Why Conservative Women Vote For Alleged Sexual Abusers

When it comes to defending Donald Trump and Roy Moore, recent polls indicate white women are part of the problem

Roy Moore speaks to the audience as wife Kayla looks on at his election party in Montgomery, Ala., on election night—Nov. 6, 2012 (AP Photo/David Bundy, File)

Roy Moore speaks to the audience as wife Kayla looks on at his election party in Montgomery, Ala., on election night—Nov. 6, 2012 (AP Photo/David Bundy, File)

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the women of America stumbled around feeling more than a little shell-shocked. How had we gone from anticipating a woman would become the first president of the United States to having a sexual predator in the White House? It was like an unpleasant episode of the Twilight Zone where we’d suddenly been transported to a strange world. Up was down, and right was wrong.

Perhaps the worst of this betrayal came in the following days when we learned that it wasn’t just the progressive allies we’d come to trust that had betrayed us. It was other women. Women who looked like us, whose kids played with our kids, who volunteered at our schools and ran the potlucks at church. How had they carefully weighed a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and decided a man like Trump was the lesser of two evils?

It seemed unfathomable as if these women had been living in an entirely different country than the one you and I experience. And in all the polls and Trump voter profiles since then, it’s been a persistent question. Why would so many women choose to vote against their own interests?

We saw this phenomenon come to the forefront of the national conversation again last week when a new poll by the Washington Post indicated that Moore enjoys a 19 point margin of support among white women in Alabama.

Moore has been accused by nine women thus far of various forms of harassment, including groping, aggressive and unwanted kissing, attempting to force fellatio, and threatening victims. The fact that these girls were all barely past puberty, most commonly between the ages of 14 and 15, makes Moore more than a sexual predator. It makes him a pedophile. Hebephilia is a marked sexual preference for pubescent rather than adult partners and is classified as a subset of pedophilia, defined as a mental disorder by psychologists.

How can 57% of white women in Alabama watch those photos parade across their TVs and remain staunchly convinced that voting for Moore is the moral choice? Can’t they see in those images the faces of their daughters and granddaughters, their friends and colleagues? Can’t they see themselves reflected in these stories?

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When Time announced the women behind #MeToo were the winners of Person of the Year, the internet exploded in applause. The backlash to Trump’s election had been swift, giving rise to the Resistance and prompting women across America to step up and speak out about misogyny in this country. And we are making progress. The tide is turning towards justice for women who have not only endured centuries of oppression, but some survivors who have lived with secrets and shame for decades.

And yet sexism persists. Certainly, men bear the responsibility to become better allies, to get educated, and to keep their damn hands to themselves. But we have to take a step back and ask ourselves why so many women seem to participate in condoning misogynistic behavior and in perpetuating its hold on this country.

It’s there in every whispered doubt about the authenticity of a victim’s account when she speaks out against a Democrat. It’s in the swift judgment we give other women for the clothes they wear, the kind of moms they are and the career choices they make. It’s in tweets that suggest that women should stay silent about abuse for the greater good.

If we ever want to truly understand and address the root causes of misogyny in America, we’ll need to get to the bottom of this question.

Why are women complicit in their own oppression?

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Women as misogynists? You betcha.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that centuries of oppression have not left some kind of mark on the collective psyche of women. The effects of systematic sexism continue to be felt across all cultures and likely will be for generations, even as our society moves away from strict gender roles and grows more tolerant of different gender identities.

We can not expect that some enlightened women burned their bras (They didn’t by the way. That’s an urban myth.) and demanded access to birth control in the 1960s and now everything is just fine. Societal transformation is a long, slow slog with frequent setbacks. As far as feminism is concerned, we’re still very much in the trenches. And often, the enemy that we’re facing is ourselves.

A woman named Carol Hanisch and a few others organized a protest outside of Miss America where they tossed “feminine” associated items into a “Freedom Trash Can.."

A woman named Carol Hanisch and a few others organized a protest outside of Miss America where they tossed “feminine” associated items into a “Freedom Trash Can..”

The tendency of women to perpetuate rigid gender roles and to oppress other women is referred to as internalized misogyny. It is defined as the “involuntary internalization of sexist messaging,” and it’s a particularly tricky beast that even the best among us succumb to on occasion. The most difficult part about internalized misogyny is that it often takes the guise of something else.

It’s in the conservative Mom who thinks she’s helping young women learn modesty by policing their hemlines or in the way we always open conversations with little girls by complimenting cute clothes or carefully styled hair. It’s the way we admonish women to be considerate, to subjugate their own needs for those of others. It’s a thousand little gestures and subtle signs our society sends out like flares, lighting up the path of propriety for women to walk.

Conservative ladies seem to be the textbook examples of internalized misogyny within the political arena. Examples like Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, and Ivanka Trump abound. Carefully coiffed and polished, they teeter on high heels all day, looking down their noses at feminists and spouting conservative talking points that seek to control and demean other women.

This adherence to gender roles is baked into the conservative ideal of what a woman should be. Those who conform are celebrated and promoted, but only as objects of desire or as props for political purposes and rarely as legitimate candidates or leaders.

Instances of misogynistic attitudes by Ann Coulter or even icons like Angela Lansbury are the blatant kind of sexism that’s fairly easy to call out. The 92-year-old actress outraged fans last week when she went on a victim blaming rant in response to a question about sexual harassment in Hollywood.

“There are two sides to this coin. We have to own up to the fact that women, since time immemorial, have gone out of their way to make themselves attractive. And unfortunately it has backfired on us?—?and this is where we are today. We must sometimes take blame, women. I really do think that. Although it’s awful to say we can’t make ourselves look as attractive as possible without being knocked down and raped.” –Angela Lansbury, Interview with Radio Times

Other instances of internalized misogyny are a more subtle and difficult to quantify. Take for example my own sneaky sexism which sabotages me on a regular basis. I’m a feminist with a degree in women’s studies and decades of activism under my belt. I still shave my legs several times a week, even in the dead of winter. My husband could care less. He’s even verbalized that he finds body hair perfectly acceptable and natural and that he wishes I would stop investing time shaving. Rationally, I can see other women with unshaved legs or armpits and support their decision. But I can’t get past my own feelings of revulsion.

This is internalized misogyny, ladies. And after centuries of conditioning when it comes to gender roles, it’s not something we should be blamed for. Goodness knows there is plenty of victim-blaming going on and we don’t need to contribute to that narrative. But we do need to acknowledge that women can and are sometimes the agents of their own oppression. And be aware of our own bias so we can work to overcome it and not let it perpetuate itself in our personal and political choices.

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The Myth of Choice

I can hear the chorus of objections clamoring, so let’s get to your talking point. Because I’m guessing it’s the same thing I struggle with when we talk about women as misogynists. When women conform to gender roles, they are choosing to do so and isn’t the choice part of what makes it an act of empowerment?

This is a VERY charged topic, and I want to tread carefully here. Because the idea that we are not in control of our own choices can feed into feelings of victimization and vulnerability, especially for survivors of sexual assault. The illusion of choice is an important part of how we cope with a misogynistic world, and it’s one of the reason so many women fight hard for control of their own reproductive rights. We cling to the idea of free agency because it’s the only power that we have.

But in many ways, the idea of free agency or choice is an illusion. Let’s use another example to illustrate the point here. Are you one of the millions of women who tuck tampons discretely into pockets or hide them up the cuff of your sleeve on your way to the bathroom at work? Yep. We all do it. And while it might feel as though you’re making a choice about modesty and being discrete about your monthly menses, there are lots of other things that have influenced that behavior.

It’s only been in the last decade or two that society has attempted to expose period shaming for what it is?—?a tool of a misogynistic society that has tried to distance women from the natural processes of their bodies for centuries. So while you may feel as if you are making a choice to avoid embarrassment by stuffing that tampon into your pocket, you’re also participating in a long tradition of using “modesty” as a guise for misogyny.

Take for instance the religious right’s strange obsession with female modesty, as exemplified by the popularity of purity balls. This custom dates back centuries to a society in which women were expected to be virgins before their wedding day because their purity was a commodity, to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Looking at modern day pictures of these bizarre rituals, you’re not wrong to feel utterly disgusted by the sexual overtones of these photos.

We might say it is a daughter’s choice to participate in rituals like these. But is it? When we’ve raised girls to believe that their value lies in their appearance, that their virginity is a commodity, and that their experiences as sexual beings belong to someone else, it’s hard to argue those women can turn into healthy adults capable of making informed choices. We’ve sent subtle messages to these girls since infancy that their bodies are not their own. That they exist for the pleasure of men.

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Woman as Other

I’m going to ask you to do a little exercise and even if it seems silly at first, just humor me. Stand up and walk across the room. Don’t think about anything specific. Just walk a few steps and then come back.

Now think about what you saw in your “mind’s eye” as you walked across the room. Did you see the objects around you or maybe even focus on the feel of the carpet? Or did your mind’s eye produce a picture of you as you assume you look to others, crossing the room and turning around and coming back? Did your brain place you in that scene as an object or did you control your environment?

For the vast majority of women and minorities, they are conditioned to see themselves performing acts as others might see them. Objectification distances us from ourselves, but it also teaches us that our value is determined by how we appear to others. For women, this is specifically wrapped up in how we look and whether or not we are objects of desire.

If our entire lives we have learned to determine our value by how others see us, it becomes natural to take roles of subservience. Women become caretakers who measure the success of their lives not in how much money they make or power they wield, but in the relationships they have.

It’s not just society that places women firmly in the role of mother and wife. Women often do it to themselves simply because we’ve been conditioned to value those roles and skills. This is why childless women are frowned upon and unmarried women are ostracized. It’s not just society that sees them as failures. Often, the pressure of conforming to those gender norms makes women regard themselves as failures after even unavoidable events like the loss of a child or a divorce.

The women of Alabama may feel some sympathy for the victims of Roy Moore’s sexual deviance privately but in public they maintain a stoic front of disbelief. Their duty as wives is their first loyalty and it will not allow them to admit a sliver of doubt even in the face of unrelenting evidence. Take for instance Roy Moore’s wife Kayla and her Facebook campaign to spread fake news about her husband’s accusers.

When women depend on men not only for their economic needs, but also for their sense of value and purpose, an act of revolt against a misogynistic culture can crumble their entire reality. We’ve conditioned women to believe that being supported and protected by a man is the way in which she can stay safe in our society.

This is especially true for evangelical women who may have been raised not only within the confines of deeply religious homes that stress modesty and subservience but also exist as part of a religious institution that actively denies women the ability to make choices about reproduction. Evangelical women spend a majority of their lives in communities that glorify the role of mother and wife but demonize the woman who dares to extend the sphere of her influence beyond her own household.

For some of these women, speaking out against outdated gender roles would be a revolt against decades of religious conditioning. It’s a tough sell for those who remain deeply reliant on their husbands, their church, and their communities.

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Women who conform to expectations about appearance and gender roles tend to also expect other women to do the same, and they are most often the perpetrators of “slut shaming.” A study conducted by a social intelligence company called Brandwatch analyzed millions of tweets and discovered that 52 percent of misogynistic hate speech tweets actually come from women. Think tank Demos expanded on this study, determining that half of misogynistic tweets containing the word “whore or slut” also came from women.

This kind of vitriol can be especially fierce in industries like Hollywood, sports, or the business world where women compete for a man’s attention and may often be pitted against one another for career advancement opportunities. In instances like these women turn to weaponizing their appearance for maximum impact and demeaning others to reinforce their own superiority, making it difficult for women to rely on one another to call out harassment or misogyny in the workplace.

For humans who have been raised to believe they should be kind and non- confrontational, we’re awfully nasty to one another. And we’re going to have to fix that if we’d like to begin building a future that is female.

Before we go out into the world determined to expose our own misogyny, I want to address the elephant in the room. The very, very white elephant. While middle-class white women struggled with their own misogyny, women of color overwhelming voted for Hillary Clinton. And they’ll probably overwhelmingly vote against Roy Moore.

So I don’t want to pretend that there isn’t more than a little racism at work here but that’s a different article for a different day. For now, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work. Because the great thing about being part of the problem, is that you’re also part of the solution.

I hope the women of Alabama understand that when they slip into the voting booth on Tuesday and pull the curtain, there is only one person there. And in that moment she’s not a mom or a wife. She’s just a voter, pulling the lever for a candidate that she believes will best represent her. Not her church. Not her husband. Not her party. Her.

She deserves to be represented by someone who believes women deserve equal pay. She deserves to represented by someone who will work to make sure she is safe in her home and at work. She deserves to pursue her dreams and make her own choices. And every woman, conservative or liberal, deserves a better representative than Roy Moore.

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