My husband and I watched the election results come in last night with our children, letting them stay up well past their bedtimes as the numbers rolled in. Near midnight, when the pundit chatter turned toward what people would say after Hillary lost, we turned it off and put the kids to bed. My daughter was worried about the outcome of the election, and I didn’t want to feed her stress. Or mine. When my husband awoke in the middle of the night, he checked on the progress and reported back to me: Trump had won. We were both stunned. We discussed our concerns. I wondered aloud what on earth I would say today, or in the days that followed, about a nation with Trump at the helm.
I am completing the second book in my series, Sexism and U.S. History. I was prepared to write a closing topic about the election of our nation’s first female president. I wanted to watch her acceptance speech with tears of joy streaming down my face and a sense of awe that I had lived to witness such a moment. I was thinking about this note, which I had written early in my book after wrapping up a topic on suffrage: “The journey to suffrage illustrates the stark nature of patriarchal power. After nearly seventy-five years of abolitionist and suffragist work, after Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Matilda Joslyn Gage and Frederick Douglass, after Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell, after Lucy Burns and Alice Paul and so many others, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment came down to one state, and the vote of one white man.”
The note still applies, but in a different way than I had hoped.
Patriarchal power is indeed stark. It is “the way things are,” but not because patriarchy is inevitable. Change does come, but slowly, and only after long struggle. We have been in the midst of that struggle for some time now—the Black Lives Matter movement, the Dakota Access Pipeline protest, the national discussions about racism and sexism. This struggle won’t end because Trump is president: it will intensify.
The shape of that struggle concerns me, and I know it concerns many in our nation. A Trump/Pence presidency could mean, as I once posited, a “tightening of the reins” of our patriarchal structures: an overturn of Roe v. Wade, violence run amok via accessible guns and targeting of marginalized groups. It could also mean greater resistance to those reins, as the oppressed have always resisted oppression in this nation. That resistance is firmly rooted in feminist thought and action.
We need feminism now more than ever. And we need it to be gentle as well as fierce. We need understanding in our nation about the anger and disenfranchisement of working-class white people as well as working-class people of color. We need to understand—and to help our friends and neighbors understand—that we needn’t be locked in a zero-sum game for ever-dwindling shares of prosperity. What exactly that understanding looks like in a nation led by Trump, I don’t know. But I do believe we have it in us, as a people, to come together when necessary. There is hope yet.
As I was researching my history book, I read A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. The website dedicated to his work, the Zinn Education Project, showcases this quotation by Zinn: “I can UNDERSTAND pessimism, but I don’t BELIEVE in it. It’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical EVIDENCE. Not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give HOPE, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only POSSIBILITY.”
This quotation—and Zinn’s book—gives us a look at history from the viewpoint of the struggling working class. We have just entered another chapter in that struggle. May we enter it gently as well as fiercely, and work to bring feminist consciousness to light whenever and wherever possible.