Economics was the reason for Clintons shock defeat. But that defeat will indirectly allow sexism to thrive once more in America
Did Hillary Clinton lose the election because she is a woman? The answer is no, but the reasons behind that no are complicated. Its certainly impossible to dismiss the presence of extreme sexism in the campaign: the media narrative of a battle between a hard-working, highly qualified woman and a pussy-grabbing man. Donald Trump demonstrated over and over again that he loathes powerful women who do not bend to his will, and so did many of his supporters.
Much of his criticism of Clinton often through taunting and bullying had strong sexist undertones. And yet, misogyny was not the reason that Clinton was defeated. She lost because lower- and middle-class white people wanted dramatic change, and these voters felt that, in spite of her gender, she offered them more of the same.
During the election, much was made of the extra pressure that Clinton was under to conform to expectations of appearance and behaviour. She received extreme attention to the way that she was dressed and groomed, especially in contrast with the dishevelled and orange presentation of her opponent. Suspicion was cast on the meaning of her controlled delivery. Suggestions were made that she lacked passion, as if passion could only be demonstrated through red-faced screaming at baying crowds. Though her passion was evident, as was her intellect, it is true that Clinton sometimes seemed a bit anodyne. Not because she is anodyne, but because the nature of the campaign limited her means and forms of expression.
A woman politician whose appearance and delivery matched those of Donald Trump would be unlikely to be elected to city council. A woman who made the error of referring to people supporting her opponent as deplorables people who screamed for walls to be built on borders and for people to be lynched was excoriated, while her male opponent suggested that they come after her with guns. None of this was fair. In a country that holds fast to values of freedom, everyone should have an equal opportunity to speak their mind and, indeed, wear bright orange foundation, if that is a look they want to go for. But this is not the reason that Clinton lost.
Like many leftwing women, I went to my polling place on Tuesday wearing a trouser suit and a Nasty Woman T-shirt. The hours-long queue was packed out with mothers who had brought their small daughters to watch them vote for the first woman president. The scene was almost enough to make it seem that the election was about seeking a long-delayed victory for feminism. But this was a side effect. It was a media-friendly narrative harnessed by Clintons campaign strategists to enhance her brand, rather than what the election was really about.
Clinton won the popular vote, probably by more than a million. She was, we need to remember, the candidate of choice for most voters. That is why it is essential to look more deeply into the numbers. The reason that Clinton lost the electoral college, and in turn the election, was that she failed to appeal to enough white women, especially in decisive states.
My moderate excitement in Clintons candidacy was not shared by a majority of women who look like me or Clinton herself. Trump won the votes of 53% of white women. They were voters whom Clintons campaign team likely believed were an easy win because of her calls for pay equality, leave for new mothers, and investment in young children; and for her oft-stated belief that womens rights are human rights. But Clintons campaign missed the mark with them.
Those women who voted against Clinton did not do so because they are sexist, or because they dont believe in womens ability to lead and achieve; they are themselves leaders and achievers. Instead, they voted against her because they believe that her party has given them, their families, and their communities short shrift.
In Trump, however, they have a future president who threatens to withdraw their rights, who claims to aim to roll back Roe v Wade, to take a womans right to choose out of the constitution, and to institute some kind of punishment for women who terminate pregnancies. Trumps promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act on his first day in office means that unwanted pregnancies will become harder to prevent, with coverage withdrawn for women to get contraception provided free or at low cost .
In addition to policy, it is impossible to overlook the impact that this most misogynist president will have on American social norms. Donald Trump has boasted about committing sexual assault and has a dozen women with evidence that his boasts were more than just locker room talk. He has called women pigs and dogs, said that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing and agreed that his daughter, Ivanka, was a piece of ass. He has described a woman who was breastfeeding as disgusting.
Even if many women voters didnt care that Trump disparaged Clintons appearance, her stamina, her presidential look, her ability to satisfy her husband, they might be affected by their country being led by a man who behaves as Trump does. If the head of state can treat women like objects, why should any other American man feel he should behave differently?
I know that we still have not shattered that highest glass ceiling, Clinton said in her painful concession speech on Wednesday morning. But some day someone will hopefully sooner than we might think right now. How soon will that be?
Progressives must be diligent to ensure that the enduring narrative of Clintons failure does not centre on her gender. Only then will the Democratic party be able to accomplish the drastic reform it needs to build a legitimate strategy to take back the White House in 2020. Blaming sexism is not just a too-easy excuse: it will mean that women are not given the chance to run in the future because they are women. That would be a travesty. America simply cant go another 240 years without a woman president.