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Hisland

This land is Hisland: the role of sexism in the US elections.

President-elect Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech in New York, Nov. 9, 2016. Press Association / Mary Altaffer

In 2015, there were 96 countries in the world with a higher percentage of women elected to lower or single houses of parliament than the United States. This is the number that I have felt missing in the many articles written to explain Hillary Clinton’s surprising loss to Donald Trump.

Here is another one that I have not found either: in the last five decades, almost half of 142 nations studied by the World Economic Forum have had a female head of government or an elected head of state. Several countries have now had multiple women leaders. The United States is of course not one of them, even though it is one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies and has held 57 democratic elections for president, a higher number than most countries in the world.

Since Sri Lanka elected the first woman leader in 1960, the two major parties in the United States have nominated 27 men and only one woman for President, and 26 men and two women for Vice President. The women lost each time, and one of those elections is still the worst result for either party in history: 13 electoral votes out of 538 in 1984.   

I have seen much more commentary attributing Hillary’s loss to race-based backlash, economic anxiety, and worldwide trends against the establishment and towards authoritarianism, than to sexism. The arguments in favor of these explanations are strong, but so are the objections.

When voters went to the polls, the economy had registered an unprecedented eighty consecutive months of economic expansion, including an all-time record for private-sector job growth, bringing the unemployment rate under five percent.

In 2015, middle class wages had recorded their biggest percentage increase since they started collecting these statistics in the 60s, and poverty rates fell more than any time since 1968.

In the last few years, the price of gas had plummeted and the stock market had skyrocketed.

Almost every single explanation of economic anxiety among the working class ignores the fact that non-white working class voters supported Hillary overwhelmingly.

Almost everyone agrees that we witnessed an anti-establishment wave or a “change” election, but that was not felt in nearly any race other than for the White House. For example, less than 3 % of House races were lost by the incumbent party that held that seat. And even that matter is debated without any acknowledgement that perhaps there is something profoundly sexist behind framing a Manhattan billionaire who has spent more than four decades as a celebrity and friendly with the political elite as the anti-establishment candidate, rather than the first woman ever to run for President as the nominee of one of the major parties.  

Stronger together, Hillary Clinton campaign rally 8 November. Press Association / Andrew Harnik

It is possible that the role of sexism in the election results has been less explored because there have been many headlines noting that 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, that the number of minority women in the Senate quadrupled and the Senate will have a record number of women, and that elections to the House of Representatives also witnessed several firsts for women. These milestones are important, but they don’t amount to a significant change for women in politics in the United States. In the Senate, out of 100 seats, we had 20 women senators. Now we have 21.  

Sexism and double standards were a running theme during the campaign, with the election pitting a feminist woman against arguably the most overtly misogynist male candidate in modern US history, but it has almost dissipated in post-election analysis, with some excellent exceptions. I have not seen it offered as an explanation for disappointing turnout among some of the voters that showed up in 2008 and 2012 to vote for Obama.

As if women cannot be sexist, the surprisingly high number of women that voted for Trump is used to invalidate claims that sexism was not just a factor, but perhaps the most important factor in this election. You will find many more commentators attributing the lack of importance of newspaper endorsements, debate wins, money, and a stronger ground game, to Trump’s historic ability to upend most (if not all) political conventions, rather than the fact that we had a woman at the top of the ticket for the first time. 

In a Presidential election that registered the widest gender gap on record among voters, it is perhaps too easy an explanation for the pundits, too tired a trope for their readers, and too inconvenient a truth for us Americans. But it is something that is so obviously evident to feminists, so closely in line with everything else we know about women in US politics, and so clarifying of all the confounding features of this campaign and election results, that it should be central to the flood of articles that try to make sense of it.

After all, there is something quite sexist about ignoring it.

About the author

Pablo Castillo Díaz is a Policy Specialist at UN Women, focusing on efforts to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence in conflict, post-conflict, and emergency settings; mainstream gender equality in peacekeeping operations; and engaging with the Security Council on women, peace and security. Before joining the United Nations in 2009, he taught international politics at several universities in the US, including Rutgers, Fordham, Queens and Lehman.


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