The 2018 Elections: A Place for Women
How do we embrace the need to belong, empower the desire to stand-out, and forego the simplified judgments of our fellow women?
The title of Vogue’s article earlier this month both intrigued me and filled me with dread: Why do White Women Keep Voting for the GOP and Against Their Own Interests?
There is an inherent reaction and desire to get in the minds of our fellow women - to wonder and speculate about what made them cast their vote a certain way. Did economic issues take priority over our shared women's rights? Was their vote driven by strong religious convictions? Perhaps it wasn’t based on a hierarchy of issues at all, but rather a culture where women still vote in-line with their husbands far more than we want to acknowledge. Better yet, maybe with empathy we easily imagine how women are time starved–juggling work, the demands of parenthood, the mental load–and simply not fully engrossed in the candidates’ platforms and the choices before them.
Before reading the article I wanted to reflect on my personal lens. How would I characterize the women in my life? And not necessarily by their voting behavior, but by their day-to-day lived behaviors. Reflecting on my experiences growing up in a small farming town and transitioning to life as a professional in a progressive urban center, my first takeaway is that the amazing women in my life are complex. Quietly complex at times. They are rarely one thing. They are a working professional and a care-giving mother; a hard-handed teacher and an always-present sister; a life-giving body and a garden tender; a week-day nurse and weekend farmer. Furthermore they are constantly sacrificing so much of who they are, different pieces of their identity, for the sake of others around them. I’m sure this is also why they intrigue pollers and campaigners. Whether trying to understand them or persuade them, women continue to elude and perplex. But think about it. For me, this puzzle is also what I love about the women in my life. They aren’t predictable. They don’t conform easily, because they don’t have a single dominant identity to conform to.
…the amazing women in my life are complex. Quietly complex at times. They are rarely one thing.
When we consider the many roles of women of past generations, holding the family (and community) together was vital. They were the glue. As noted in Women will change the Range, which looks at the role of women in politics and the future of northern Minnesota, women smooth tensions and fix things. Women developed those skill sets because they needed them. I believe over time this gendered skill set also gave them, and the women to follow them, greater confidence to wrestle with complexities. They exercised the ability to speak in more nuanced, complicated, conflicted terms about issues, community identity and the future (though often not on a public platform) because they had the skill sets to smooth the tension when it escalated.
Somewhere in the midst of the emotional fixing, mending, and tending, I truly believe that for many women the sacrifice–the demoting of personal priorities–becomes subconscious. Today, it seems, we are calling for quite the opposite–for women to prioritize themselves. To make a conscious decision to value ourselves, to stand-out. But outside of the voting polls and after election day, women will still be a complex amalgamation of all of their personal, family and communal identities. They will still need to call on all of those pieces of their character to relate to others, to create compromise and to be the glue. They may want to stand-out, but they also still desire to belong.
Belonging is deeply humanistic. Though it often gets painted in negativity, viewed as a form of exclusivity that perpetuates enclaves, cliques, and narrow circles–it truly is rooted in altruistic promise. A sense of belonging to a greater community improves people’s motivation, health, and happiness. People desire it. And because building a sense of belonging requires active effort and promise, people seek it. One way to work on increasing a sense of belonging is for them to look for ways they are similar to others instead of focusing on ways they are different. This process is a personal act that can broaden an individual’s sense of belonging by expanding their ability to accept others for who they are. But when we remove the personal lens and transfer this application to a block of people–focusing on what unites people and dismissing what makes them different–it loses its ability to generate greater togetherness.
Belonging is deeply humanistic. Though it often gets painted in negativity, viewed as a form of exclusivity that perpetuates enclaves, cliques, and narrow circles–it truly is rooted in altruistic promise.
For these reasons, it was disappointing and infuriating to read of the temptation (voiced in the Vogue article and elsewhere) to give up on all white women, only tempered by the resignation that democrats simply can’t because they make up a voting block that’s too important to ignore. In that context, it’s hard to imagine why a woman in a community that bleeds red would prioritize her female identity and cast a vote for the democratic candidate on election day. Afterwards, feeling abandoned, she is left alone to pursue the inherent desire to belong, the health and happiness that accompany it.
I can’t accept this. Women have been embracing and flexing their multifaceted layers of who they are to mend our families and homes for generations. We need them now to mend our country. And we need them to do it their way. What would happen if we didn’t ask women to simplify their robust identities? What if we didn’t launch them into a vulnerable space on election day, but created more ways for all of us to honor female complexity and allow women to show everyone a new way of belonging to each other? To do so we will need to ask more questions of each other. It will make us uncomfortable. We will have to listen deeply enough that we are changed by what we hear. But if we are successful we will forge a needed path to inclusion. We can build a sense of belonging taught to us by the great Maya Angelou, one where “you are only free when you realize you belong no place–you belong every place–no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” We need women to belong every place.