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Reproductive Sociology Research Group

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Sexism Trumps Racism? Nope

In the aftermath of the US presidential election result, is it helpful to see Donald Trump’s victory as a triumph of sexism over racism?

Katie Dow, November '16 - available to download as a PDF.

I haven’t been able to get much work done today, despite waking up early. It is too easy to be distracted. I can almost hear the filling of millions of paper bags as many people across the world have a collective panic attack at the thought of what President Trump might mean.

Of course, a major source of distraction is the great distractor, social media. Since I belong to exactly the sort of metropolitan elite that Trump and other rightwing demagogues have done so much to blame for the failures of neoliberal capitalism, it’s no surprise that none of my friends have welcomed Trump’s election. Many, especially the Americans, are convulsed in disappointment, fear and alienation. I feel for them. Part of me thinks that thinking in apocalyptic terms about this result is playing into Trump’s rhetoric, but still, I feel for all of us. This is, in part, the result of many, especially in the media, not taking him and his supporters seriously. 

But, one argument I’ve seen which I cannot support is that this result was the triumph of sexism over racism. Firstly, it doesn’t make any sense, because it implies that Trump was sexist and Clinton was racist, when in fact Hillary Clinton has done much to call out Trump’s racism and her anti-racist message seemed to resonate with her supporters. Secondly, it skates over the fact that Trump is racist as well as sexist. No doubt, different people voted for him for different reasons and many of them may have believed his message to be a hopeful rather than hateful one. Nonetheless, racism and white supremacy underpinned his campaign and his appeal. So, how can voting for him be a victory for anti-racism? Thirdly, the whole idea that this is a question of voters being either sexist or racist, or that the two forms of discrimination can be quantified against each other, suggests a very narrow understanding of both sexism and racism. As scholars of intersectionality have been arguing for decades, sexism, racism and all forms of discrimination are interconnected. This presidential campaign has been an object – and abject – lesson in that. Just ask Alicia Machado. Or, just think about what white supremacists think of women’s rights or gay marriage.

It is politically expedient to pretend that it is a question of one or the other, to pitch sexism against racism and decide that the rich white lady was the biggest loser. It makes us forget how much racism was a part of Trump’s campaign, how he demonised Mexicans and Muslims, along with disabled people, women, gays and lesbians. Trump is an equal opportunities hater, a bully with diverse victims. Intersectional feminism reminds us that this is no coincidence. It also exhorts us not to forget some victims of his bullying just because some voters couldn’t bear the idea of a woman as president.

This may not be a day on which criticism is welcome. I understand that. I know many will need to take time to recover and regroup. But if you’re angry and you’re sad that this has happened, what more reason do you need to take a stand against this politics of fear and hate? If I had had a vote in this election, I would have given it to Clinton and that’s largely because her campaign was based on an understanding that hate is insidious and pervasive and, as far-reaching as its tentacles are, it needs to be countered wherever it is found. If we appreciate that, love could, still, trump hate. 

The Reproductive Sociology Research Group supports research and teaching on the social and cultural implications of new reproductive technologies. ReproSoc is part of an expanding concentration of Reproductive Studies at Cambridge, is led by Professor Sarah Franklin and has funding from the Wellcome Trust, British Academy, ESRC, ERC, and Office of the Vice Chanccelloer, as well as several other funding bodies.

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