Earlier this month at the India Today Conclave in Mumbai, Hillary Clinton ’69 was asked why she thought most white women voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Clinton responded, “[Democrats] do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married, white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.” These remarks quickly drew national criticism for the implication that women are unable to think independently from their husbands. However, Clinton’s statement also brought many studies on the voting behaviors of women into mainstream media. While her statement is not entirely false––for a number of studies have found that straight, married, white women are indeed more likely to vote in line with their husbands––the fact that Clinton was so quick to attribute this behavior to the notion that women are unable to withstand masculine societal pressure undermines her status as a feminist icon.
By implying that women who voted against her in the 2016 election did so because of the influence of their husbands, sons and—likely male—bosses, Clinton fundamentally dismisses the agency of women based solely on the fact that their views differ from her own. In reality, many women voted for Trump for the exact same reasons that men did. Because we possess the same agency as men, women are equally capable of harboring racist or xenophobic views and therefore are capable of being drawn into Trump’s narrative of fear and hate. Additionally, many Trump voters cited his promise of economic prosperity as a reason for voting for him. Just as some men voted based on economic issues alone, many women plagued by financial hardship likely did the same, choosing to vote on the single issue that was most pressing and relevant to their situation, regardless of the candidate’s other infractions. Though there are certainly no just reasons to vote for Trump, there are many justifications. The difference is that while men’s justifications are chalked up to flaws in their thinking, Clinton has denied women that same agency by suggesting that the women who voted for Trump did so because they were unduly influenced by the men in their lives.
Following Clinton’s remarks, some media outlets quickly published stories which included research that showed that married women do tend to exhibit voting behavior that is parallel to that of their husbands. However, this fact does not prove that female voting behavior is a result of undue male influence. For many married women, their financial well-being is directly related to that of their husband’s, so it stands to reason that married women would vote for Trump if they believed it would help improve their household’s financial outlook.
Additionally, studies cited in support of Clinton’s statement do not comprehensively examine the change in women’s political leanings before and after they were married. There should be no doubt that women face unjust treatment and pressure at the hands of our societal norms and that these systematic issues need to be remedied. However, there is also no doubt in my mind that women are capable of individual thought and incredible achievements despite the undue burdens we face. The fact that women are subjected to this pressure to act, or in this case, vote a certain way does not mean that simply because we are women we are inherently unable to withstand it. While some women voted in the 2016 election based on societal pressures, many men surely did so as well. Our political views are shaped by our experiences and therefore are inherently subjected to the influence of social pressures.
Throughout her campaign, Clinton branded herself as a champion for women and girls, which was one of many reasons why I voted for her last fall. Even amid the turmoil of election’s the immediate aftermath, she maintained her composure and resolve. However, statements like this one make me think that her focus has shifted from working to improve our nation, to looking for scapegoats for her loss. While it is a loss that many in our country are still reeling from, Clinton should not allow it to compromise her vision for this country. By so cavalierly attributing her lack of support among white women to their supposed inability to stand opposed to male pressure, she is stripping these women of the very agency that she fought to secure for them throughout her campaign. We have to focus on dismantling the institutions that attempt to minimize and diminish the contributions of women, and dismissing the agency of women to express a differing opinion only feeds into those societal structures.
While this was only one statement, it speaks to a larger issue. Hillary Clinton cannot claim to be the champion of women when she is willing to dismiss the agency of those who do not support her. To fight for women’s rights is to fight for the rights of all women, including those who use their power to disagree with Clinton at the polls.