What are our young girls hearing? What messages are they receiving when they hear the man America has chosen as our next president call women “fat pigs,” “bimbos” and “slobs”? When that man suggests that sexual assault in the military is to be expected because “what did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?” In a recent national poll conducted for the New York Times, nearly half of girls aged 14-17 said that Donald Trump’s comments about women have affected the way they think about their bodies. How can we raise the next generation of female leadership in a world where their self-image and self-confidence is constantly under pressure?
In the week following the election, everyone has been grappling with how a Trump presidency may change his or her current status, whether on a basis of gender, race, sexual preference, religion or immigrant status. I personally have had countless conversations with other women about what we would do if we lost the right to an abortion. One friend emailed me suggesting that I should get an IUD soon, in case women’s reproductive rights and insurance policies are challenged. Another friend reminded me that Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 had pledged to fill half her cabinet with women, while Trump is currently considering Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) for a cabinet nomination, a man who has referred to the NAACP as “un-American.” While these are nominally two different issues, they belie the point: we are grappling with the optimism we lost when America did not elect our first female president.
And through all of this, I struggle to understand how 53 percent of white women voters cast their ballots for Trump. The liberal Yale ideal of women’s empowerment held by my women friends and I seems very different than the values held by many other American women. Their votes feel like they are condoning Trump’s sexist behavior. As if they’re okay with regularly hearing four more years of sexist comments.
When I think about it, I don’t know a single female Trump supporter, neither back at home in upstate New York, nor at Yale. And when you become too ensconced in a single community, divisiveness grows. Instead of “otherizing” these female Trump supporters, we should strive to understand them. This can be as simple as following people you disagree with on Twitter or Instagram, or as real as getting out of the Northeast and spending time in communities where you previously never would have considered going.
It’s also important to remember — especially under the threat of curtailed reproductive rights — that much of the policy that affects us is enacted on the local and state level. These are places where we can plug in — we can run for local office, write letters to our local and state government and attend town meetings. We can donate to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights organizations.
We can go even more local, by starting local women’s discussion circles and female empowerment groups — and not just for women at Ivy League schools. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, “I may not be able to prevent a sexual predator from reaching the White House, but at events I attend, I may be able to prevent a sexual predator from assaulting a drunken partygoer.” There are opportunities to be a champion against sexism in every space, even if it comes in the form of gently questioning your peers when they make objectifying comments about women.
The burden should not just be on women to fight for equality and empower each other when, inevitably, we will hear the President-elect’s sexist comments in the news. Men, this is a time to call out your peers for “locker room talk,” to stand up to sexist behavior and help leverage women into places of power so that they can be role models for generations of women to come. A step forward for women is a step forward for our whole society.
Every Monday, I help lead a women’s discussion group on topics of female empowerment. This week, we discussed what Trump’s election meant for women in America. Out of a general feeling of helplessness and despair, a feeling of hope, perseverance and determination to act emerged. There are opportunities to engage on every level. It’s time to burst out of our ivory tower bubbles and understand the basis upon which women across America voted for Trump.
No matter how much sexist messaging we may hear in the next four years, know that it is wrong. Tell young girls how special and important they are. Ask them what they’ll do when they’re president one day.
Lillian Childress is a senior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .