The proximate cause of “white women” being turned into a pejorative is Senator Susan Collins, whose support for Brett Kavanaugh a week ago was in line with her support for Supreme Court nominees in general. She has voted for all of them. Moreover, she enjoys an 88 percent rating from the National Organization for Women. Yet Collins’s vote inspired Alexis Grenell, the author of the Times op-ed quoted above, to say white women voted for Trump “to prop up their whiteness.” Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour denounced Collins as “the mother & grandmother of white women in America who gave us a Donald Trump presidency.” On the New York magazine site, Rebecca Traister derided the “powerful, old white men” along with the “white women, the ‘female assistants’ and partisan handmaidens who are eager, perhaps avid, to help them in their pursuit of further suffocating authority.” Why female assistants is in quotation marks, or why “powerful” people who hold authority would be interested in “suffocating” it, escapes me, but the phrase “partisan handmaidens” seems especially out of touch. Women are volunteering to be treated as sex slaves? Doesn’t sound like any woman I know. More likely, women such as Collins who supported Kavanaugh disagree that he represents The Handmaid’s Tale brought to life.
Many of the above screeds and slights come from white women who evidently feel some combination of shame about who they are and a yearning to identify with perceived outsiders and victims of oppression. White Americans constituted 72 percent of the U.S. population as of the 2010 census, so castigating them doesn’t sound like a winning political strategy. Yet contempt bubbles up from social media and the punditry to influence party leaders such as Hillary Clinton, who characterized white women who voted for Donald Trump as the equivalent of Stepford Wives. Such women succumb to “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should,” Clinton claimed, citing no evidence. Given that only a bit more than half of white women voted for Trump, it’s ludicrous to write them off by deriding them as Trump fanatics instead of trying to understand their concerns and woo them back to the Democratic party.