To the students of Villanova University:

Dr. Catherine Kerrison & Dr. Timothy McCall

The national election results shocked many Americans, but women were particularly devastated. Initially, analysts pointed to unprecedented turnouts among rural, non-college educated men to explain Hillary Clinton’s defeat. But according to the Washington Post, it turns out that 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump, many of them middle class and educated. Why?

There is no need to reproduce here the vulgarities, invective and swagger about having committed sexual assault, uttered by the President-elect and by some of his supporters. We have all heard, seen and read them. Worse, since the election, they seemed to have unleashed an open season of attacks on women around the country. Women have been grabbed on the street and told that this is what life will be like under Trump. Muslim women have had their hijabs ripped from their heads. On our own campus, black women have been subjected to racial epithets and one was physically assaulted in the tunnel by white men chanting the name of the President-elect. Why would women vote for a man who would be in a position to normalize and institutionalize those views at law? 

There are several reasons:  the workings of gender, patriarchy and race are thoroughly tangled, complex and insidious.

First, there are rewards for women who do not challenge patriarchal authority and who do not make themselves obnoxious by demanding the full human rights and sovereignty of self that (white) men command. Such women are not besmeared with epithets and hatred. Indeed, they can enjoy real material benefits in their associations with men.  

Second, American history is replete with examples of white women who have cared more about preserving racial superiority than about achieving gender equity. During slavery, white women saw themselves as the moral and intellectual superiors of enslaved women, possessed of a capacity for rational thought that they denied all slaves.  In the nineteenth century, white women abandoned black in the struggle for suffrage, to forge alliances instead between northern and southern white women.  In the twentieth century, white feminists overlooked entirely the different concerns of black feminists, and when it was time to write the history of those movements, black women were largely omitted.  On Nov. 8, 2016, black women again did the heavy lifting for women:  94 percent of them voted for Hillary Clinton.

Certainly many female Trump supporters would emphatically deny that they are sexist or racist. They voted on other issues, they insist. But in their vote for a candidate who openly expressed those ideas, they affirmed that ultimately sexism and racism did not matter as much as other issues.   A little sexism is okay.  A little racism is tolerable.

It’s hard for women not to take this personally.  Smart, hard working, ambitious women on this campus saw that a smart, hard working, ambitious woman with decades of experience was defeated by a man with no record of public service, whose crude language dehumanized and objectified women.

But there is a way to fix this, and we’re going to do it together.  We can change this trajectory of patriarchy, misogyny and racism.

You are important. Take a Gender and Women’s Studies course in your field, so that you will understand how gender permeates the work place you are preparing to enter. Be informed, so that armed, you can fight ignorance.

There is an awesome group of gender and sexuality scholars at Villanova who stand ready to help.  Stop by their offices to talk. Go the GWS website for their names and for other resources, both on campus and off. You are not alone. We believe in your intellect, strength and goodness, and we stand in solidarity with you.