About 100 years ago, something very important happened: women won the right to vote. This was no easy feat: women fought long and hard, over many decades, in order to convince men that they were indeed autonomous, independent persons, not simply a subset of their male partners or family members. Women had to fight sexist gender stereotypes that said they were not capable of making rational, political choices and that they were unfit for public life. Indeed, femininity was attached to subservience and to the domestic sphere. Women simply could not be trusted to start meddling with the real world. Why would they need to, anyway? There were other, more equipped beings to make those decisions for them: better decisions, more practical decisions, decisions that would serve their best interests, whether they knew it or not.
Today, things are completely different. We live in a democracy, which means each citizen has the right to vote for whomever they like, including women. No one else has a say, except the one person marking an “X” in a box. We all know women are equipped to make educated decisions about who to vote for in elections.
Oh wait… That’s not quite right, is it…
Every time an American election rolls around, my social media feeds become filled with debates about Who Is The True Feminist Choice. In a US context, this is rather stupid, as neither the Democrats or the Republicans are particularly invested in fighting for women’s rights. In fact, the Democrats have been very clear in their position on gender identity policy and legislation, which inherently trumps women’s rights, allowing males to access female prisons and shelters, and permitting men and boys to compete in sport against girls and women, effectively ending women’s sport. There are many other issues at hand, of course. There always are. And this is exactly what places women in a very compromised position when determining who to vote for. “Which party will do the least harm, in terms of the issues that are important to us,” is often the sad place we are in, when making these choices.
And sometimes, of course, there are very big, clear issues, that make the decision easy. But those issues are going to differ from person to person, and yes, from woman to woman (they are just like regular people, after all).
I am Canadian, which means I will not be voting in the American election, if you can believe it. (Every once in a while I feel obligated to remind Americans that non-Americans do exist, here and there.) But after being a lifelong NDP (Canada’s supposedly leftist party) voter — literally voting NDP in every single federal and provincial election in Canada since I was 18 — I gave up. I could no longer bring myself to vote for a party who refused to take my and so many other women’s concerns seriously: who mocked, insulted, ostracized, and vilified me and my sisters — with pride, at that.
Unfortunately, I also don’t feel any of the other parties represent my interests either, so I voted for no one in the last election. I simply couldn’t bring myself to sell myself out — to vote against my own interests, yet again.
I am not recommending this path to any woman, I am simply trying to explain the difficult position so many women are stuck in when it comes to voting, here in Canada, as well as in the US.
I suspect that what most people end up doing is looking at a few issues that are important to them, and voting on that basis, forced to ignore the other aspects of the party they choose to support that do not reflect their values or interests. What this means is that many women end up voting for parties and politicians they don’t much like, and who they don’t agree with in many ways. They compromise. Probably every time they vote.
So, I’m troubled and confused to see so many self-described feminist women pronouncing on the internet, with absolute certainty, that “If you vote for ____, you aren’t a feminist.” This is not how things work, and it tells me too many women have lost sight of what democracy actually means.
Women are independent beings, who can make choices for themselves. They are capable of coming to their own conclusions about what issues and policies are most important to them. You may not agree with their views and their decisions, but I’m afraid the result of feminism and democracy is that you don’t get a say. Only she gets a say.
Moreover, who may participate in the fight for women’s rights is not decided by any individual feminist. Everyone may participate, and I hope everyone will. I don’t care who has voted for whom, I care that people fight for women and for what is right. To argue that a woman who decided, for what might be very practical, rational reasons, to cast a vote for Trump, may no longer be a part of the women’s movement is ridiculous and counterproductive. It is, to my mind, no different than saying the opposite: that a woman who votes for Biden is voting against women’s interests, and therefore her feminist card must be revoked.
Stop creating unnecessary divisions among women. Elections are complicated. There are so many issues at hand, and American women are dealing with largely repugnant options. I welcome any woman into the fight for women’s rights, regardless of who she decides to vote for, as is her right: a right women fought and suffered for. First wave feminists did not fight for women to have the right to vote on the basis that those women would support their preferred candidate, or that they would agree with them on all issues. They fought for women to have their say, whatever that say may be.
There has always been more to this movement than who you vote for. Women’s rights are not owned by either the Democrats or the Republicans, nor by the Conservatives, Liberals, or the NDP. I have long felt abandoned by leftist parties and progressive politics more generally. Continuing to vote for parties who refuse to uphold their own commitments to maintaining women’s sex-based rights feels like going back to an abusive ex-boyfriend, who knows he treats me badly, but also knows (or thinks he knows) I won’t leave, because I can’t do any better.
It is not as simple as “_____ party” = good for women, “_____ party” = bad for women. So let women make their choices, and stop letting their choices be a reason to make this movement smaller and to pit us against one another. Women’s rights belong to us all, even those we disagree with, even the ones who don’t do as they are told — especially the ones who don’t do as they are told. And now is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of this.