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How Trump's America Will Hurt Women

I used to have a science teacher who said that because women have an extra layer of fat on their bodies, they are better able to withstand hot dishwater than men. I fear this kind of thinking is about to go national.

by Monica Potts
Nov 10 2016, 10:25pm

A woman and child awaits the arrival of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in New York, Wednesday, November 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

I grew up in Trump Land, or one region of it, anyway: rural, mountainous Arkansas. I'm not sure when my feminist awakening began. My mother, against all odds given where she came from, is a devout liberal, an autodidact, and a voracious reader. My father, a self-employed plumber who did not graduate from high school and often told me the only book he'd ever read was Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, declared at my birth that I would go to Harvard and become the first woman president.

At least, that's how the family story goes. My parents created a family life that was more liberal than the typical southern experience, and it set us apart and made me who I am. My dad was wrong on the first prediction, but not by much: I went to a "Seven Sister" school, Bryn Mawr College.

I hoped that on Tuesday, Hillary Clinton would be elected, and he would be proven wrong on the second count, too.

However enlightened my parents may have been, they couldn't shield me from the society we lived in. When I was in high school, I had a science teacher who said that because women have an extra layer of fat on their bodies, they are better able to withstand hot dishwater than men. This suited them, scientifically, to do the dishes. He said worse things, of course, about Mexicans, an ethnic group that had a small and growing presence in the Ozarks. And when I or anyone else raised objections with classmates, the response was that he was only joking and meant no harm.

Growing up, I used to declare, often, how bad I was at math. I believed I was. My mom and most of the women I knew joked about being terrible at math, too, and I assumed it was a girl thing—that females had a natural ability with words and not numbers. Anytime I struggled to understand something in algebra or trigonometry, or anytime I had to work through a tough concept in physics, I figured it was an innate lack of ability. Finally, a teacher, still a dear friend, asked me one day, "Monica, why do you always say that? You always excel in it."

The subtle messages women pick up starting from an early age are part of the reason women become nurses instead of doctors, and teachers instead of engineers.

This is what it means to grow up in a patriarchal society. Sexism is insidious and pervasive, and it finds a way to worry itself into your skull. My parents encouraged me to fight these forces, and in some ways, I did. I tried to be a leader in school, including become the president of the Science Club under that very science teacher. I elected to go to a women's college, and as a teenager refused to focus my aspirations on marriage and men. Yet I continued to believe I was bad at math and science, even when I enjoyed and did well in those classes. I thought a B in an economics course was a sign I should quit taking them, and a B on my first biology exam was enough for me to drop the second semester of a course I loved.

I was convinced I was less talented in those pursuits than in the humanities and social sciences. It didn't help that plenty of men outside of Arkansas bolstered that view, too: In 2005, then Harvard president (and former Obama economic advisor) Larry Summers wondered allowed whether female scientists were underrepresented at elite universities because of innate differences between men and women.

The subtle messages women pick up starting from an early age are part of the reason women become nurses instead of doctors, and teachers instead of engineers. (To be clear, teachers and nurses are invaluable professions, but they are stereotypically female jobs that are undervalued and underpaid for that reason.) The people around you help shape your ideas of what you can be. Now our country will be led by a male role model who embodies the worst stereotypes of what it means to be a man and where women belong, and I fear it will be a disaster.

I left Arkansas for college in part to leave the Good Ol' Boy society I thought underestimated me. But those Boys have been following close behind ever since. First, it was George W. Bush's ascent to the presidency based on a cowboy kind of identity politics. I believed I was finally rid of them when Barack Obama hit the national scene in 2004, and, improbably, kept winning elections. It felt like this was such a stunning affirmation of the country I'd come to know, living in a new one where people cherish the diversity of their cities, call their spouses equal partners, and take a reasoned, thoughtful approach to making government work.

These ideas would appear to represent the larger half of this divided country—a majority of American voters chose to elect Hillary Clinton as our first female president, after all. (As of this writing, she's ahead by more than a quarter of a million votes, with some votes still being counted.) But in this election, the structural advantage was all Donald Trump's. Over the next few days, writers and pundits will continue to argue about why, exactly, this man won. The same people who confidently predicted a Clinton victory days ago will now seem confident about whatever theory they ascribe Trump's shocker to in the aftermath.

... all many of us can think is this: This is how much they hate us.

Whatever you think of his appeals on economics, outsider-ism, or our international position, the truth is that Trump is a serial sexual harasser, an open bigot and misogynist. At the very least, his supporters didn't mind that he was endorsed by affiliates of the Ku Klux Klan, and promised to deport Latino immigrants and ban Muslims. They also didn't mind that he basically admitted to committing sexual assault on tape, called women pigs in public, and almost tried to grab his daughter's ass onstage at the Republican National Convention. Trump's win reveals how deeply misogynistic this country is, and how unready many (white) women are to elect an imminently competent woman, justifying it with whatever excuse they had handy.

In the past few days, some Americans who did not support Trump have been consoling themselves, trying to find silver linings, like the fact that America quadrupled the number of women of color in the Senate. But all many of us can think is this: This is how much they hate us.

Trump's America is about to become a place where it is perfectly OK to consider women second-class citizens. It matters that Trump's son has said women upset about sexual harassment can't handle the workforce. It suggests the Trumps don't believe men hold any responsibility, and don't believe the rules against harassment should be enforced. It matters that the president-elect has said pregnant women are inconveniences to employers, and that he so clearly thinks of women as objects that exist solely for his pleasure. All of these sentiments and comments send the signal to women that no one has their backs in the public world, that they really are better off at home, and that even women who advance to the top of their ranks have to do so while putting up with men like Trump. It sends the signal to girls and boys that men who harass women are rewarded for their behavior. It sends the message to the world that America doesn't think women matter.

If the majority of the people in this country—the majority that voted to elect Clinton—work really hard, they might be able to help America change course in two years, and maybe even reverse the results in four. In the meantime, there are girls who will grow up in Trump's wake. Who knows how these signals will shape them? Many will be instilled with an angry fire and passion to lead. But they also won't be able to help absorbing that so many in this country hated them so deeply they elected Trump, a fact that will haunt our collective psyche for generations.

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