On Tuesday evening, 63 percent of white women voted for Roy Moore, a man accused of assaulting multiple teenage girls, and cruising for more—so aggressively that he was thought to have been banned from the Gadsen Mall. I’ll say it again: 63 percent of white women voted for the guy who was probably banned from a shopping mall for assaulting teenagers and for saying America was “great” during slavery. What world is this?
Apparently, an enduring one. White women’s allegiance to racist, sexist, or predatory candidates is a long-standing tradition in this country and can be traced all the way back to their central role upholding white supremacy in the US—stellar work they are still doing today. It was only last year that the majority of white people in this country proudly proclaimed, “The freedoms that we hold to be self-evident include a particularly skeezy kind of celebrity’s ability to touch my vagina when he likes.” In the 2016 election, as you’ll undoubtedly remember, 63 percent of white men voted for Donald Trump, another alleged sexual abuser, as did 53 percent of white women, while 93 percent of black women and 67 percent of Latinx women supported Clinton.
In every presidential election since 1996, this pronounced gender gap has existed—that is to say, most women voted for the Democratic candidate. But, in that time period, the majority of white women voters have essentially always picked the white Republican candidate—no matter his utter betrayal of women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
The white supremacy is in the pudding: In 2012, 56 percent of white women voted for Republican Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama—a number that shoots to 61 percent when you count just women 45 and older, and all of whom were ostensibly won over—or at least not discouraged—by their candidate’s binders full of women. In 2008, 53 percent of white women voted for John McCain, a consistently anti-choice politician who once told a joke about a woman enjoying being raped by an ape—even though in both 2012 and 2008, Obama carried the female vote. In 2004, 55 percent of white women voted for the “stealth misogyny” of George W. Bush. In 2000, 90 percent of black voters voted for Al Gore, as did 63 percent of Latinx voters, according to Colorlines. Still, 49 percent of white women voted for George W. Bush, one point more than for Gore.
White women’s voting penchants go all the way back to the elections of Ronald Reagan, which introduced the term “gender gap” into the national political consciousness. In the 1984 election, Reagan won 54 percent of the men’s vote, but only 46 percent of the women’s vote—a gap attributed, again, to minority women: 93 percent of black women, 73 percent of Jewish women, and 65 percent of Latinx women voted for Walter Mondale and his vice president Geraldine Ferraro.
But you’ve already heard this story: white women picked the white guy—despite his complete disregard for the LGBTQ community battling the AIDS crisis, his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment (though, of course, Phyllis Schafly, the ultimate rendering of this kind of “family values”-driven white woman, famously led a charge against it too), and his desire to eliminate a slew of entitlements that benefited non-white voters. That’s not even to mention the allegations that came out in 1991 from actress Selene Walters that Reagan raped her in the early ’50s.
In many respects, white American women voters have proven to be interested in one thing: maintaining the status quo, which comes at the expense of everyone who doesn’t currently benefit from it. “When we’re talking about the ‘women’s vote,’ it’s very rare we’re talking about issues on top of the agenda for women of color, poor women, and LGBT women,” Juliet Williams, a UCLA political theorist and gender studies professor, told Broadly last year.
So, truly, anyone but them. White women as a modern voting block have hindered progress in this country, once again proving that they would rather back a many times-accused pedophile and bonafide racist over literally anyone else.
Theories about why this is abound. In a 2016 article in The Atlantic, Michelle Cottle attributes white women’s unyielding devotion to voting Republican to sheer partisanship—she writes that many women can’t get it up for traditional “women’s issues” like adequate family leave and equal pay, that they’d rather vote for a president who’s tough on immigration or taxes. She also notes that hardcore Republicans and Democrats find it nearly impossible to switch to the other side. In a 2012 New Yorker piece, John Cassidy also tries his hand at this riddle, discussing wealth, age, and religion as potential factors.
And it’s true, money seems to cut more cleanly than gender. The wealthier white women who vote Republican, and who voted for Roy Moore on Tuesday evening weren’t voting to expand access to birth control or abortion, or for a commitment to civil rights and criminal justice reform—they have nothing to gain with increased access to civic services. Rather, crucially, they have something—status, an often false sense of security, a harkening back to Traditional Values—to lose.
Moore, and the GOP that endorsed him, recognized this fear of loss and, brandishing his petite gun onstage, offered a vague idea of protection: from immigrants, from the country’s alleged declining moral center, from the loss of family, as well as a vague slate of values: Life. Security. Work. In short: keeping white people on top. And they voted for it in droves.
Certainly these fears and “white anxiety” are not based in religiosity (remember: pedophilia). This means that, to many, the urgent desire to uphold white supremacy and all that goes with it must trump one’s desire to create a society that’s safe for all women. Perhaps, imagining something we’ve never had is less immediately tangible—less urgent—than the loss of something sinister from which white women have benefited their entire life.