Hillary and “the women’s vote” in Pennsylvania

Emily Bazelon, who is as consistently feminist as any writer I know, wrote a piece for the New York Times that must have discouraged her deeply. It was published on November 15 and you can see it all here.  She is being grilled by Stephen Colbert in the picture.

hillary-3The part I have excerpted does not deal with the whole topic that the headline writers thought worthy—“college educated white women.” It deals with Palma Frable of Moscow, Pennsylvania and her daughters, Abigail and Lauren.

In this essay, I am going to pick seven reasons for the Frables’ choice and reflect on them. I recommend the article very highly and you may have your own reflections to share. I will put the quotations from the article in quote blocksand the West Wing dialogue in italics.

1. Trump promises improvements in the future

Clinton also lost white women by three crucial points in Pennsylvania. The Frables help explain why. The three women are college-educated or college-bound, and they voted for Trump not because they feel left behind but to improve economic opportunity, as they see it.

Of course, Clinton promised to improve economic opportunity too. The Frables believed Trump, but they did not believe Clinton. Why? My guess would be that the Clinton/Kaine proposals sounded very much like “more of the same.” Trump’s proposals sounded like a whole new approach. He made contradictory proposals, of course, which Clinton did not, but all of the proposals were “try a new approach” in their style. The Frables are not down and out, but they would like more opportunity rather than what we have now.

2. Not the bankruptcies but the recoveries

Trump’s business record — the fact that he bounced back despite the ups and the downs — initially attracted Frable and her daughters.

Nearly everyone I know focused on all the Trump failures and, in addition to that, on his characteristic way of making other people pay for those failures. That isn’t what attracted the Frables. They were impressed by how he kept bouncing back. His failures didn’t seem to daunt him. I imagine they could picture him as an entrepreneurial president, trying new things and bouncing back from his failures.

He seemed resilient, I guess. Hillary merely endured; Trump bounced back.

3. Not Gloria Steinem feminism, but “lipstick feminism”

Frable also admires Ivanka Trump and felt she was one of the campaign’s “top three assets.” She sees Ivanka as a role model for Abigail in her own entrepreneurial interests. It’s not Hillary’s “Gloria Steinem feminism,” as Frable put it, that she values. It’s Ivanka’s sleek version of female success, which commentators have labeled “commodity feminism” — branding to sell products.

When I got to the expression “sleek version of female success,” my mind went immediately to the best treatment of this contrast I have seen. It appeared on a West Wing (Season 3, episode 14) episode called “Night Five,” right in the middle of Season 3. Here’s what you need to know about this exchange.

Celia is a temporary worker in the White House. She represents “the old feminism” in this piece. Ainsley Hayes is an attorney working in the White House. She is beautiful, aggressive, and smart—oh, and Republican. She represents “the new feminism.”

hillary-2Sam had said to Ainsley, when she showed up in the dress she had been wearing to the opera before she was called back to work that night, that she was “enough to make a good dog break his leash.” Celia was offended and accused Sam of being a sexist. This dialogue follows.  Here is Emily Procter in her role as Ainsley.

This [getting the treaty right] is important.

Yeah, I also think it’s important to make clear I am not a sexist.

You’re Celia?

[looking up] Yes.

He’s not a sexist.

She turns back to Sam to continue the argument.

If you’re willing to let your sexuality diminish your power.

I’m sorry?

I said, I’m surprised you’re willing to let you sexuality diminish your power.

Ainsley Hayes
If you’re willing to let your sexuality diminish your power.

I’m sorry?

I said, I’m surprised you’re willing to let you sexuality diminish your power.

I don’t even know what that means.

I think you do.

And I think you think I’m made out of candy glass, Celia. If somebody says something that offends you, tell them, but all women don’t have to think alike.

I didn’t say they did, and when somebody said something that offended me, I did say so.

I like it when the guys tease me. It’s an inadvertent show of respect that I’m on the team and I don’t mind it when it gets sexual. And you know why? I like sex. I don’t think that whatever sexuality I may have diminishes my power. I think it enhances it.

And what kind of feminism do you call that?

My kind.

[from over her shoulder] It’s called Lipstick Feminism. I call it Stiletto Feminism.

hillary-1My excuse for including this patch of West Wing dialogue is that Ainsley Hayes, the Republican on the show, claims the right to define “feminism” the way she wants it defined, where Celia, the temp worker, is stuck on the old definition. The contrast between the two views is precisely what Emily Bazelon is trying to make clear in his article.  The redhead is Kim Webster as (what else?) Ginger.

4. No history of gender discrimination

“I’ve been paid the same as men, I’ve managed men,” Frable said. “I’ve not had any trouble working with men.”

For Trump supporters that I talked to, college education didn’t seem to lead to support for the liberal women’s movement.

Palma’s experience at the workplace—which could be represented as the crowning achievement of “the old feminism”—is not experienced in gender terms at all. If you think of Hillary as an exemplar of the feminism that brought all these wonderful conditions to Palma Frable, then she is an exemplar of “some old historical movement.”

5. Christian and anti-abortion

Frable and her daughters oppose abortion as Christians. Other women called themselves pro-choice but backed Trump because they didn’t think he really opposed abortion or thought the law in states like theirs wouldn’t change even if he chose future Supreme Court justices with an eye to overturning Roe v. Wade.

This is a classic of Trump’s style. If you take all sides of an issue, as Trump has, then supporters who really want to vote for him can cite one statement or the other as their excuse. The Frables are anti-abortion as is Trump. The pro-choice women who voted for Trump heard the anti-abortion rhetoric, but didn’t think he was serious about it.

6. Feminism and the attitude toward women

All of this [Trump’s wish list] matters far more to her than anything Trump said about women or was accused of doing to them. Anyway, given Bill Clinton’s history, how can Hillary complain?

“I have disrespect for Hillary for not doing more for herself, not standing up for herself with him,” Frable said. “That’s more damaging than goofball words Trump came up with.”

This is a dramatic reversal of values. Frable disapproves of Hillary on essentially feminist grounds. She tolerated Bill Clinton’s sexual flaws when he was President and she was First Lady (that’s POTUS and FLOTUS in West Wing language) and she should not have. Just as Frable has stood up for herself in the workplace, Hillary should have stood up for herself in the White House. I suppose that means that Frable would have liked to have seen Hillary publicly condemn Bill’s behavior.

In doing what she did, Hillary seems to have lost both the “stand by your man” vote and also the “don’t be the enabling wife” vote. Politicians are accustomed to being required to “split the difference,” but it does seem odd for Hillary to lose on both sides of the argument.

7. What was the election about? Not gender or race, but about “elitism.”

Frable has close friends and clients who are ardent Hillary supporters, but she discounts the despairing social-media posts she has seen about women who didn’t support Clinton’s historic candidacy.

She thinks the election wasn’t about gender or race. It was a victory of “Middle America.” Clinton, she said, “is more the white elitist than Trump. She’s the one who had elitist celebrities stumping for her.”

This is likely an “anti-Hollywood” complaint. It is true that lots of elite CEOs and financiers campaigned for Hillary, but so did a lot of celebrities, people who represent the lifestyle the Frables oppose. Trump, by contrast, represented himself as the lone voice of truth and therefore “not really an elitist.”

Those seven points capture Emily Bazelon’s view of why Clinton lost the women’s vote in Pennsylvania, a key state in a very competitive election. This strikes me as a very telling account and I see Bazelon’s professional judgment all over it. She’s really good.

On the other hand, I am quite sure she deplores the kinds of reasons the Frable’s cite and I’d be willing to guess that she is wondering in which direction the future of feminism will take in the politics of the Democratic party.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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1 Response to Hillary and “the women’s vote” in Pennsylvania

  1. thinkydoug says:

    I read Emily’s article first, and then your dissection of it, which I thought was excellent. It is true that Trump succeeded largely because people heard him say what they wanted to hear . . . eventually. He could afford to take all sides of every issue because people were so eager to accept the one they liked.

    He also said things that didn’t sound politician-y and weren’t said in a politician-y way. Trump voters represented a huge swath of the country: People who’d heard it all before and were sick of it. Anyone who came along and broke the mold that had failed them so many times, election after election, was bound to get traction.

    I have no idea if this was intentional on Trump’s part but it was clearly effective.

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