Why do white women support Roy Moore?
Of course, not all white women. But on the eve of the divisive Alabama Senate special election, a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll reveals a shocking, significant disparity between white women’s support of Moore versus their support of the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones. While the race remains virtually deadlocked, white women support the Republican candidate by a nearly 20 point margin. And Moore holds an incredible 35-point lead among white women without a college degree.
Moore, a 70-year-old former Alabama chief justice, stands accused of molesting and assaulting numerous teenage girls — one as young as 14 — in the 1970s. Moore defends these allegations as acts of seduction, and, in conversation with Fox News host Sean Hannity, abdicated responsibility for his actions by implicitly blaming their mothers: “I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother,” he told Hannity.
So why would women — and specifically white women — support a political candidate who allegedly perpetrates such egregious violence against women and girls?
In fact, the phenomenon is nothing new. This acute cognitive dissonance has historical roots relating to how women have been conditioned to treat their own kind. It is what feminists identify as the consequences of patriarchy: the pervasiveness of the belief that men and women are born with two different sets of values and worth. When taken to the extreme, this belief holds that women are less than, and should be considered possessions of men to be used and abused as men please.
This historical pervasiveness spans time and place. But the Alabama election proves it also spans bodies: The belief that women are less than men, and that are property of men, is not only a belief harbored by men but by women as well.
This internalized misogyny is palpable in the Washington Post-Schar School poll, in which women affirm they are more comfortable disavowing and discrediting women than they are disavowing men accused of sexually based violence. (This is especially true for black and brown women.)
White female support of Moore also eerily recalls the support white women showed Donald Trump, as do the divisions within the demographic, especially in terms of education and social class. Trump, who has been accused of misogyny, objectification and harassment by a plethora of female victims, won the majority of white women voters throughout the country, carrying white women without college degrees by a huge margin of 64 percent to Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent.
White female support of Moore eerily recalls the support white women showed Donald Trump.
The similarities between white women’s support of Moore and their support of Trump is indicative of a larger historical trend I’ve written about before, in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. White women ally themselves with white men for what they believe is their own gain, security, and assurance, while not realizing the harm caused by the internalized misogyny that fuels their cognitive dissonance and consequential support of men who abuse women.
The historical narrative, as I detailed following Trump’s win, illustrates how white women have thwarted the women’s rights movement from the 19th century onward. They did so by deliberately building coalitions with white men, and specifically racist white men who fought for a version of American traditionalism blatantly rooted in America’s foundations of slavery and systemic racism.
White female suffragists chose alliances with these men rather than forming alliances with black and brown women because they wanted power — rights and privileges — and knew that the people who could give them those rights and privileges were the people already in power: white men. White supremacy, therefore, was white women’s savior and solace — it was the source of their power. This pragmatism fomented racism, deepening racial and ethnic divisions between women that effectively crippled the women’s movement.
Given the historical conservatism of Alabama as a solid “red” state, there is no reason to doubt the likelihood of a Moore victory. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won Alabama by twenty-eight points running against Hillary Clinton.
White women have thwarted the women’s rights movement from the 19th century onward.
Sometimes, internalized misogyny is masked by apathy, which, at worst, implies agreement and consensus with anti-women sentiment and behavior. For example, in a question from the Washington Post-Schar School poll that highlights Moore’s “unwanted advances” toward teenage girls, the largest percentage of respondents said that they have “no opinion” about Moore’s alleged sexual assault and harassment of several young women. “No opinion” smacks of indifference, a turning-the-other-cheek, an avoidance—in other words, complicity. It is complicity with (sexual) violence against women and girls, and complicity with men’s behavior in committing these crimes.
In the follow-up question, respondents who said they had “no opinion” or that they do not believe the allegations against Moore justified their beliefs using a bevy of misogynistic statements: that either “the women’s stories are not believable” or that the allegations are simply a political hit-job because they “were made shortly before the election.”
The failure or refusal to believe women who have been subject to violence also bespeaks the kind of misogyny that discredits and erases women. Often other women perpetrate this strategy—as evident in Moore defender Jane Porter’s outlandish comments on CNN earlier this week in which she circumvented the sexual assault accusations by asserting that there is a “group of non-accusers” who should be listened to as well.
Sometimes, internalized misogyny is masked by apathy, which, at worst, implies agreement and consensus with anti-women sentiment and behavior.
Yet, the fact women fail to support other women, given the shared history of oppression and objectification that women have faced collectively, never ceases to shock and amaze. There are some women—white women in particular—who would rather cleave onto abusive men rather than support other women.
French feminist Simone de Beauvoir proffered an insightful reason for this noticeable lack of female collectivity in her seminal text, The Second Sex (1949). She explained that the history of women’s lack of collectivity and arguable complicity with their oppression inheres in the morality that underlies heterosexuality—that women belong to men, and that they form a perfect unit and union when with men:
“[W]omen lack concrete means for organizing themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit,” de Beauvoir wrote. “They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat…. They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men—fathers or husbands—more firmly than they are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women…. The bond that unites her to her oppressors is not comparable to any other.”
The woman is, therefore, the “second” sex. Never the first. Never independent. And the force of this history — of patriarchy — has informed not only how men see and treat women, but how women see and treat themselves.
Marcie Bianco is a writer and the managing editor of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.