Sexist Trump revolt: His nomination is a reaction to women's growing social and economic power

Women have more money and autonomy than before, and in reaction, huge numbers of men support Trump

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published August 10, 2016 6:05PM (EDT)

A Donald Trump supporter in Richmond, Virginia, June 10, 2016.    (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)
A Donald Trump supporter in Richmond, Virginia, June 10, 2016. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Part one of this two-part series looking at gender in the 2016 election can be read here.

"Susan B. Anthony and the women’s lib and equal opportunity has devalued our women and has put them into the workforce," Otis Kenner, a minister from Louisiana, declared from the stage at a major anti-abortion rally last week. "What it looks like, I got steel-toe boots on with a bandana around my head because I’ve been in the workforce, and my wife comes home looking like me?"

"I challenge any woman right now to come up and arm wrestle me right now. I’m going to make the challenge that I’ve made over and over again," announced Arizona pastor Stephen Anderson, during a recent sermon about why men should rule over women. "And if you can come up and defeat me in an arm-wrestling match right now, I’ll admit women are as strong as men."

The reason men have relationship problems "is because you guys are women and you don't know how to deal with a woman right," right-wing commentator and, of course, minister Jesse Lee Peterson railed recently. "You guys have become like your mothers and that's why you complain about your women because you become attracted to what you hate, so you're involved with women that are just like your mothers and you can't handle them."

"Men are not oppressing women or holding them back," writes an avid Donald Trump supporter on a Reddit thread featuring dozens of men expressing similarly hateful sentiments about women. "We’ve rolled out the red carpet for you, yet you’re lazy, not all that bright, no ambition, too cowardly and too whiny with no real interests in anything productive anyway."

Overt misogyny of this sort is rarely heard in the more official channels of political discourse. (Though not always, as Peterson made headlines in 2012 when he argued, on Fox News, that women shouldn't have been allowed the vote.)

But, as these quotes — collected from just the past week, the tip of a misogyny iceberg — make it quite clear, when right wingers chafe against "political correctness,"it isn't just racism that they want to express more freely. It's misogyny, as well.

Enter Trump. Other national figures in the Republican party feel pressure to at least feign respect for women — remember Mitt Romney bragging about his "binders full of women"? — but Trump is a man who, in 1994, blamed his first divorce on his wife daring to get a job, because her "softness disappeared".

"And then I have days where, if I come home -- and I don't want to sound too much like a chauvinist -- but when I come home and dinner's not ready, I go through the roof," he said of his second wife, Marla Maples, having a career.

"Socially and relationally," Kelly Dittmar, a Rutgers professor who does research for the Center for American Women and Politics, explained in a phone interview, women have gained "autonomy from men through the labor force participation" in the past few decades. 

"In part, what I think you’re seeing with the Donald Trump stuff is, if the status quo benefited you, as you see the change in that status quo, you may see that as more threatening," she added, speaking of the attraction so many conservative male voters have to Trump. 

While the feminist revolution has been going on for decades now, in the past decade, there's been a quiet but profound shift of social and economic power towards women, allowing unprecedented levels of autonomy. For the first time in American history, half of American workers are women. In 64% of these families, the mother is either the primary or a c0-breadwinner. In over 40% of families with children, the mother is the main breadwinner.

Even amongst traditional nuclear families, with married parents and kids at home, the shift has been dramatic. In a quarter of these homes, the wife makes more than her husband. While most couples tend to have the same educational level, it used to be that, when there was a difference, the husband had more education. But about a decade ago, that trend reversed. Now wives have more education.

All that money and education gives women space to live independently of men. Now that women don't have to be married to survive, about half of adult women in the U.S. are single.

Hillary Clinton's nomination to be president reflects trends that ordinary Americans are seeing in their homes. In many ways, this is the first time in American history where women aren't just demanding the right to work, but attaining genuine equality with men in the professional sphere.

The problem is that a lot of men are still socialized to get their self-esteem from feeling superior to women.

In April, political science professor Dan Cassino published research findings in the Harvard Business Review measuring male anxiety about their status over women. Researchers asked the male subjects if they made more or less than their wives, a question designed "to push men to think about potential threats to their gender roles".

The results were startling.

"Men who weren’t asked about spousal income until late in the survey preferred Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in a hypothetical general election matchup by a 16-point margin," Cassino writes, whereas "men who were asked about spousal income only a few questions before being asked about the Clinton-Trump matchup preferred Trump by an eight-point margin — a 24-point shift in preferences."

In contrast, the question had no effect on male preferences in a hypothetical match-up between Bernie Sanders and Trump.

While it would be nice if men, faced with women's growing power, would all just gracefully learn to find their strength within to feel good about themselves. But for many of them, that's clearly not what's happening.

Instead, many men are turning to Trump, finding reassurance of their own masculinity in his cheesy bombast and gleeful disrespect of women. In a year when we're likely to elect the first female president, provoking even more angst over men's declining dominance, Trump's gross misogyny has even more appeal.

But while over-the-top nature of Trump's sexism may appeal to sexist men who are feeling especially anxious these days, it's not helping him with Republican women. The softer Republican sexism of years past is something that these women can overlook or even, in many case, embrace by renaming it "chivalry". But with Trump, the mask has been ripped off and the contempt for women that is usually tamped down in mainstream discourse has come bubbling up.

The result, as the New York Times reported Wednesday, is that Trump's support from Republican women is sliding.

"In late July, 72 percent of Republican women said they would vote for Mr. Trump, a healthy majority, but far below the level won by the past three Republican presidential nominees," the New York Times reports. "In 2012, Mitt Romney won 93 percent of Republican women. In 2008, John McCain won 89 percent, and four years earlier, George W. Bush won 93 percent."

As the events Tuesday demonstrated, Trump's persona of masculine dominance, especially over women, has frighteningly dark aspects to it.

"If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," Trump said at a rally, when speaking of a potential Clinton presidency. "Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

It's a comment that Sen. Elizabeth Warren explicitly linked to gender.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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Donald Trump Elections 2016 Feminism Hillary Clinton Misogyny Trump Sexism