It happened again last night.
In response to a huge miscarriage of justice at the Department of Justice, someone tweeted, “Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, this is your fault!” And, I get it. Those two Senators have (thanks, Overton Window!) relatively unwarranted reputations as “moderate” Republicans. It seems as if, as moderates, they should have voted for conviction in the Senate. It seems natural to throw back at them their hypocritical assertions that Trump had “learned a lesson” from the impeachment trial. But I think there’s also another factor at work.
We see that same factor at work in the many and continuing comments blaming white women for electing Donald Trump. And, I get it. We wonder how those women could have voted for a blatant sexist, a misogynist, a man who brags about sexual assault. What were they thinking?
What factor is at work in both situations? Unconscious sexism.
Look, there are fifty-three Republican Senators. Fifty-two of them voted not to convict Trump. (Republican Mitt Romney voted to convict on one charge.) Forty-eight of those fifty-two Republican Senators are men. Collins and Murkowski are as much to blame for failing to convict as the other fifty. But they’re not more to blame than the forty-eight men. Yet, I don’t see post after post reminding, say, Mike Lee of Utah, Jerry Moran of Kansas, or Rob Portman of Ohio, that every egregious act Trump commits is now their fault. Why are men who are purported moderates let off the hook while we castigate the women? Unconscious sexism.
Similarly, if you believe that a small majority of white women voted for Trump,* you have to also consider that a much larger majority of white men voted for him. Does it seem nuts that white women would vote for a sexist? Sure. But it also seems nuts that, for example, poor and lower middle-class white men would vote for someone determined to take away their health care and social security. It seems nuts that any man would vote for someone determined to destroy the environment. And if a small majority of white women are to blame, why do we not hear much more often about how the much larger majority of white men are to blame? Why is all the emphasis on women? Unconscious sexism.
Unconscious sexism often causes us (both men and women ) to hold women to different standards than we hold men. We saw it in the way that so many people were able to get past John Kerry’s and John Edwards’ votes for the AUMF, but refused to vote for Hillary because “she voted for the war.” (Bernie Sanders voted in 2001 to authorize the invasion of Afghanistan. Ever hear anyone call him a war monger?) Or the way that Hillary was blamed for the 1994 crime bill that her husband signed while Bernie, who actually voted for that bill, escaped criticism. We see it when women who shoot their male partners get much longer sentences than men who shoot their female partners. We see it in the research that shows that women are judged more harshly for any mistakes they make, that “objective” standards are applied more stringently to women than to men, and that women are judged on their actions while men are judged on their potential.
And I think we see it in the overemphasis on Collins’ and Murkowski’s votes not to convict and on white women’s votes for Trump. Are Collins, Murkowski, and white women who voted for Trump at fault? Sure. But in both the case of the impeachment trial and the general election white men were overwhelmingly to blame. It’s unconscious sexism that allows them to escape the approbation due to them.
(Note: I am NOT absolving Collins, Murkowski, or the white women who voted for Trump. Shame on them. I’m pointing out that we dole out the blame in almost inverse proportion to actual responsibility.)
There’s just one problem with this statistic: It’s probably not true.
The idea that 52% of white women voted for Trump—compared to 43% who supported Hillary Clinton—comes from the 2016 exit polls, an in-person survey in which Election Day questioners ask people at polling places across the country how they voted, then adjust the results to match the actual tally reported by election authorities. But exit polls, which are conducted by Edison Research for a consortium of news organizations, suffer from systemic biases and are notoriously flawed.
Later, more careful analyses have corrected many of the exits’ snap judgments, busting many myths about the election along the way.
The 52% statistic appears to be one of those myths. According to a later analysis that experts consider more reliable, a study published in August by the Pew Research Center, the percentage of white women who voted for Trump was actually 47%, compared to 45% for Clinton. That’s still a plurality, and still makes white women more Trump-positive than the overall electorate, which supported Clinton by a 48%-46% margin. . . . But it’s essentially a tie, which makes for a very different story than a 9-point margin for Trump.
But we sure were willing to believe that they were to blame, weren’t we? Why? Unconscious sexism.
Picture found here.