A friend of mine has voted Republican her whole life, in a civilized, North Shore sort of way. But this year’s election has her in a patriotic predicament. “I don’t know who to vote for,” she said recently, shaking her head in dismay. There are so many ways I could have answered her, but I thought of the best reply only later: “Are you kidding?” I should have said. “You have four daughters!”
The 2016 presidential campaign is a defining moment for American women. Not because it offers the chance to elect the first female president of the United States, though it would be gratifying to join Israel, Norway, Iceland, Chile, Britain, and dozens of other countries that have chosen women heads of government. It’s more profound than that. Thanks to the unique misogyny of Donald Trump’s campaign, this election offers women a chance to become the commanding political force they have flirted with since achieving suffrage in 1920. With some polls indicating a gender gap of historic proportions, and with a 30-year record of meeting or exceeding voter turnout among men, women are poised to be the deciding factor not just in selecting the next president, but in patently rejecting the boorish, insolent, objectifying view of women that Trump promotes. This would be just as important if Trump were running against another man.
The stakes are high, and the lines are bright. The direction of the US Supreme Court hangs in the balance, and its long arm will reach into the lives of a new generation of women, ruling on issues from equal pay to reproductive rights, including access to birth control. On economic policy, women still only earn about 81 cents to the dollar for comparable work by men, despite outpacing men in the percentage with college degrees. Women would benefit more from an increase in the minimum wage. Women are disproportionately affected by budget and tax policies that shred the safety net, including social security, unpaid family leave, and the persistent lack of high-quality, affordable day care. Women are more likely to tolerate government regulations, especially when they help prevent lead in the drinking water, arsenic traces in juice boxes, or toxic flame retardants in children’s pajamas.
But forget the issue checklist. Maybe you don’t know anyone in a minimum-wage job, or ever expect to need an abortion or the government’s help, short of defending the country and picking up the trash. Then consider the cultural crossroads the nation has come to in the gender wars. We have reached a juncture where campus rape is just another drinking game, where three women a day are murdered by their current or estranged domestic partners, where women sportswriters are regularly threatened with death, the b-word, the c-word, and the f-word by male “fans” operating in the anonymity of their Twitter feeds.
Does anyone really believe that Trump, with his frat-boy insults and bully bombast, will do anything as president to heal these wounds?
There are many reasons for loyal Republicans to reject Trump. You don’t have to be a Charlie Baker “Republican in Name Only” or a swing-state senator in a close reelection. You could be a global business owner worried about Trump’s protectionist trade tendencies. Or an internationalist neoconservative concerned with his isolationist rhetoric. Or a religious conservative repulsed by his crude morals.
Or you could be a woman, perhaps a mother with daughters, yearning for a leader who will offer them a future of civility and respect.
This year, more than any other, women have a reason to make their voices heard. I hope my friend doesn’t sit this one out.
Renée Loth’s column appears regularly in the Globe.