From early on Tuesday morning, women queued in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. The line led to the grave of suffragette Susan B Anthony, where women place "I voted" stickers on the headstone.
A hundred and forty four years earlier, Anthony was arrested for voting in Rochester. After being convicted of the crime, she refused to pay the fine. Anthony was instrumental in pushing a constitutional amendment giving white women the right to vote, which became the Nineteenth Amendment to the US constitution introduced in 1920: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." What might those brave suffragettes think of what has now unfolded?
Clinton won large swathes of the African-American and Latina vote, but more white women voted for Trump than her. What does that mean? It should certainly plunge many women into an existential crisis about why their sisters would vote for a man who delights in sexism, chauvinism and misogyny. Maybe they aren’t sisters after all. Four per cent of black women voted for Trump; 26 per cent of Latina women did; and, crucially, 53 per cent of white women.
The fact that many white women voted for Trump shows how embedded misogyny is in western society. They chose a man who ridiculed and insulted women, faced multiple allegations of sexual assault, and whose campaign was thrown into disarray following a recording of him bragging about groping women’s genitals and speaking about women as “it” in disgusting and vile terms.
Presented with the safest and most of familiar kind of white, older, liberal feminism in the form of Clinton, white women still chose a misogynist – like slaves fluffing the pillows of their master’s rocking chair on his porch as he shouts abuse at them. This is not just internalised misogyny, but also a reluctance to forsake white privilege over respect for their own gender.
People of colour did not mostly vote for a racist, but white women mostly voted for a misogynist. Both bigotries are intertwined: 94 per cent of black women voted for Clinton; among white Republican women, 91 per cent voted for Trump.
Backlash to feminism
For most white men, Trump’s misogyny was no obstacle. The ongoing backlash to a new wave of feminism – where even enlightened men write articles about how rape culture is a myth, how women exaggerate their discrimination, and where the #NotAllMen hashtag has become an arrogant and silencing rallying call for male dominance – is in full effect.
This new-chauvinism is as virulent online as off. Chants of “lock her up” rang out at Trump’s rallies; pro-Trump badges and T-shirts read “Life’s a bitch, don’t vote for one”. Online, the so-called largely male “alt-right” delights in misogyny. In the end, even the most qualified woman imaginable was still beaten by a candidate whose campaign was frequently described as a “dumpster fire”.
Clinton was struggling with liberal white young women from the get-go, many of whom became enamoured by Bernie Sanders’s unusually compelling message – refreshing radicalism from a white male pensioner.
Among many women, there was a sense that, while one shouldn’t automatically vote for a woman purely on the basis of her gender, that if Clinton broke the glass ceiling of presidency than the next female candidate who came along could be more radical, less “establishment”, more dynamic.
Female trailblazers like Clinton are held to higher standards and come under more scrutiny than their male counterparts. But it was felt that perhaps if she could break that glass ceiling, we would be on our way. Instead the ceiling remains, stifling, suffocating, mocking.
Maybe in a patriarchal society where women remain marginalised, Clinton’s slogan, “I’m With Her”, was too overt. Yet she didn’t face some of the traditional sexist criticism we’re used to when it comes to female politicians. This is because there was no question about her toughness or temperament – indeed, it was Trump who was hysterical and shrill, whining and bitchy, petulant and gaffe-prone.
Instead, Clinton was demonised for being “corrupt”, too “establishment”, in cahoots with Wall Street, cold, aloof, untrustworthy, and with a changeable moral compass. Trump kept shouting “crooked”, and she could not shake off that word, despite its pot-kettle inaccuracy next to him. Clinton was infinitely more qualified than Trump, but that didn’t matter in an election that has broken all the rules we know about candidates and polling, not to mention decency.
Lessons for girls
How can parents of girls construct a lesson around what has happened: that an educated, qualified, hard-working, smart, resilient woman cannot succeed over a misogynistic brute? That no matter how hard a woman tries, she will still be dogged by the bad behaviour of men in her orbit: her husband’s affairs, her opponent’s misogyny, her aide’s ex-husband’s sex scandals? That alleged abusers have clear paths to power? That women themselves will support men like Trump?
Clinton frequently focused on the narrative of this being a historical election for women, one where the collective sisterhood might finally realise its potential and reach the highest office in the United States. That the commander in chief was not just for boys; that the first lady is not the only role for women in the White House.
Her campaign ads were full of heartwarming references to girls, the aspirations of women, what a role model she would be, how powerful a statement it could be for the grandest of dreams – a woman president – to come true. Michelle Obama too weighed in powerfully about the misogyny that America had a choice to reject.
But despite the acres of criticism Trump received for his misogyny, there was not rejection of it. Instead, America chose to endorse it, and that is a huge, huge problem for us all.