When it became nightmarishly clear on Tuesday night that Donald Trump was going to become our next president, a startling amount of women in my social media feeds posted a version of this phrase: “Never underestimate how much America hates women.”
The tone wasn’t angry, exactly. It was posted with the same seething resignation we had when we clocked the outrageous entitlement of a man who groped women whether they wanted it or not. Or every time someone called Hillary Clinton a bitch. The sheer number of Americans who would vote for Donald Trump caught progressives by surprise, but the onslaught of misogyny this election season appears to have reached an utterly logical conclusion.
It all boils down to: Misogynists are fine by Americans. Women in power are not.
We can’t say we didn’t see this coming. We saw it in 1992, when Clinton got dragged for defending her choice to work, when voters thought of her as the “overbearing yuppie wife from hell.” We saw it in 2008, the last time Clinton ran for president, when Hillary nutcrackers appeared in airport gift shops even as she was criticized for tearing up at a campaign stop (once! She cried once!). We saw it in the way people—both men and women, both conservatives and progressives—have always scrutinized her voice, her laugh, her clothes. We saw it in the jarring invective of Trump voters talking about Hillary in those videos roiling with the raw anger of a Trump rally; they wanted to jail her, beat her, assassinate her.
I watched all of this carefully, and even I was taken aback by the ability of my country to so heartily affirm a cartoonishly sexist man at the expense of an ambitious, formidable woman. I actually felt relief during Pussygate, when even some of the most far-right Republicans denounced Trump’s comments as deeply offensive. But there were moments during the same week that gnawed at me, when my most liberal, caring guy friends sheepishly said, Hate to break it to you, Nona, but Trump’s “locker room talk” isn’t all that far off from the stuff in our group texts. If beta Brooklyn men were admitting this, what were men across America doing?
On Tuesday, a staggering amount of them were voting for Trump. All kinds of men—educated men, young men, even men in states that went for Obama in 2008. Men who were supposed to know better.
Many of these men (and women, too) would never admit that their hatred of Clinton was linked to her gender. She’s untrustworthy, they said—more so than a candidate who openly, compulsively lies more than any other candidate in recent memory. She’s corrupt, she has baggage, she’s shrill, she’s cold. Clinton was far from a perfect candidate, and there were lots of level-headed reasons to disagree with her. But it’s hard to look at the surplus of pure contempt lobbed at her over the years and not attribute it at least partly to the fact that she's a woman.
Many of us were fired up by this swirling hatred. Feminists gleefully warned bigoted relatives on Facebook: “Donald Trump will feel the rage of women on November 8.” Clinton used Trump’s words against him in debates and on the stump, again and again and again. But for every outraged woman, there were others—especially white women, a majority of whom who voted for Trump on Election Day—who bent over backwards to make excuses for their candidate. New York magazine quoted a woman as saying, “I like getting groped! I’m heterosexual. I’m a woman, and when a guy gropes me, I get groping on them!” Another woman featured in the same article was turned off by Bill Clinton’s affairs; the voter didn’t “understand how [Hillary] can say she respects women when she doesn’t respect herself.”
Many of us weren’t surprised that a certain type of white man losing his footing in a new America would rather not vote a woman into power, the type of white man whose racism is so strong that they'd support a candidate beloved by white supremacists over one who embraced the melting pot. But this election reminded us that women are deeply entrenched in sexism and racism, too.
A Donald Trump presidency will have real-world consequences for women if he keeps his campaign promises, starting with the appointment of a right-wing Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe v. Wade. But there’s a far less tangible insult here, too. It’s not just that Americans are willing to overlook unfathomable depths of misogyny. It’s that they actively rejected a woman who represents the opposite. Until the very last minute, we all underestimated just how far we haven’t come.