If you had asked me Wednesday morning whether I could envision anything worse than the election of Donald Trump I likely would have said no. But, as life often teaches you, there is always something worse, and by Wednesday afternoon I had already begun to encounter it.
No sooner had I finished watching Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, then I started noticing some men on my Facebook feed posting articles or comments about why Trump might not be so bad. Then it began popping up in conversation. I’m not talking strangers either, or red state family members or people with whom I attended high school — I grew up in Canada, and hold citizenship there, and the only explaining I’ve been called to do regarding Trump is why I continue to live in a country that elected him.
I’m talking friends, and boyfriends of friends, and one or two husbands of friends, some of whom I know for a fact voted for Clinton, and none of whom were Trump supporters (to the best of my knowledge, anyway; I mean, who knows at this point). All of them were white, it should be noted.
The articles and updates I encountered were mostly along the lines of, “You should wait and see” or “His tax plan actually might be a good thing” or “I don’t think he really meant what he said.” When I shared a post from a female friend noting that many people were missing the fact that “voters were voting FOR racism, jingoism, bigotry, and sexism” a male friend of mine, whom I’ve known for more than a decade, responded, “I'm hoping the Trump administration and America will prove you wrong. You're fellow Americans aren't so bad.”
In short, it was a lot of mansplaining. And it has left me feeling even more bereft and alarmed. It has also left me feeling somewhat invisible to people whose presence I care about in my life.
To be clear, this has not been the reaction of every white man in my life, and I’m also very much aware that much of this response was, and is, well-meant. To comfort is instinctual human behavior. “It’s going to be alright” is a knee-jerk response to just about anyone you encounter in a state of upset. But the end result is the same: it does not take into consideration, as a real, valid truth, the experience of many women this week.
Even now, to describe what the women I know are feeling as a “state of upset” vastly diminishes the experience of life post-Tuesday. Trauma might be a better word. “Deep grief” is how my friend, Rebecca Soffer who runs the site Modern Loss, characterized it. Numerous New Yorkers I know, including myself, had to reach back to September 11, 2001 to find an experience that felt similarly unnerving; the sensation of suddenly being yanked from everyday life with all its normal expectations, and thrust through a door we didn’t know was there, into a new, deeply surreal, difficult to comprehend reality. More than a few friends have described Tuesday as being equal to the loss of a parent. It’s not something one wakes up from the next day able to function normally. I have sent and received more texts than I can count from and to women: “Are you okay?” No is the answer. We are not okay. So far no man I know has thought to inquire the same, instead they seem to be rather intent on finding a silver lining.
No women I know have tried to find the bright side of this. There is no bright side. Nor have we wondered whether Donald Trump, after being elected on a platform of misogyny and racism, may actually mean what he says. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” Maya Angelou famously advised. It’s advice I’ve learned the hard way to apply in both my own dating and professional life, but is even more dangerously apt here. And why shouldn’t we believe him? He has basically said the same thing, over and over, his entire life. Why, I want to ask these people, would suddenly being granted immense power change him? The question we should be asking is, why do you not believe him?
The answer is, as it always is when one part of a population’s trauma is disregarded, because Trump’s election does not put these men’s physical being at risk. Their bodies are not on the line. Nor, honestly, is there much chance they will be. “Come here, I have a secret” tweeted a male friend the day after Trump had gone on 60 Minutes and explicitly spoke of repealing Roe v. Wade, “Donald Trump is pro-choice.” The over-use of the word privilege has nearly worn out its effectiveness this election cycle, but its continued pervasive presence is breathtaking.
None of this should have been quite so shocking, I realize. It was naive to have expected change to happen quickly or smoothly. Trump’s victory, after all, has not been quite as breathtaking for people of color, or minorities, I know; they have been — as has been repeatedly and essentially pointed out in many places this week — living with this reality since the inception of this nation. All the rage I’m feeling towards male friends so easily theorizing about the ramifications of this week’s election on women, is a variation on the way people of color and minorities often feel towards white people, even well-meaning ones, who talk about the experience of race in this country as an imagined thing, a side issue.
Perhaps too, the “here’s why this will be fine” response would have been easier to shake off had it been limited to a handful of conversations and postings. It’s much simpler to forgive and accommodate individuals who play multiple roles in our lives. However, the message that this election result was due to Hillary’s lack of appeal, or the hope Trump might not be who he says he is (in this argument, no one seems to consider he might be worse), or even that we should wait and see seems to be everywhere.
There’s been a lot of talk in the last few days about normalization. With breathtaking swiftness, cable news and newspapers have begun to treat Trump as though he were simply a normal president-elect, albeit one with a few flaws. The apotheosis of this is People magazine’s current cover — this from the magazine whose reporter revealed last month she’d been harassed by Trump — which makes it seem like Trump’s ascension is the result of America electing the best version of itself. To a slightly lesser degree you can find it in the language of New York Times headlines, and their op-ed pages (this Ross Douthat column…good lord).
Far more disturbing, I have yet to encounter in any broadcast or mainstream coverage an acknowledgement of the total paralytic fear that has befallen so many women, minorities and people of color I know. Even John Oliver, who devoted his entire show to Trump’s election, barely mentioned how misogyny played a role in this election.
This, all of it, is mansplaining on an institutional level. Its prevalence in so much of the coverage of Hillary Clinton is one of the reasons we’re here; its continuation is on the verge of pushing us to an even more dangerous place. It has left me not wanting to consume any news from any white man for the rest of my life.
When I was a small child I was devoted to the show Wonder Woman. This was back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when it aired on television both afternoons and evenings. I don’t remember many details about the show, and haven’t risked going back to find out whether it holds up to my five-year-old adulation, but one episode has held a permanent grasp on my memory.
It’s the one about the Paradise Island, the home of Wonder Woman; a place populated entirely by wonder women with super powers. That this reference abides nearly four decades later is perhaps a measure of how few cultural references exist with regards to the depiction of groups of powerful women. Still I’ve found myself thinking of this island again and again this week, and wanting to replicate it in some way. Whatever interest I had left in Leaning In, in infiltrating the male power structure, in convincing men of my worth has, abandoned me entirely last Tuesday. From now on, I want only womensplaining.