There’s a lot of confusion and anxiety running around the Internet these days, and it feels relentless, like we’re drowning in the next big thing every time a text alert comes in. When I started writing this, I was thinking of the Women’s March on Washington (and every other city center) that turned out 3 million marchers worldwide to stand up for women’s rights, but by the time I edited it a week later, pussy hats had fallen below the fold and Trump’s Immigration Ban was sucking the air out of the Internet. For the first time in my adult life I’ve found myself googling puppy videos just to find something non-alarmist to look at when I take a work break. (Think I’m kidding? Here’s a favorite my mom discovered.)
Even though the topic du jour seems to shift pretty quickly, one theme of my hyperventilating news feeds has been consistent for months, and that is the constant drumbeat of fear. All sides say they’re afraid — of outsiders, insiders and each other. One can argue that fear is never far from the headlines, but something else has been new lately, and that is a conversation about women’s issues and the things that come with it, discrimination, equal pay, misogyny, reproductive rights and the role men play in helping us or hurting us. One man in particular has caught the public eye for his treatment of women; our newest president, Donald Trump. And no one seems to understand how and why women react to him with such a wide variety of feelings, from fear to attraction. As I’ve puzzled on this, I keep circling around the question of Trump and women – should we be afraid of him?
After the election, I was having dinner with some friends and one of the men said, “What’s with Trump and women voters? Why did so many women vote for him?” He was referring to the fact that although only 42% of all women voted for Trump, 53% of white women did so, despite the pussy-grabbing video that saturated the news in the weeks before the election.
I tamped down my irritation at the question and tried to explain as patiently as I could that women were no more a voting bloc than men were. Although there are cases where women act as one gender to demand change, it is rare and almost unheard of in “developed” societies. Lysistrata and Chi-Raq were comedies after all.
Still, he had a point. Why do some women react to Trump’s persona, values and misogyny, caught on tape over and over again, with such revulsion while others do not? Why do some express so much fear about what a Trump world could mean and others are brimming with hope that rationality and common sense has returned to the White House? And is one group right while the other is just buying into fake news (as both sides will have you believe if you pay attention to whatever fake news headlines grab your attention)?
Where I stand
I’ll admit, I have a side in this war of perception. I find it appalling that a man who boasts about grabbing pussies and walking in on naked girls because he owns a beauty pageant is sitting in the White House. I think he lacks the ethics and experience we need in our leadership and I don’t agree with most of the decisions he’s made in his first few weeks, including threatening to take away health care insurance many of my friends need to remain not dead. But there are smart and good-hearted people I know who feel the exact opposite. They don’t see the same threats I do. They believe different outcomes will result from these actions.
Our system is designed to allow us both to have these opinions, so I choose to trust democracy and our constitution to guide us through this chasm of perception and belief. I choose to believe that we’ve been polarized before and will come through it somehow, if not without tragedy and pain. And I choose to play my part in the democratic process to be part of that journey.
But this post isn’t about which side I’m on or you’re on. Because on both sides we’re still sitting with the question of fear.
Trump, Women, Men and Fear
The question of Trump and woman has got people talking about their fears for women in old ways and new ways.
On the one hand, many of the speeches and signs at the Women’s Marches seemed to come right out of the 60’s feminist movement. Debates about abortion and equal pay don’t seem to have moved towards resolution much in my lifetime, and both sides seem to have dug in deeply, still battling for a Supreme Court that will side with them. Even so, we now have several generations of women who have enjoyed women-specific health care and the ability to manage their reproductive biology. They know what if feels like to choose when to have babies and many have chosen to put off children until they could develop a career and develop their personal identities. Of course there are many women who have not received such health care and have not made these choices, in part due to concerted political efforts of those who support Trump. Do the women who use their choices to build lives they love have a right to fear that these choices will be taken away by a Trump presidency? Yes, I believe they do. And I believe this “old” debate will, and must, continue until all women receive health care, education and access to family planning resources so they can make the choices that align with their values and the values of their families.
On the other hand, the Women’s Marches brought something new into the debate: men. I’ve attended a lot of women’s events and there’s always been one element missing: men. This is a problem since any solution to “women’s issues” that will work, must include men. But many men, including those who support and love women, traditionally don’t feel comfortable at women’s events for a variety of reasons. They don’t know how to act; they worry about being seen as a “pussy” by their male colleagues and friends; and it just feels tangential to what they care about. But not this time. This time men showed up in droves. I was shocked and pleased.
And yet the presence of the men increased my sense that fear was justified. These men were afraid, too. They were afraid for themselves, they were afraid for women and they were afraid for others.
This was a new experience for me, and a welcome one. Men’s voices need to be part of the discussion about women, their rights and their roles in society. Without men in the dialog on both sides (instead of traditionally only on the traditional side), we can’t shift the shared perspectives that keep us trapped in an outdated polarization of “male culture” and “female culture” where negative stereotypes breed like bunnies.
But let’s be real. Fear of our ruling party is not a new thing. I remember when President Obama won. I had been so afraid of the wars President Bush had embroiled us in, and hopeful that sanity had been restored by Obama’s election. Right after the election, basking in the euphoria of our first black president, I wrote my brother a heart-felt request to stop our political feud, and was greeted with fear and loathing. What I’ve realized ever since, is that the fear he expressed in 2008 – similar to the fear I’d been holding from 2001– has only been brewing the last eight years and in 2016 it bubbled fully to the surface and our roles are reversed once again. For those who believe President Obama stood for everything they hated, the last eight years have been an exercise in managing their fear. And now it’s “our” turn again.
So here we are in a world where terrorism hides waiting to jump out and kill us bloodily, our rights to our bodies, our guns and our green cards are constantly under assault and both sides stew in fear and hatred justified by whatever facts feel most compelling to us. Fear drives our efforts to change ourselves, our families, our companies, our cultures and our society, and that change seems harder than it was before.
But is it harder? Should women be more afraid than ever before?
Fear and Change
So yes, I guess I do believe that the election of Donald Trump has given some of us reason to experience fear and seek harder change, but at the core of it, he is not the enemy. The enemy is the fear. Fear lives below our consciousness and gives energy to our worst demons. It eats our souls and saps our strength to make constructive change. It triggers the worst in who we are unless we let enough of it go to rise above it and allow ourselves to be motivated by something more positive.
If you’re not afraid of this president, you probably were of the last, and so on back through history.
The truth is that women had reason to fear before Trump, and before Obama, and before Bush and back until the beginning of time. And so did men.
No matter which side you’re on. No matter which fears feel worse to you, do yourself a favor and get to know them. Get to know them intimately and lean into them until they are no longer strangers and no longer have the power to drive your actions. When you’ve mastered those fears, you will be a powerful voice for what you believe and you’ll have the strength to engage in healthy debate with others who believe differently. Out of such fearless dialog, real change can happen.Invitation: I’ve always been a student of change and fear, and I’ve opened a new venue to explore these dynamics more personally. I enjoy this blog, but fundamentally this is a business site and I want to leave it a free place to explore the many voices of InPower. So if you’re interested in exploring these themes of change in the modern era through my personal lens, please join me here.