Carol Costello: To quote Roxane Gay, the state of being female in America is fraught
She asks: How do we, as women, protect our hard-fought gains if we are out of sync?
Editor’s Note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN’s “Newsroom” each weekday. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
The state of women in the time of Trump is … fraught. I can’t take credit for that insanely perfect word to describe this precarious time – that goes to feminist writer and critic Roxane Gay.
I love the word because it captures the suspicion women have for one another in light of Donald Trump’s election. That sense of betrayal Clinton supporters now feel; that sense of “girl, you just don’t get it” among Trump supporters.
More than one woman told me they fear their rights are about to slip away. It is certainly why Gay feels … fraught. “I think we are waiting to see what’s going to happen next, and how,” she told me. “Who the new President-elect is going to appoint to the Supreme Court, to see how quickly Roe vs. Wade is going to be overturned, and then how we respond to that.”
According to Pew Research, seven in 10 Americans do not want Roe vs Wade overturned; but will women, in the name of sisterhood, protest en masse against any attempt at a rollback of their rights?
In the era of a Donald Trump presidency, I think it’s safe to say: Who knows?
What woman striving for equality would vote for a man who judges women based on their body parts and brags about sexual assault? Yet, a majority of white women voted for Trump – just as many Democratic women continued to support Bill Clinton after he took advantage of a White House intern.
I have to conclude – and I know I’m generalizing – that women are either OK with that kind of behavior or we’ve put up with it for so long we’ve become numb to it.
“I thought she [Clinton] was an exceptional candidate,” Gay told me. “But that 53% of white women, in particular, supported [Trump], was surprising until I remembered that in general, I think, white women were more invested in protecting their whiteness than their womanhood.”
Clearly, Gay is cynical in post-Trumpian America. But not all the women I spoke with were as pessimistic.
Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson believes women will ultimately fight for one another, even after she initially discovered dismal female support in the wake of filing a sexual harassment suit against Roger Ailes.
“I think a lot of women don’t think we’re all on the same page,” Carlson told me. She says Trump won over so many women because their concerns over policy “superseded some of the basic tenets in the way we treat one another.”
But, she says, that doesn’t mean sisterhood is on life support. Carlson intends to make sure it thrives. “Trump has said he loves women, and believes in women,” she said. “I challenge him to then put women in high-ranking positions, show America that your words are true.”
So far, Trump’s “big four” Cabinet picks – secretary of state, secretary of defense, attorney general and secretary of the treasury – are white men. The less powerful positions were offered to women.
Still, Nancy Brinker, who founded the Susan G. Komen Foundation and its Race for the Cure, is encouraged by Trump’s early moves. She told me, “It’s too early to judge.”
She said many women were able to dismiss Trump’s misogynist comments because some found his rhetoric “strong and hopeful.” “Make America great,” she said, is “a strong, good statement.”
Brinker also laments, “We still don’t have very many women global CEOs” or female “corporate board members.” Although she supports Trump, she plans to continue her fight for equality.
That kind of logic is confounding to women like Gay, who embrace their identity as feminists. Although, perhaps that word, feminist, also represents part of the reason the state of sisterhood is so fraught.
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Nashville singer songwriter, Ayla Brown, who sang the national anthem at the Republican National Convention, told me, “I don’t consider myself a [feminist]. I consider myself someone who works incredibly hard.” Gender, she said, “does not matter.”
Ibtihaj Muhammad, a trailblazing bronze Olympic medalist fencer and Hillary Clinton supporter who became the first Muslim-American woman to wear a hijab while competing for the United States, rejects the word.
“Feminism can mean so many things depending on who you’re asking,” she told me. Yet, in that same interview, she added, “Myself, as a minority, even as a woman, you almost have to work twice as hard to receive the same things that you know your counterparts receive.”
So how do we, as women, protect our hard-fought gains if we are out of sync over a word – a movement – that won us so many rights? The thought makes Gay crazy because so many women who disavow the label are feminist. “I don’t want to be sexually harassed at work, but I’m not a feminist,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Like, girl, what? Like, just get a dictionary.”
Or a platform.
That’s exactly what hundreds of thousands of women will do this coming Saturday. They will gather on the National Mall to send a message to President Trump. We’re here. We’re watching you. And we’re ready to fight back.
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Reshma Saujani, CEO of Girls Who Code, is psyched for what comes next. “I think it has lit a fire under us,” she told me. “I think what you are going to see over the next four to eight years is more women saying, enough. I want affordable day care, I want paid leave. I think you’re going to see more activism, you’re going to see more women running for office, you’re going to see more women take more risks, starting companies.”
And, even at this anxiety-riddled time in history, isn’t that the kind of sisterhood all women can support?