This time last year, many of us were unsure what to do with our feelings when Donald Trump was officially sworn into office. We marched, protested, wrote letters, and posted angry status updates — fearful and depressed about what the next four years would be like. For some women, though, Trump’s election was a wake-up call which prompted them to radically change their lives. Here are the stories of four such women.
“The life I’d created and been happy with didn’t exist anymore.” — Cher, 43
In 2016 I was a nurse anesthetist working at the same hospital I’d been at for about ten years, in Miami. I was happy at work, but as the election approached I started to view my colleagues differently. The doctors, many of whom were conservative, started voicing their opinions about immigration and Muslims in front of me. I don’t think they knew I was Syrian (I have red hair and pale skin). I didn’t want to start a fight, and so my anger was bubbling under the surface. And that was just the beginning.
The night of the election I was at a restaurant when one of my best friends announced that she voted for Trump. I didn’t take it very well. I wanted to know why — she’s an immigrant and liberal — and she stormed off. I took two days to think about our friendship and I couldn’t reconcile it. We broke up. Losing a best friend is very painful. It also impacted my social life; I couldn’t go to group hangs. And back at work? Everyone was gloating — they were happy. I felt like the life I’d created and been happy with didn’t exist anymore.
I decided to go away. I needed space. So I broke my lease, sold my stuff, and gave my notice at work. I needed a period of rootlessness. I spent three months traveling around Southeast Asia. I met people who grew up in different situations but who all saw the world like I did.
A year later, my life is very uncertain but it’s exciting. I never went back to Miami. I divide my time between traveling and staying with my parents, and working on contracts. Knowing I have the ability to run away from what is making me angry and depressed is liberating.
“We joked about leaving. But I didn’t really think we’d do it.” — Julia, 41
Leading up to the election so many people dramatically declared: If he wins, I’m leaving! We made that joke too, but moving to Australia was an option because my husband’s a citizen. Still, I didn’t really think we’d do it. We had our lives and our careers and were established in Manhattan. I was an executive; I had worked really hard. Building a life in New York isn’t easy.
The night of the election our talk about leaving grew more serious. When the Muslim ban was announced one of our kids came home crying saying that Donald Trump was going to kick his friends’ families out. My husband and I agreed: Staying in comfortable careers and lifestyles wasn’t worth it. We wanted to let our kids know, from a young age, that you do not have to put up with something you think is wrong. My in-laws agreed to let us stay with them while we figured things out, and we moved to Australia without a plan.
We’ve been here for nine months and a lot of energy has gone into finding our feet. Life is a bit slower. We’ve spent a lot more time with our children and extended family. The kids have been more resilient. Instead of passing through metal detectors they go to a school by the beach. Leaving my group of friends was harder than leaving the job I’d had for years. But I have a weekly FaceTime date with my girlfriends; because of the time difference I’ll be drinking wine while they are drinking coffee — or vice versa.
I know many people’s response is “You should have stayed and helped make the country better,” but our decision was about effecting change where we knew we could, in the lives of our children. In moments of doubt I think, Well, in 20 years my kids can say, “My parents packed up their lives and moved me to the other side of the world to protect us from Donald Trump and his terrible ideas.”
“I wasn’t going to put up with any more bullshit.” — Gabrielle, 27
I grew up sheltered in Wisconsin; it’s fair to say that I was never a political person. The election result hit me in a way I’ve never experienced.
In 2016 I was working at a PR company run by men. Unless you dressed in a certain way, you’d hit a wall. It wasn’t even taboo — at one point my boss straight-up told me he was taking me off an account because he thought someone more attractive should be on it. It was like a frat house.
I’m not quite sure how to explain what happened to me the night of the election, other than I felt that Trump was elected because a lot of little things were allowed to slip through the cracks and I decided I wasn’t going to put up with any more bullshit.
I decided to leave my job and I put in my notice right after Christmas. I focused on looking for a job in an environment with more women and found one doing PR for women-founded companies. I also changed things in my personal life. I’d been sleeping with a guy for about a year — the sex was great but he treated me poorly. In mid-November, I ended it. It was like I gained eyesight: I was in a bad situation and I wanted out. After the inauguration I met someone who was working as a doorman. If Trump hadn’t been elected, I don’t know if I would have been thinking so deeply about masculinity and sexism, and I might not have been as open to dating this guy. I became more tolerant of people who were different to me and also, I examined the way I had been acting so passive when it came to men. This time I didn’t want to wait to be chased, I pursued him. Almost a year later, we are still together … thanks, Trump!
“Mosques were being torched, people were being attacked. It was so personal.” — Nisrine, 29
On the eve of the 2016 election, I was working as a dresser on the set of Madame Secretary. Me and my co-worker goofily posed for photos behind the desk in Hillary sweatshirts — a woman was finally going to be in office … yeah! The next day, we were devastated. As we closed up the set and put plastic sheets over everything, it felt like a twisted funeral.
Then the Muslim ban happened. I’m Tunisian-American. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been bad since 2001 — but to have it sanctioned by the president, no, championed by the president? Mosques were being torched, people were being attacked. It was so personal. I started to pay closer attention to how Muslims were represented in the media. I noticed how much coverage ISIS and Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was getting — but where were the Muslim women? Where were all the Arab-American women going about their daily lives? Not as victims of oppression or accomplices of terrorism or heartbroken mothers of jihadis, just regular women who happen to be Muslim?
Those questions changed to: What can I offer? What can I do? My time at Madame Secretary was coming to a close. I had a sense of urgency: I want to make a difference and I want to make that difference right now. So I decided to fix the problem I was seeing on TV and become an actor. I took an intensive acting course in Manhattan. I used all my savings and I finished the course in August. My day-to-day life is completely different. I work remotely as an artist’s assistant and audition 24/7. I apply for about 20 roles a day.
About a month ago I was the lead character in a play about a Muslim teenager coming of age. I wore my own hijab. On opening night, I felt I’d found my purpose.