These are strange times no matter what chromosomes you have, but if you’re marked with two X chromosomes, it’s both strange and terrifying. Because the XX's, for the first time in modern history, were tantalizingly close to fair treatment under the law, the economy, the insurance industry, and—to greater or lesser success—media representation, and are now condemned to endure a direct threat at the feet of a few angry XY's.
But we won’t be relinquishing our rights without a fight, and men—our allies—have to understand what’s at stake.
A few years ago I was shopping in a hardware store for a jigsaw. It was for small project, so I wanted one that wasn’t too much of a commitment; I wasn’t sure how often I would use it in the future. On the other hand, I actively loathe poorly made crap, so it couldn’t be the cheapest, either. This meant standing there, reviewing my options.
An older man walked up to me. “Getting a gift for your husband? I can help.”
I said something akin to, “No, thank you. I’m good.” One thing I knew: I didn’t want engage him in a feminist dialog in the hardware aisle at Home Depot.
He was being kind; he was also completely out of touch with not just my lifestyle, but the lives of every woman. Even the most “feminine” women I know are in touch with their inner General Contractor; they might not use a jigsaw, but they certainly know how to oversee big jobs and get things done.
This simple question made grand assumptions across a broad spectrum, but it also hid a plea, a hope that we, as a collective feminine species, still did that sort of thing for our husbands.
I do: I get him stinky cheese, plummy red wines, and cookbooks. I buy him kitchen gadgets. He gets me Dremels for my birthday. He buys me canned beer because he loves me. I have the most skill with power tools. He has the most skill with computers.
As far as the maternal arts are concerned: many of my friends have foregone children. Some women have chosen to stay willfully and artfully unmarried while raising their children. Some have chosen a life of Auntie-hood. Some of the most mom-ly people I know are lesbians, or men. And everyone I know blends all the traditionally feminine or masculine characteristics in a way that makes the coming four years—or eight if the collective madness really takes hold—look like nothing so much as a battle for our freedom.
That Donald Trump assaulted women verbally and sexually is not a question. That both men and women voted for him in great numbers is not a question. The question is, “What does it mean?”
I’ve spent the last few days doing research on this question, albeit through the channels of scientific studies. And the conclusion I’ve reached is that men’s–and women's–perception about both themselves and the women in general is the problem.
A quick glance at the headlines of the studies I perused:
Stereotyping Contributes to the Stark Gender Gap in U.S. Business Leadership
Chore Wars: Men, Women and Housework
Battle of the Sexes: How Women and Men See Things Differently
Let's talk about the gender differences that really matter – in mental health
Reinforcing gender stereotypes: how our schools narrow children's choices
What stood out in these articles is that both men's —and women's—perception of what women are like is the problem, not what women actually do. Over and over again, the theme repeated: many humans still do not SEE women, we only project upon them what we already believe, or what we want to believe. And the maintenance of what is materially a collective case of snow blindness is at the heart of the 2016 election: men (and a lot of women) voted for the continuation of an illusion that American women broke decades ago.
Perhaps the most interesting studies I read about were two parallel but separate examinations from 2014, about our interior lives. In the first, both men and women were given the task to be quiet with their thoughts for between 6 and 15 minutes; virtually everyone regardless of gender or age admitted that it was an unpleasant process: they didn’t like it, found it uncomfortable, and often “cheated” by filling their time with something, like listening to music or checking their phones.
Then the researchers upped the stakes: the subjects were still encouraged to sit quietly with their thoughts, but were also given the option of shocking themselves with low-voltage if they wanted.
"What is striking," the investigators write, "is that simply being alone with their own thoughts for 15 minutes was apparently so aversive that it drove many participants to self-administer an electric shock that they had earlier said they would pay to avoid."
67 percent of men administered the shock to themselves (compared to 25 percent of women) within their allotted time.
One man (whose data was left out of the study) shocked himself 190 times. “I have no idea what was going on there,” Wilson [an investigator] said. “But for most people, it was more like seven times.”
The second study reviewed the emotional responses, monitored with biofeedback, of men and women to videos which are stereotypically targeted toward women:
The content was categorised into four topics: blissful, funny, exciting and heart-warming – and experts were surprised to see that men displayed marginally stronger reactions on average to all of the first three.
Even more shocking was the results for the “heart-warming” category, however. The experiment showed that men actually responded twice as much to this content than women. [emphasis mine]
If this revelation tipped the apple-cart about our assumptions of mens’ emotional lives, the conclusion of the study was depressing: men downplayed or outright denied their deep emotional response (again, by a margin of 67 percent). While the study didn’t close with a solid statement of fact, it was inferred that either the male subjects were deeply conflicted about revealing their emotions at all, or that they were so out of touch with them (see study #1) that they didn’t recognize their depth. In either case, it illustrates the disparity of who is emotional, and what gender stereotyping wrongly proliferates.
Being a woman in any culture is fraught with double standards and hypocrisy, but in this great nation of ours they manifest not because we have fewer freedoms than other countries, but that we should be happy with the ones we’ve got and should shut up about the rest. We finally got out of the house, so workplace sexism shouldn't be a big deal. Our desire to be paid equally is a bridge too far. Our quest to work in STEM fields is expected to come with a share of overt antagonism. Our incursions into business success is a personal threat to masculinity in toto. That sexual exploitation is a basic truth of humanity, and it’s perfectly normal.
This is the crux of the question, "What does the 2016 election mean?" No matter what we’ve fought for and earned, and despite women fighting on multiple fronts across race, gender identity, class, and religion, we are all subjects under our male manager-kings and that we should just accept it.
These are the battle lines that all of us —men, women, children—are going to face in the very near future. But if the men in our lives are choosing to not be emotionally invested in our quest for equal treatment, we’re in vastly greater trouble when the new administration takes a hold of the reins in January. This administration, that rode into office on a wave of sexism, misogyny and so-called "Traditional Values," has no scruples about putting XX's in a box of their design, and it won't be to empower us.
The 2016 election is the hostile reassertion of an outmoded and dying culture, an attempt to force women into a mold that we don’t—and won’t—fill any longer. And fifty percent of the population—whether they voted for Trump or not—will not just experience the daily small personal assaults on our humanity, but will suffer them under governmental enshrinement, consecrated in the rule of law.
We need all people, XX's and XY's, secular and God-fearing, across cultural and racial lines, to fight back.