In a discussion about the election results, one of my friends asked why so many white women voted for Trump if he is so sexist. My intuitive response was “Because they are married to white men.” It was a guess that had a certain ring of truthiness to it, but I wasn’t entirely sure I could articulate why. What I meant by it is that, sexism aside, many Trump voters felt that the Republican platform will mean a better economic future for them, that they feel the Democrats have reduced their financial prospects, and that white men in particular feel held back and disenfranchised. If their wives are financially dependent on them (whether secondary income or no income), we shouldn’t be too surprised that they agreed with their husbands.  But to vote for Trump, even out of self-interest, voters in 2016 also had to overlook the misogyny of their candidate. To me, that was where the more interesting story was.
There was a great article in vox explaining why so many women voted for Trump. There had been a pre-election article that I blogged about here showing that Trump’s popularity correlated with hostile sexism among his supporters. This post-election article explained why women will support a hostile sexist, and the reasons sound pretty darn Mormon. Here are the conditions that foster sexism among women:
- A sense that their opportunities are limited
- Doom & gloom rhetoric about the world getting worse
Two Types of Sexism
Before we get into the culture that fosters sexism in women, let’s review a couple terms. There are two types of sexism, and both exist in our society at large and in the church.
- Benevolent sexism. This is based on the idea that women are morally superior, kinder, gentler, more nurturing, and so on. Men should protect women, and women should be treated with extra special care and respect. See talks like “LDS women are incredible!” This type of sexism is patronizing, and literally, men are patrons (a person who gives financial or other support) to women.
- Hostile sexism. The underlying belief of hostile sexism is that women are out to manipulate and trick men, that women act in bad faith, that they want something from men or are to blame for the shortcomings of men. This paints feminism as a zero-sum game. If women have opportunities, men are emasculated. Success for women is seen as a threat to men. Hostile sexism is also behind rape culture, victim blaming, and modesty rhetoric that implies men are not accountable for their actions if women dress a certain way. When Trump said that Bill’s infidelities were probably because Hillary wasn’t a good enough wife, that was hostile sexism. While most Mormons are not hostile sexists (neither are most people which makes Trump exceptional), there were a few chilling comments from female Trump supporters that illustrated what hostile sexism looks like coming from a woman.
For an interesting contrast between the two types of sexism, consider E. Oaks’ 2005 talk entitled “Pornography” that cautioned young women:
And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.
If he is saying this to protect women from men’s baser instincts, the statement is benevolent sexism. If he is saying this to blame women for the actions of men, the statement is hostile sexism. It all depends whether he views women as innocents who don’t understand the reactions they create in men (benevolent sexism) or as temptresses who understand only too well (hostile sexism).
By contrast, a non-sexist perspective would be to hold individuals accountable for their behavior regardless of sex, and to defend and protect those who are assaulted or victimized regardless of their sex–because they are people. From the vox article, here’s how Benevolent Sexism interacts with Hostile Sexism:
Benevolent sexism is the carrot, Glick explained, and hostile sexism is the stick. If you’re a “good” woman who meets expected gender norms — who has warm feminine charms, who maintains strict beauty standards, whose ambitions are focused on home and hearth — you will be rewarded with affection, protection, and praise. But step outside those norms, and you risk being labeled as one of the “bad” girls who are abused and scorned only because they deserve it.
It’s a tidy little cycle. Benevolent sexism is supposed to protect women from hostile sexism, and hostile sexism is supposed to keep women in line with the ideals of benevolent sexism.
As the article points out, male dominance is difficult to maintain.
Male dominance actually requires a pretty delicate balance, Glick said. If men want to maintain the control over women they’ve enjoyed for thousands of years, and continue their species, and satisfy their desires for heterosexual love and companionship, they can’t just use brute force. They need women to actually like them and not resent their dominance.
And so a compromise emerged — or at least a “protection racket,” as Glick calls it, like when the Mafioso tells the businessman he’d hate to see his nice shop burn down, so why don’t they make a deal.
The basic agreement is that as long as women cater to men’s needs, men will protect and cherish women in return. If women have few good options for independent success, this is a pretty good deal — which explains why in more overtly sexist societies where women have fewer opportunities, cross-national studies show that women endorse benevolent sexism at even higher rates than men do.
The Politics of Sexism
To some extent, it’s easy to see why conservative women (married to conservative men) would be more tolerant of sexism, but there’s also a populist angle. Women with college degrees voted for Hillary; those without voted for Trump (see analysis here). Women overall supported Clinton over Trump by 54% to 42%; white women who were college graduates supported Clinton 51% vs. Trump 45%. White women who were non-college grads showed a marked preference for Trump, 62% vs. 34% for Clinton. If education is a proxy for opportunity, women with less opportunity felt drawn to Trump.
On one level, that sounds like an economic and political reason, even if they had to hold their noses to vote. If we look closer, though, we see that there’s an intersection between sexism and conservativism when women have limited financial prospects.
Women who supported Trump said some very interesting things in his defense:
“I do find the words offensive, but that’s locker room talk. That’s the boys club.” Michelle Werntz
“I heard that he said something about groping women, and I’m thinking, Okay, No. 1, I think that’d be great. I like getting groped! I’m heterosexual. I’m a woman, and when a guy gropes me, I get groping on them! I grope them back. Groping is a healthy thing to do. When you’re heterosexual, you grope, okay? It’s a good thing.” Jane Biddick
Seeing feminism as a threat to masculinity is a hallmark of hostile sexism. Hostile sexists believe that “most women interpret innocent remarks as sexist” and “many women are seeking special favors under the guise of asking for equality.”:
“If women grabbed men like that, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But if men do that to women, they blow it out of proportion.” Valerie Still
“We have become so wussified. Pretty soon, saying hello to someone is going to be considered harassment.” Merchon Andersen
Another mark of hostile sexism is seeing women, particularly ambitious or independent women, as acting in bad faith, liars, untrustworthy, while holding men to a lesser standard, excusing their bad behaviors, applying different motives to men and women that exonerate men and condemn women.
“I honestly don’t trust Hillary Clinton. I just feel like she’s a liar.” Nicole Martin
“We believe that Trump has made some recent changes, growing stronger in his own Christian beliefs and putting Christian people around him. As a woman advocate, I still have no sympathy for Hillary Clinton. I’m sure if a woman were a godly person, I could be proud of that. But I would never be proud of Hillary. Unless she totally recanted, repented — and frankly, if she did that, she would reveal what’s she’s done, and she’d be in prison. She has a very dark side. I think Trump put it in good words, I just recently read, about a dark soul.” Debbie Eberly, comparing a Methodist grandmother who can’t manage her emails with an accused child rapist who is apparently an expert on dark souls
“I think Hillary is crooked enough to pay women to talk badly about Trump.” Valerie Still
SAHMs and Sexism
Voting statistics from this election showed that women support sexism when their opportunities are limited. For those whose choices are limited through lack of education or financial dependence on a single breadwinner, sexism protects them, even though it’s also what limited them in the first place. Women in the church are encouraged to stay at home with children rather than pursuing a career, making them completely financially dependent on a husband. Sometimes women have been told to finish their degree as a “fallback” position, and yet without workplace experience, even a short off-ramp can drastically reduce opportunity for women. As one commenter on a recent blog post at By Common Consent put it:
I always prided myself that I got my degree. I never realized how worthless it would be twenty years later. How I could only get the same jobs my freshly out of high school kids could get. My degree seems to mean very little.
When a woman is dependent on sexism for survival, sexism doesn’t bother her–or at least she can maneuver her way around it; she can tell herself it’s normal (“boys will be boys”) or every man is like that. She can afford to overlook it. When sexism is a threat to her survival, it bothers her. She can’t afford to give it a pass.
Pessimism and Sexism
“The world is getting worse and worse” is a mantra we often hear at church. The world is a dangerous place, increasing in wickedness until the second coming. If you don’t believe that, you must be wicked, too, or “past feeling.”
“In many ways, the world is like a jungle, with dangers that can harm or mutilate your body, enslave or destroy your mind, or decimate your morality.” E. Scott, Don’t Face the World Alone, 2007
“Friends, you know what I know—that there is in the modern world so much sin and moral decay affecting everyone, especially the young, and it seems to be getting worse by the day.” E. Holland, Standing Together for the Cause of Christ, 2012.
The thinking is so prevalent that it’s nearly unquestioned when it’s raised. I’ve often found that the surest way to find fellow progressives is to look for the others at church who raise their hands to refute this statement. The past we compare to is often worse in many ways. One reason for this rhetoric, aside from conservative politics (which I’ll discuss in a moment) is premillenialism, a belief that the world will get wickeder until the Second Coming. From the Patheos blog:
“Not all Christians believe the world is getting worse. But those who hold to what is called “premillennialism” do, and they tend to dominate the evangelical conversation in North America. (In premillennialism, the expectation is that the world will get worse and worse overall until Christ enters history and establishes his peaceable milllennial kingdom.)
Premillennial evangelicals tend to be rather selective in identifying putative evidence that the world is getting worse. For example, they focus on issues like gay marriage and transgender washrooms. My concern here is not to debate the morality of gay marriage or transgender washrooms. Rather, my point is that even if you do believe that these things are morally errant, it would be absurd to think isolated examples like those are sufficient to establish an overall trajectory of societal decay.” Randall Rauser
This negative view of the modern world is consistent with conservative politics. Conservative pundits have been known to rail on this topic, encouraging viewers to buy gold and stock up on guns. From the conservative site Townhall:
“I cannot imagine any thinking person who does not believe the world is getting worse.” Dennis Prager
Another factor is a tendency for the elderly to romanticize the past. This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence” bump. People in their 70s are better at remembering events from their early life, between the ages of 10 and 30. They are more forgetful of what happened in their 30-60s. They also experience a positivity effect, meaning that positive events are more easily remembered than negative ones. We develop a rosier picture of our youth as we get older, and that in turn creates a nostalgia for a past that never really existed, or at least wasn’t as great as we remember it.
The doom & gloom rhetoric from the right and nostalgia for a disappearing (and often mythical) past creates an environment in which women who are financially dependent on men may feel hopeless about their own prospects and look for ways to be protected or supported by men since they believe they are vulnerable. Given the doomsaying in most Mormon congregations and even General Conference talks, is it any wonder that women in the church (many of whom are vulnerable financially because of complete dependence on their husbands thanks to the single breadwinner model so encouraged at church) support sexism? It is in their self-interest to do so.
The second verse of “Follow the Prophet” sounds like it was ripped from a Fox News broadcast, and its refrain is all too common at church: “Now we have a world where people are confused. If you don’t believe it, go and watch the news.” Given the minor chords in this song, particularly with the voice of children singing it, it sounds very cynical indeed. There’s a common belief that everyone at church will agree with this pessimistic view of “the world” and that things are getting worse and worse.
A third factor is that in a dual-income economy, families who are doggedly pursuing the single breadwinner model are in fact more vulnerable to economic turmoil. Their situations are worse because they are more fragile. Voting to preserve their economic standing without adapting to economic realities we live in may feel right to some, but it probably won’t actually provide real financial security.
Financial dependence on men, pessimistic outlook for the future, and economic instability: these are the conditions in which sexism thrives. Mormonism provides a unique recipe for creating female sexists.
Discuss, but nicely please, as if you were on a tiny little pedestal and might fall off at any moment.
 Bear in mind that one of the original arguments that only white men should vote was that they were the land owners; therefore, they were seen as having more stake in economic policies and legislation.
 Conservatives like to decry abortion, but in ancient Rome, it was legal to leave an unwanted infant in the streets to die. That’s pretty outrageously pro-choice.