the wave of activism and democratic participation that led to this point. But it wasn’t only women — and definitely not all women — who got us here. And it won’t be all women who continue the fight.