As gender issues have increasingly become central to this election — from Trump’s taped “locker-room talk” to the wave of sexual-harassment allegations that followed — it’s been easy to start feeling hopeless. The excitement of a woman approaching the White House is tempered by the vile misogyny of her opponent, who will eagerly gaslight, humiliate, and exploit women in order to stop her getting there.
But there’s something of a silver lining to the nastiness. Trump’s egregious behavior — in addition to laying bare GOP misogyny — is making it impossible to ignore the ongoing realities of sexism in this country. And many women are seizing this moment to make their voices heard. As the presidential campaign enters its final throes, I spoke to nine women about how this election has moved them to fight back against misogyny in their own lives, and how they plan to carry that mission forward beyond November 8.
Piper, 24, digital archivist
“Not only is this my first time voting for a Democrat, but up until a few months ago, I was a red-blooded, rural, Christian conservative from North Dakota. For the first time, hearing the sexism, hatred, and fear in Trump’s message opened my eyes to the insidious ways that I had been allowing sexism and the patriarchy to govern my life, but had always made excuses for it, justified it, and managed to ignore it because it was in less-offensive packaging. While his words are like barbed wire, the message is the same when coming out of the bills and legislation from more reasonable party members. Now I can’t look away. Thanks to Trump, I’m a newly awoken woman and am proselytizing everyone in my family, my hometown, my (former) church, everyone from my old life: It’s easy to denounce a dog who’s barking this loudly, but whether he’s howling or not barking at all, he (and the party at large) are the same dog.
Everyone else in my life, though, has really engaged in the conversation and, for the first time, we’re willing to discuss the ‘sacred’ GOP in a critical light. My formerly conservative boyfriend has come with me on this journey and now freely admits to being a feminist himself, though a few months ago, before this election cycle, I think through perpetuated misinformation, he would have considered it a dirty or shameful word.”
Lani, 45, professor
“My female colleagues and I have an informal network to help us navigate the sexual predators or rampant misogynists in our midst. We will warn each other about the bad behavior in various departments so we can navigate ourselves and our students away from those places. It seems like the typical strategy of the powerless, doesn’t it?
I recently I got an email from somebody in one of these known departments. The email had a job and asked me to send potential candidates their way. Instead of ignoring it or deleting it like I might normally do, I decided to write back. I let the sender know that their department was known for having an unchecked sexual predator in their midst. I let the sender know that under no circumstances would I advise a junior colleague to take a position in the department given the nonresponse of the administration to complaints that I know were lodged by some of my colleagues there.
I am quite clear that this shift in my response comes out of my frustration at how women are continually silenced and how this response, in turn, manages to protect toxic bad behavior. But I also know that we often feel powerless because our complaints are met with nonresponses by universities. I hope that withholding potential strong candidates can incentivize universities to do better. I think, like many women, I am fed up with our silence around chronic abusers. It was right after Sunday’s debate that I chose to respond in that way. The connection was quite clear.”
Ashley, 35, public-relations professional
“In my high-school years I was a pretty active member of the local riot-grrrl scene, but as I got older I sort of fell out of touch with my own feminism until this election. It’s brought me closer to the women in my life — my mom, my sister, and my friends of all forms of feminism — people of color, LGBT women, and my concerns lie in how we keep this going past November 8. Just because misogyny right now has a face and a name in Donald Trump, doesn’t mean it is done.
One of the ways I’m thinking about extending this beyond November is by becoming more engaged in political issues impacting women on a local and state level, especially looking at things like equal pay, health care, and parental leave. I’m also taking a more active role in my profession to mentor and support younger women to develop more confidence in sharing ideas and owning their seat at the table. I think the biggest change in behavior is looking at women’s issues beyond those that directly impact me. Being less selfish with my feminism and thinking about how political policy impacts women of all ages around the world. I feel closer to the women around me as we’ve shared our experiences with misogyny and learned a lot from some of their particular experiences as women of color and LGBT women. My mom and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on who we vote for, but as a nurse she’s felt a lot of sexism in the workplace, and that’s drawn us closer together.”
Sonia, 30, writer
“After the [Access Hollywood] video came out, what I saw happening on Twitter was the cycle of making jokes about this phrase. But I was like: I actually think that’s very much a real thing, and not everyone realized that. And women who had experienced that maybe felt like they were floundering, because it’s really confusing when something that has happened to you, that made you feel like a victim and was traumatizing, hits the news cycle, because then you are facing it regularly. And then, when it becomes something that is funny, it minimizes what it really is.
So I posted this thing on my Twitter that was like: I’m sure that a lot of women are remembering the time this happened to them, and if this has happened to you, share it. It seemed important to share what that story was. So I started doing that, and I was surprised at how many responses I got. It was pretty crazy how many women responded from all kinds of ages, like, I was walking on the street, or in a boardroom, or in a concert. It was really intense — responses kept coming in. So many women were saying: This is this thing that sounds like a joke, and this is the reality that we live in. And I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality that we live in, that so many women could say something that was so upsetting. It was both me trying to make a point and me realizing a point. It was pretty emotional hearing all of this. It sort of has felt like this is the only thing I can do.
What’s cool is I’ve seen women with much bigger follower counts do the same thing. It sort of seems like there’s this massive catharsis happening where a lot of women who wouldn’t have felt comfortable to speak up even a couple of years ago are realizing that they don’t have to be afraid of what will happen, and maybe that this entire convulsive moment of horribleness is also an opportunity to talk about it, as painful as it is.”
Jen*, 26, freelance producer
“I think even in my adulthood, even until very recently, and kind of even now, I have this weird thing in my head of, Oh, sex is a compromise. Which it can be. But I think I have never really stood firm in my ability to say no to things. We have this idea that women have the right to say no, but I’ve always thought of that as, ‘I have the right to say no to a stranger.’ I never really thought about that as, ‘Oh, I have the right to say no to someone I like and care about, because I still have autonomy.’ And I think my view is kind of shifting about what I’m willing to take or not take.
I had some very interesting conversations when the Donald Trump stuff came out, partially because I tweeted a story about experiencing a sexual assault. Guys started tweeting at me saying, Oh my god, this is so terrible, I can’t believe women go through this, what can we do to help? And then I thought through the guys in my life who generally think of themselves as respectful towards women, and who I generally think of as respectful towards women, but when I got into bed with them it was like: No, you pushed me way too far, over and over again. I think one of the things we can do is help the ‘good guys’ to see their blind spots. So, I called some of those guys who had made me uncomfortable and actually had some amazing conversations. Because there are things like that that I remember so unbelievably vividly, because I was so uncomfortable at the time, that they hardly remember at all.
There was one situation that made me immensely uncomfortable. So I wanted to talk to the guy about it. I tried to talk to him about it that morning, but he wouldn’t hear it, and then when I eventually did bring it up, he kept shutting me down. And that night rang in my head over and over because it was so uncomfortable for me. So we hadn’t talked in a while and I emailed him, and I was just like, Hey, it’s been a while, but do you think we could have a conversation? And I don’t know if it’s because time went by or what, but we talked, and we had the conversation, and I tried to tell him in very calm terms, like, I’m not here to attack you, I just need you to know this is how I felt, and I just want you to be aware of it for the future. And he was amazingly responsive. Of course, one conversation doesn’t solve anything, but I’m kind of happy that he kind of gets it.”
Emily, 28, journalist
“In general, I’ve noticed that I’ve really been relishing the moments when I’m surrounded exclusively by women. I’ve also realized how lucky I am to have those moments automatically as a part of my day since I work on an all-female team in the fashion industry. I feel like that’s a luxury and a built-in support group not many women get to experience in their lives.
This past Friday, I was egged by a man while having a conversation with friends in a courtyard about creating safe spaces for women … After our initial shock, the experience weirdly bonded us together and allowed us to have a deeper conversation and open up about previous experiences of violence or alienation we’ve had in our lives.”
Colleen, PhD student and researcher
“While a graduate student at Duke, I was sexually assaulted. Due to a combination of denial, exhaustion, and fear of professional judgment, I didn’t follow up on my police report. I later found out that this man had sexually assaulted other graduate students in the area and had a history of sexual solicitation and abuse of children. Knowing this, I decided I could no longer stay silent, and I agreed to provide testimony in child-custody and physical-assault charges against him at the time. He then threatened me and told me that his partner was a prominent staff member at Duke, and that they had accessed my records, that they knew things about me, and that they would make me be silent.
This election cycle has shown me that no matter how high-achieving, every woman is susceptible to sexual harassment and violence. This has inspired me to share my own stories of assault and harassment more broadly, because it is important that more women and men know that sexual assault doesn’t happen to just one type of woman and that victims shouldn’t be embarrassed because of what they have been through. [Becoming involved in grad-student unionization efforts on campus] is for me an effort to ensure that there are external bodies which monitor and prevent what happened to me from ever happening to another women or child, and in so doing, return the university to its place as a source of light, knowledge, and right in society.”
Ainsley, 28, software designer
“Watching the unbelievable double standards of this election, I’ve been motivated to redraw the division of domestic labor in my own relationship and talk my female friends through the same.
I feel like there has been a noticeable shift in the women that I talk to everyday in my life. What I noticed happening is, overall, there has been general lower tolerance for this kind of stuff, whether it’s situations in the workplace, or out in public on the street, or the sort of normalized things that play out in our hetero relationships. I was having these conversations with some of my women friends in a Slack group, sharing complaints, those of us who live with our boyfriends, about how much we do, and how it’s so difficult to get them to meet us halfway. I realized I had to lay out all the things that I did without asking or that were going unnoticed. There were so many things I took on by default.
Watching the election play out and seeing how much work women have to do to be considered the equal of men made me angry, and I started reading more about feminism and realizing that the progress that we’ve made hasn’t gotten us out of traditionally female responsibilities. So, like when women went back to work, it didn’t mean we weren’t still expected to keep our places looking clean. These dynamics are still playing out.”
Vinca, 26, grad student
“I’m planning to volunteer on Election Day. I have volunteered before, in 2008, working on the Obama campaign a little bit. I phone banked and handed out ballots. But Trump is so scary. And as a woman, I don’t know if I would feel safe in a country run by him, and I don’t know if my friends, who are other things that are not white men, would feel safe in a country run by him. I live in Toronto, and I’m only [back home in Chicago] for six days, and I was not planning on using one of them volunteering — but yeah. He’s just so scary.”
*Name has been changed.