The men who called me names were always white men, dressed in the shirts and ties that marked them as belonging to a different class than I did. They sat down next to me when I asked them not to, they kept touching me when I asked them to stop. They followed me when I got up from benches. They seemed to be emboldened by packs, and sometimes, alcohol, their breath stinking of it, their faces flushed.
It’s terrifying: a large group of young, drunk white men spilling out from a bar at happy hour, or leaning over a porch at a college party, or coming up the sidewalk—and noticing you. When does it start for most girls—ten years old, eleven? The comments about our bodies, the insinuation of what men would like to do and could easily do to us, the intimidation, the enactment of those threats.
I began to think of young white men as wolves. This is a difficult thing to unlearn. I have spent much of my life being constantly on guard as well trying to be open to goodness and compassion.
This is how the election changed me, though: I fear white women, too.
I have lived for years in a progressive place. My county is blue—and stayed blue. But my state is red. Somebody voted for Trump, a man who embodies bullying, misogyny, and abuse. A lot of somebodies. Poll data shows 53% of women voted for Trump. And not poor whites, who often take the blame, but upper-middle class white women. Women who were the girls I went to high school with. Women who run the school board. Women that a white woman like myself might have thought of as “safe.”
Who were they?
The day after the election, I had to buy food. There were a lot of women shopping, all looking tired or dazed, and I didn’t know whether to pause and smile and ask each one if she was okay—or to run. I went with running. I rushed through the store so fast I tripped. I can’t remember what I bought. I ran physically into one woman and froze. She looked at me and did not smile. I felt panic, confusion, hurt.
When I told my son the news about the election, he wept, like many children. I tried to reassure him that he is loved and safe. He said, “But there are Trump supporters everywhere.” I told him no, our county went for Clinton. I asked him, “How many Trump signs have you seen in our neighborhood?” The answer was two, just two Trump signs.
But the truth is, people without Trump signs voted Trump.
People I never thought about as being full of hate voted for hate, people I never thought much about at all, to tell you the truth, only to dismiss them: white women. White women, who are everywhere.
White women wait beside me to pick up our kids at school. White women sit next to me on bleachers at soccer games. White women edit my work as a writer. They accept or reject my ideas. They sign off on my paychecks. Do they hate me? I’m not middle class; I’m a single mother, and I have a physical disability. If they knew these things about me, if they knew my heart, would they hate me?
Would they come after me too?
I understand that this is something every person of color feels: every time they enter a store, every time they are stopped on a long country highway by a white cop. Do they hate me? Or more accurately: WHY do they hate me for no reason? Am I safe? And while I woke up the day after the election feeling betrayed by other white women, for years, people of color, gay and trans people, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people of non-Christian faiths have been betrayed, neglected, and actively persecuted by the world.
I wonder: Do the white women who went for Trump think that because I look like them, I’m like them? Would they think I’m complicit in his—and their—bigotry? I wrestle with the question of how I have benefitted from the privilege of being a white woman with a disability. I have less privilege than a white man—but more than a man of color. These are questions all white women need to ask ourselves.
Women of color have warned about white women, the dangers of a sisterhood that does not include all sisters—and were not listened to, not enough, not nearly enough. We can’t help what body we’re born into, what skin, what class. We can help what side of history we’re on. We can help how we speak up—and listen, listen, listen. And no, I won’t be complicit.
Rumpus original art by Alison Stine.