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It seems an unlikely paradox: In a country where women outnumber men in all but nine states, the first woman in US history to run for president, as a major party nominee, has struggled to win a strong majority of women voters. For most of her 2016 presidential run, Hillary Clinton has not been able to get the vote of women. As it turns out — ironically or not — it has taken a man to do it for her: Donald Trump.
Following the release, earlier this month of a 2005 "Access Hollywood" recording, in which Trump brags on a bus about how he likes to “grab them by the p**y” and assault women, Clinton’s support among women has surged. Within a week, Clinton was leading Trump among women by about 20 points, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Married, white women, who typically vote Republican, are making up most of the recent increase, polls say. And, in an unprecedented moment for the conservative base, evangelical women have broken ranks with their male counterparts in the church, to disavow Trump.
Of course, it’s still unclear whether the growing numbers of women denouncing Trump are going the extra step of voting for Clinton — some say they will write in Indiana Gov. Mike Pence instead. But, perhaps even more importantly, is this a fleeting moment of unity in modern American feminism — or is this collective backlash building into something more, something that will change business-as-usual in US sexual politics?
If that’s so, it will have been the sheer vileness of Trump’s misogyny that was the proverbial straw to finally break the misogynist's back. After all, though the pushback against everyday sexism began well before his presidential run, now there is true bipartisan revulsion kicking the discussion up to a whole new level. Is it possible that Donald Trump's run for the presidency is the best thing that's happened to the modern US feminist movement in decades?
Even before the Trump tape, there had been high-profile new-century movements to fight back against the constant, harassing grind in the lives of American women, such as Hollaback and EverydaySexism. Noteworthy is that this groundswell has also been accompanied by a new vocabulary developed by women themselves to name the things they experience: rape culture, mansplaining, manels, manspreading, gaslighting.
Comedians like Amy Schumer, with her skits on Hollywood sexism, and Samantha Bee, with her searing journalistic indictments of sexism in politics, have put a spotlight on gender and equality. Female actors openly demanding equal pay with their male co-stars and calling for a Bechdel test for movies, have reframed the issue for 21st-century America.
It seems as if the modern feminist movement — long defined by the divisive issue of abortion rights — is finally unifying against the everyday sexual harassment, and even assault, that most American women face in their lifetime. It is a #YesAllWomen moment, and women across the political and religious spectrum are saying all women are tired of it, all women want it to stop, all women will unite against it.
Whether it’s catcalling, groping, harassment, indecent exposure, molestation or rape — it’s hard to find a woman without a story, quite a few stories, in fact.
The sheer magnitude of these YesAllWomen stories became clear when Canadian author Kelly Oxford issued this public invitation during the second debate: “Women, Tweet me your first assaults” with the hashtag #NotOK. She expected a few dozen responses. Within minutes responses were pouring in. At one point, she was receiving two stories per second. Within a few days, more than 30 million people — overwhelmingly women — had read or responded to her tweet, she said. In the course of one evening, she said, 1 million women responded to her callout.
It’s true that Republican women had been deserting Trump throughout 2016. His history as a womanizer, his personal attack on TV host Megyn Kelly, his despicable comments about a Miss Universe, calling her Miss Piggy, had taken its toll. But, still, many women stood by him. But then the audio tape emerged. Notable Republican women who withdrew their support after the tape was released include former first lady Barbara Bush and Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state for George W. Bush, who tweeted “enough.”
New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte told Politico, “I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.”
In the US Senate, five of the six Republican women abandoned Trump (compared to just 12 out of 48 Republican men). Only Iowa Senator Joni Ernst maintains her support, although she did denounce Trump publicly for his comments. Meanwhile, in the House, a third of Republican women lawmakers have publicly withdrawn their support, including Texan Rep. Kay Granger, who did so after the tape was released.
Rep. Martha Roby from Alabama tweeted that Trump was “unacceptable” and she wouldn’t vote for him. Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, who had been mum about Trump, issued a statement the morning after the tape was released, calling it “vile and disqualifying.” Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama followed suit, according to Politico. West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Rep. Mia Love of Utah, Rep. Ann Wagner of Missouri and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska all did the same — despite representing districts or states where Trump is polling strongly.
Meanwhile, male evangelical leaders were happy to turn the other cheek upon hearing Trump say that he tried to move on a married woman “like a bitch.” Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell and Robert Jeffress all reiterated their support for Trump in the wake of the tape’s release.
Their female counterparts went in the opposite direction. Leading the pack was Beth Moore, who has 733,000 Twitter followers. On Oct. 9, she rebuked Christian leaders for standing with Trump and then identified with the women Trump demeaned.
“I'm one among many women sexually abused, misused, stared down, heckled, talked naughty to. Like we liked it. We didn't. We're tired of it,” she tweeted.
Motivational speaker and mother of five, Jennifer Hatmaker, a popular woman leader in the evangelical community, in an Instagram post, called Trump’s comments “disgusting and disqualifying" and said her 7th grader wouldn’t speak like that. Well-known Christian authors Christine Caine, Trillia Newbell and Kay Warren have all publicly denounced Trump’s remarks, as have musicians Nichole Nordeman and Sara Groves, and Moody Radio host Julie Roys.
For evangelical women, disavowing Trump means, in essence, making it more likely the United States will elect a president who will put forward a US Supreme Court nominee who supports abortion rights for women. Think about that for a moment: Women who are strongly anti-abortion and women who are strongly in favor of abortion rights agree that Trump is anathema, and they will not support him, no matter that some of them might agree with certain of his policy positions.
Among American women of all political leanings, misogyny, for the first time in American political history, has become a deal-breaker and a disqualification for political office.
“I think it took a comment from Trump that personally affected a majority of evangelicals for there to be a tipping point,” Katelyn Beaty, editor at large of Christianity Today told Radio News Service. “More than half of every church is women, and all those women are affected by comments about sexual assault.”
Apparently, young millennial evangelical women like Trump even less. Of 33 influential millennial evangelicals polled by Christianity Today, only one still supports Trump, its online editor Kate Shellnutt, 30, told the New York Times. And at Liberty University in Virginia, run by Jerry Falwell, a student petition denouncing Trump and the university president’s support of him, earned 2,500 signatures.
This YesAllWomen movement is not a uniquely American revolution, either. Around the world, popular movements against sexual assault are uniting women. In Turkey, after a young college student named Ozgecan Aslan was brutally raped and murdered on a bus in late 2014, the hashtag of her name went viral worldwide, with more than 3 million using it, and sharing their own stories of harassment and abuse.
In Ukraine and Russia this past July, Anastasiya Melnychenko, the head of a human rights organization, became outraged at a Facebook post in which a man blamed a woman for her rape. She launched the hashtag #imnotafraidtosayit, and it went viral. Thousands of women shared their stories.
“We do not have to make excuses. We are not to blame, a rapist is always to blame. I’m not afraid to talk. And I don’t feel guilty,” Melnychenko tweeted.
In South Africa this summer, women shared their stories of rape with the #1in3 hashtag, referring to the statistical likelihood a South African woman is raped. The hashtag started after four women silently protested against President Jacob Zuma, who is himself accused of rape. In August, it was a top trending tweet on Twitter for days.
In the UK in 2012, British feminist writer Laura Bates started a web campaign called Everyday Sexism, encouraging women to share their stories on the website, in an effort to document the abuse. On Twitter, @everydaysexism now has 257,000 followers, and women from 22 countries have shared their stories of abuse on her website. They also launched the hashtag #whenIwas, encouraging women to share their stories of harassment and abuse. Within a few days, 20,000 people — mostly women — had shared the hashtag.
Bates immediately invoked the popularity of the hashtag as evidence that women weren’t “overreacting” or “making it up.” This reaction explains why the Trump tape has had such a powerful response — it was the hard evidence women long felt they lacked.
Poet Muriel Rukeyser once mused, “What would happen if a woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” And so it is.
Business-as-usual is over in American politics, by which we mean that misogyny is now a widely accepted disqualification for political office. This is not only on the right, where the GOP has been shocked into the understanding that their female base will no longer stand up for misogynist conservatives, but also on the left.
If Bill Clinton were running for president in 2016, he would not be electable. Period. This is a sea change for all with political ambitions in the United States.
It seems naïve to hope a unified women’s movement will emerge from this highly charged election season, but one thing that has happened is the concept of “women’s issues” in American political discourse no longer simply includes abortion rights. That’s good for all women, but is a double-edged sword for Hillary Clinton.
Bill Clinton’s own predatory behavior makes his wife unlikely to be an outspoken champion on this issue, and more’s the pity. She has remained tight-lipped, nearly silent on the Billy Bush tape, saying little more than, "Who gets up at 3 o'clock in the morning to engage in a Twitter attack against a former Miss Universe?"
Assuming she wins, and Trump fades into obscurity, the public’s attention might turn to the debate over the Supreme Court nomination and divide women all over again on the issue of abortion rights and same-sex marriage. If her tenure at the State Department is any indicator, Clinton will push forward a bold agenda to advance issues affecting women — an agenda that may ride this current wave of attention on women’s rights.
Regardless, the political landscape in the United States is forever changed, and it is important to mark this moment for the history books. Women are now telling the truth about what happens to them on a daily basis.
With a media spotlight on the words that come from the mouths of men like Trump, it is also shining a light on the corruption of misogyny. If he loses the election, every Trump-like man will know his own ambition can be crucified for it. On Tuesday, NBC severed ties with "Today" host Billy Bush, sending its message that such talk won’t be tolerated.
On Nov. 8, Donald Trump will find out if the US electorate will give him the same treatment. While there is always a backlash, it is important to recognize that there are also men’s groups now stepping forward, such as the Amherst College men's soccer team player who recently wrote in the Boston Globe that it disavowed the misogyny intertwined with American ideas of manhood.
Perhaps some men will rationalize that if only they avoid hot mics, they can have their misogyny and ambition both. But even the most die-hard among them must have winced to hear in public what they think in private. It really is ugly, and even they know it.
We all know it, and we’re all tired of it. On that Americans — male and female, right and left, religious and secular — can agree.
This article is published in partnership with ForeignPolicy.com
Christina Asquith, based in Istanbul, covers women’s issues worldwide as Editor of Across Women’s Lives at PRI’s The World, and Founder of The Fuller Project for International Reporting
Valerie M. Hudson is professor and George H.W. Bush Chair at The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, where she directs the Program on Women, Peace, and Security.