Women’s “State of the Union” and the 2016 elections

BY:Michelle Kern| June 23, 2016
Women’s “State of the Union” and the 2016 elections

Presented to the National Board of the Communist Party June 15, 2016.

Donald Trump nailed his colors to the mast early on in the Republican 2016 primary.  His coming was hailed as a joke by many observers of politics and the media fueled his outrageous antics like spectators baiting a bear, laughing as it stumbled and bellowed.

In the very first GOP primary debate, on August 6th, conservative Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly asked Trump a question about his past characterizations of women, citing instances where he had called them pigs, dogs, or disgusting animals.  His response during the debate was defensive, though he attempted to maintain his cool in the spin-room immediately after.

It was when he took to the media and to his infamous Twitter account that the misogynistic abuse flowed in retribution. In an interview with Don Lemon of CNN, Trump observed nastily that Kelly had “blood flowing out of her…whatever” in her supposed anger (although the journalist seemed composed in the interchange during the debate.)

On Twitter, he rained abuse down on Kelly’s professionalism for months, obsessed with the subject well into spring of this year  His theme was that she was crazy, off-balance, sick, and shouldn’t have her job.

Along the way, he implied that his fellow GOP candidate Carly Fiorina was an ugly-faced and angry woman and attacked her repeatedly in the media and on social media. As the year wore on and his rivals in the GOP were rapidly eliminated, he trained more of his venom on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, attacking her personal life.  He accused her of playing the “woman card” and of being shrill and shouting.  All of these instances are well-known as gendered attacks, making sure women know that their presence is considered an offense in traditionally male centers of power, and that only women who conform in looks and in tone are considered unthreatening to male ruling power, and therefore acceptable.

The Clinton campaign turned adroitly to parry these attacks, issuing a “woman card” to supporters, and also airing a TV ad that merely had women repeating the exact quotes of sexist comments from Trump.

On the question of women’s rights, Trump said that there should be some form of punishment for women who get an abortion.  As president, he said, he would shut down the U.S. government in order to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood.  He’s attempted to walk back that answer, but he has also indicated his willingness to appoint Supreme Court Justices just like the recently deceased Antonin Scalia, which basically comes to the same results.

Signaling this intention to make right-wing judicial appointments was apparently deemed attractive enough to begin to lure establishment conservatives into supporting Trump for president over their previous objections, who then began to fall in line and endorse the candidate.

Meanwhile, in the backdrop of this electoral performance, systemic attacks were being waged against women’s rights, the organizations that they rely on, and on women themselves.  While Trump’s antics were capturing the media spotlight, other GOP candidates latched onto the right-wing attacks on Planned Parenthood via fraudulent videos produced which purported to show that Planned Parenthood was trafficking in abortion-harvested fetal organs.  Carly Fiorina made inflammatory remarks in the September GOP debates, although later it was revealed that she hadn’t even watched the videos in question.

The inflamed rhetoric that these attacks produced led directly to a terrorist attack on a Colorado Planned Parenthood, in which three people died and several were injured during a five-hour gun battle.  The suspect was heard to mumble “no more baby parts” when he was apprehended.

Lest we think the attacks on Planned Parenthood and women’s rights died down after the videos were debunked in the media, on June 8th of this year it was reported that the GOP had leaked the personal information of biomedical researchers and Planned Parenthood staffers, in the course of an ongoing House panel that is investigating alleged wrongdoing by abortion rights organizations.

House Democrats have called for an end to this panel, calling it a “unique form of congressional harassment.”

The crisis in access to women’s health has been acute.  Reports show that hundreds of thousands of women in states with draconian abortion laws are considering or actually self-aborting or going without health check-ups.  “In 1982, there were nearly 3,000 abortion providers. Now, there are only 1,720.”  NARAL reports that only 13% of counties in the entire United States have an abortion provider.  87% do not.

This year’s primaries were tragically bracketed by terror fueled by toxic masculinity—in June of 2015, there was the Charleston massacre by Dylann Roof, who claimed his killings in the church of innocent African-American churchgoers stemmed from his racist and paranoid beliefs that Black people raped white women.  This weekend, nearly a year later, a homophobic wife-beater, Omar Mateen, committed horrific mass murder in a gay bar in Orlando, killing 49 and wounding 53, the majority of the victims being Latino/a.

These outbreaks of mass violence are often begun at home, with violence against women.  “Between 2009 and 2012, 40 percent of mass shootings started with a shooter targeting his girlfriend, wife, or ex-wife.” Three women are killed everyday by their partners.  Everytown for Gun Safety has several statistics about firearms and domestic violence on their website: one of the most chilling is: “When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.”

Economic fears and abuse often keep women in violent relationships.

Despite an improving economy since 2008, the economic state of American women is still dire:

  •    18 million women in the United States live in poverty.
  •    2/3 of all low-wage workers are women, and in 2/3 of all families, the primary breadwinner is a woman.
  •    The United States has more elderly women living in poverty than any other industrialized country, a result of historically low-paying jobs leading to small Social Security incomes.  “Thirteen percent of women over 75 years old are poor compared to 6 percent of men.”  Black women are 16% more likely to live in elder poverty than white men.
  •    “Time poverty”, a result of women assuming more work in home and childcare, results in thousands of hours of uncompensated labor that adds up over a lifetime.
  •    Gender parity in wages is still a problem: white women make .79 cents on the dollar made by a white man.  The gap for women of color is even wider, with Latina women making only 54% and Black women making just 64% of a dollar made by a white male.

By 2044, the majority of the United States’ female workforce will be women of color.

Today, women of color, especially Black women, account for the highest level of college degrees awarded in the United States.   Despite this, young African-American women still experience the highest rate of severe punishments for school infractions.  “Data released by the Department of Education for the 2011–2012 school year reveal that while Black males were suspended more than three times as often as their white counterparts, Black girls were suspended six times as often.”

The over-policing of schools leads to more young women of color being exposed to the juvenile justice system, and having violent encounters with law enforcement.  In many states, police are empowered to arrest children for being disruptive in class, with “disruptive” being a rather loose and open-ended category of behavior that includes even minor distractions.  In October 2015, an African-American South Carolina teen was brutalized by a male police officer in her classroom, suffering many injuries.  #BlackLivesMatter and the #SayHerName campaigns have highlighted the negative and sometimes lethal effect that law-enforcement has on adult Black women in situations with law enforcement.

As mentioned by Adam Tenney in his excellent report on transgender people and the trans rights movement to the National Committee, the rush by GOP-led states to enact bathroom segregation bills against transgender people has a direct link to the 2016 elections.  Transmisogyny as a result of these bigoted bias measures has resulted in attacks on transgender women and also cis women who are not gender-conforming.

Hate preacher James Dobson reportedly attacked transgender women in early June by telling a congregation’s men to shoot transgender women in the head if they are found in bathrooms, as a show of masculine strength.  Studies have shown that the women actually in the most danger in public restrooms are transgender women.  Biased hate laws elevate violence against transgender women, which has especially fallen heavily on transgender women of color.

Although Donald Trump has come out with lukewarm verbal statements of support for LGBT issues, his courting of the evangelical right-wing for support, and also his intention to appoint right-wing Supreme Court Justices makes any verbal support moot.  His material actions would lead to a stripping of rights for LGBTQ people.  Numerous reports in the press have sounded the warning that he is not a moderate on LGBTQ rights, and that supporting him on this basis is dangerous.  His stance on deportation alone would create elevated dangers for transgender women, who suffer terribly in ICE detention centers already.

The rape crisis has touched nearly every community where women are.  Campus rape has been a topic of media attention during this election year, with the recent case of the Stanford rapist Brock Turner, who managed to convince the judge that his violation of his victim, so brutal that gravel and pine needles were found inside her genitalia, was consensual, and even though the jury convicted him on all three felony counts, his sentence was for 6 months in county jail, later commuted to 3 months. Reports from campus surveys suggest that between 20-27% of campus rapes are committed on cis & transgender women and gender-fluid people.

Native American women on reservations are the most at-risk population of women for rape, with 86% of rapes being committed by non-Native men.  1 in 3 Native American women are likely to be raped in her lifetime, and are 2.5% more likely to be raped than women of other races.   Because of federal laws that prevent tribal courts from having jurisdiction over non-Native offenders, rapists know that they can offend in tribal communities with impunity and face no consequences, as federal US courts often decline to take these cases as well.

These are just a few of the acute crises that prevent women from fully participating in public life in the U.S.  There are several other issues, like media representation, internet harassment, which can silence by gender and race, gender inequity in children’s toys, “symbolic annihilation” and sexist advertising that reinforce stereotypes and keep women from imagining what they can be and should be able to achieve in a modern democracy.

Today, women make up over half of the electorate.  Women, especially Black women voters, are a key demographic in putting victories against the ultra-right over the top, “In 2012, black women voted at a higher rate than any other group—across gender, race, and ethnicity—and, along with other women of color, played a key role in President Obama’s re-election.”

The key to defeating Trump and his coalition, a toxic stew of white male anxieties based on racism and xenophobia, will be to mobilize the largest and most diverse coalition possible.  Only the total repudiation of the ultra-right and their “suicide squad” of reactionaries will keep the Supreme Court out of the hands of three more potential Scalias.  Furthermore,  if we can encourage the division found presently in the GOP, we could potentially flip Congress to put us on the road to a progressive agenda, as the unpopularity of Trump, especially with white women and Latinos, puts many down-ticket races in play.

President Obama quoted Marian Wright Edelman this week at the very first national State of Women summit: “It’s hard to be what you can’t see.”  Representation in diversity and gender needs to be encouraged at every level, from those who teach our children, to our workplaces, to our unions, to our Congress, and yes, to our presidency.



    Michelle Kern has worked as part-time faculty in the Bay Area as a ceramics teacher for seven years. She has lived and worked primarily in the East Bay in the arts, including work at the Richmond Art Center and helping to found the independent art gallery Cricket Engine in Oakland. She relocated back to her native Peninsula four years ago to be closer to work, and now is beginning art, activism and union activity here in Silicon Valley.

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