Health

Women Voting in Their 'Self-Interest' Got Us Trump

Michelle Williams deserves praise for talking about her abortion at the Golden Globes, but white women already vote "in their own self-interest"—to disastrous consequences.
January 6, 2020, 7:27pm
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Kevork Djansezian/NBC/Getty Images

Michelle Williams did something pretty courageous Sunday night. The pregnant actress stood in front of live TV cameras and used her Golden Globes acceptance speech for her performance in Fosse/Verdon to explain how having an abortion helped her decide when and with whom to have children and urged women to use their voting power to help reshape our government. It came just days after 207 Republican members of Congress asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a case it will hear this year.

The speech was powerful and almost perfect, but fell short in telling women to vote in their own, personal self-interest. Many white women have been doing just that, and it's why anti-abortion Donald Trump is president, and arguably why Williams was even moved to talk about her own abortion in the first place.

Here is the key part of her speech:

"I've tried my very best to live a life of my own making, and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over, sometimes messy and scrawling, sometimes careful and precise, but one that I had carved with my own hand. And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.

"To choose when to have my children and with whom, when I felt supported and able to balance our lives, knowing as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children. Now, I know my choices might look different than yours, but thank God or whomever you pray to, that we live in a country founded on the principle that I am free to live by my faith, and you are free to live by yours. So women, 18 to 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your own self-interest. It’s what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them, but don’t forget we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us. Tommy and Matilda, I can’t wait to come home to you!”

It's an incredibly heartfelt and relevant message—that Williams is a mother to two children and is expecting another illustrates how people who choose to have abortions and people who parent are often the same people at different points in their lives. She also highlighted that religious freedom is supposed to mean freedom to practice your own faith, not impose it on anyone else.

But as many women of color were quick to point out, the majority of white women already do vote in their own self-interest—it just doesn’t always follow the typical pro-choice, feminist framework.

When people are incredulous that women could vote Republican because "it's against their own interests," they fail to recognize that these women, often white, are prioritizing not themselves or other women, but prioritizing their whiteness, or more narrowly, upholding the economic interests of their households.

Across the board, women make less money than men and, through marriage, their economic stability becomes tied to the earning power of their husbands. In a zero-sum vision of the economy, politicians who want to close the gender pay gap, provide paid parental leave, and support citizenship for the Dreamers means less money for you. As long as white men remain in power, their white wives enjoy some of that power, which means backing candidates who promise to uphold white male patriarchy. This is still happening post-2016, as white women voted to elect Republican governors in Georgia and Florida in 2018, though in smaller numbers than Trump’s win. (It should be noted that if married women tend to vote with their families in mind, single women tend to vote with the fate of all women in mind.) It's not helpful to suggest that women voting in their self-interest will preserve abortion rights.

If 2016 was an election of self-interest, what we need now is empathy. Empathy for other people who might choose abortion even if you wouldn't. Empathy for people who live in one of the six states with only one abortion clinic left—even though abortion is still constitutionally protected. Empathy for people who want to support themselves and their children on their own—even if you wouldn't choose that, either.

A more apt conclusion for Williams's speech on how abortion helps shape women's economic futures would have been: When it is time to vote, please vote not in your own self-interest, but in the interests of all women and people who can get pregnant.

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