Marra, a 33-year-old physician who plans to vote for Hillary Clinton in November, wishes her dad would take a break from Facebook — at least until the election is over. Every day, he posts something about Donald Trump. Make America Great Again! Vote for Trump! Hillary is a liar! “It’s horrible,” she says. “He’s not just re-posting stuff — these are his own words, and he writes almost every single day.” Even on a recent vacation, her father — also a doctor — would take time from sightseeing to update his feed.
Previous elections were different. Marra, an independent who has “never been concerned with party lines,” says she and her dad have always been able to talk openly about politics. But this year, even friendly father-daughter catch-ups have devolved into her dad passionately defending Trump while she becomes increasingly upset. “My dad raised me to believe that I’m smart and have what it takes to achieve whatever I want,” she says. “But then just listen to what Trump says about women. Those two things don’t connect, and my dad doesn’t see that.” Now, she avoids talking politics with him at all costs — not only because she hates arguing with a person she loves, but also to protect herself emotionally. “Otherwise, I don’t know what our relationship would be right now,” she says.
Earlier this year, both The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times published stories about the election causing tension within romantic relationships. But in the wake of sexual-assault and harassment allegations against Trump, and the release of the now-infamous tape in which the Republican nominee bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy,” some women are struggling to understand how their own fathers — men who always told them not to take crap from anybody — could throw their support behind someone with such a troubling history with women.
“I think my dad does what Trump does — he compartmentalizes women in his mind,” says Liz, 32. “The women who matter to him are different than other women. My dad would be livid if anyone ever talked about me the way Trump has talked about women, but he doesn’t care if the comments are directed at someone else. It’s sad.”
No wonder the gender gap in this election is more a giant, gaping rift. Analysis of polling data shows that if just women voted next month, Clinton would win in a landslide, taking 37 states. Trump’s unique ability to alienate women — whether in policy, like in the last debate when he said he’d overturn Roe v. Wade and inaccurately described abortion, or in attitude, like when he interrupted Clinton to call her a “nasty woman” — is already showing at the polls.
Democratic women in the key states of North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia are casting their ballots early, and in force. And some Republican women are shifting, too: “I just sent my absentee ballot in, and I had to vote for Hillary,” says Olivia, a 23-year-old who has voted Republican in the past. “I can’t stand a Trump presidency, but I’ll never tell my dad — he wouldn’t let me back in the house if he knew I voted for Hillary.”
Olivia’s story is similar to the 16 women across the U.S. interviewed for this article. Their fathers aren’t the men in “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica” T-shirts at the Trump rallies aired on TV. They’re doctors and small-business owners, college professors and retired cops. Some are religious, others aren’t. Some own guns and worry about the Second Amendment; others are more concerned with taxes and Obamacare. The common thread that runs through them all is that they’re male, obviously, but also predominately white — the core of Trump’s voter base. And they’re mad. Startlingly so.
“Trump just seems so angry, and I see a lot of that anger in my dad,” says Kayla, 33. “I said to my dad one day, ‘The only reason you are so angry is that white men don’t have as much power as they used to.’ He turned around to me and said, ‘You’re right.’ I was shocked.”
Regardless of how they feel about her positions, one could reason that in Clinton, fathers would see the kind of woman they want their daughters to grow up to be — smart, successful, virtually unshakable. But instead, some women are being confronted with a different reality: Their fathers don’t just support Trump, they hate Clinton, often for reasons they can’t quite articulate.
“I think my dad knows he shouldn’t be supporting Trump, but he’s so hung up on the fact that he doesn’t like Hillary, that she is this terrible person and she is a crook and she is a liar, that it’s not about what Trump says but just that he hates Hillary so much,” says Elizabeth, 27.
Ann, 25, sees the same thing in her dad. “He always calls her a bitch. He says she’s a liar, that Bill’s pulling all the strings, all the classic lines. I get emotional because it’s upsetting when you’re trying to reason with your dad and he sounds like every gross old man on Fox News.”
That her father would continue to back Trump despite the fact that nearly one dozen women have come forward about his sexual misconduct is disturbing for many women, Elizabeth among them. She has two close friends who have been sexually assaulted, and she herself has been the victim of sexual harassment at work. Her father doesn’t know about the incident, but even if she told her dad, Elizabeth is convinced that it wouldn’t change his mind about Trump. “When the tape came out, I was enraged, she says. “I sent my dad a text message about it.” His response? “He ignored it.”
Trump’s campaign may have moved past the tape, but women haven’t. “You just can’t un-hear what he is saying there. You hear him and you know he is serious,” says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, a bipartisan feminist group that started in the ’60s. Trump’s demeanor in the second debate was particularly troubling to her. Men may not pick up on it, but “he’s not doing himself any favors with women voters when he menaces Hillary Clinton like that,” she says, referring to Trump repeatedly stepping into the camera shot behind Clinton. “It looked as if he was a volcano getting ready to explode.”
“[Trump’s] demeanor and his face and the way he talked into the camera, I just heard grab her by the pussy in his creepy-ass voice,” says Ann. “I was up until 2 a.m. because I was so unsettled by it. And yet, when I talk to my dad about it, he didn’t listen — which to me says he doesn’t respect me as his daughter or as a woman.”
When Elizabeth tried to talk to her dad about the tape in person, “I quoted Trump verbatim, and my dad flinched when I said the word pussy,” she says. “I’m like, Okay, when your daughter says it, it’s painful. But when Trump says it — I don’t think he likes what Trump said, but it didn’t sway him.”
Of course, “grab them by the pussy” is far from the only sexist thing to come out of Trump’s mouth. The Republican nominee has also made strangely sexual remarks about his oldest daughter, once joking, “She does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” There’s also the Howard Stern episode, when the shock jock asked Trump if he could call Ivanka “a piece of ass.” Trump’s response was, “Yeah.” It’s an almost unthinkable reaction for some women.
“My dad would freak out if someone ever said that about me,” says Kathy, 38. “Seriously, my dad is a card-carrying NRA member. If a guy ever harassed me or groped me, he would shoot him. I’m not kidding. And yet here he is supporting this guy.”
“Know what’s really sick? I think for Trump, he sees it as an accomplishment that his sperm produced what he finds most valuable about women, which is that they are physically attractive and guys want to have sex with them,” she continues. “It speaks to what he thinks about women — that we are decoration, that the best possible outcome for us is that we are hot, and dads can be proud of that.”
With their fathers’ heels firmly dug in, the question for women who can’t imagine their own dads supporting Trump isn’t “How do I change my dad’s mind?” but more “How do I still look up to this man I’ve always respected?”
“I love my dad and I think highly of him, but when it comes to politics, it’s something I’ve had to let go of and just say, ‘He is who he is,’” says Emily, 24. “Deep down, I do think this election will have an impact on the way I look at him. My dad has always been so compassionate toward me, yet he’s supporting someone who is so degrading toward women and hurtful to others. It shows my dad’s true colors more than I wish it did.”
The larger implications of what supporting Trump says about you as a person has made it increasingly difficult for women to talk to their dads during the most divisive election in recent history. “We’ve lost the ability to see nuance,” says Kathy. “It’s like — this is right, this is wrong, and as a country we are not able to listen to each other, and I think we see that same dynamic play out in relationships, too.”
Jenna, 43, has had difficulty speaking with her Catholic father about politics in the past — but this election has put them in a complete stalemate. She says she actually started to question his mental state after he forwarded her emails with conspiracy theories related to the election, and claimed to have a friend “with FBI or CIA top-secret clearance” who told him insider secrets. “I’m like, ‘This isn’t even real, and it makes me sad that you are spending your golden years focusing on complete garbage,” she says. It’s gotten so bad that she’s happy she won’t have to see her father at Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, owing to work commitments. “I’m going to need at least three or four months after the election before I can hang out with him again.”
Rachel is taking the opposite approach. “We have this tradition in our family that at Thanksgiving we don’t talk about politics,” she says. “But this year, I don’t mind saying in front of my dad that I voted for Hillary, because I can’t be silent on it … It’s too heartbreaking for me that a father of three girls is endorsing Trump.”
Is it November 8 yet?