Despondent, enraged, bewildered. Did I mention gutted and hopeless? I’ve felt all of this since the election.
But what is a surprise to me, four weeks later, is the form of strength and patriotism I also feel emerging.
I choose to believe my America belongs to democratic ideals, to diversity, to civil rights, to immigrants, to being responsible for our carbon footprint, to respecting civil liberties, marrying who you want, a woman’s right to choose, treating women with respect and being respectable world citizens. I choose to believe my America belongs to people who share these values, to the youth who voted for these values, to the young women across the country who overwhelmingly want to belong in a country that stands for these things. What got me out of bed “the morning after” was someone’s Facebook post sharing a map of how blue the country actually looks when you factor in age.
I believe young voters, especially young women, will save us. This begins with learning about power.
There is nothing MORE patriotic we can do than this in the wake of an election loss where the most qualified person, a woman who, having worked nearly her entire life for this moment, was deemed unfit for the presidency.
But why, you may ask, focus on girls specifically? Girls, not boys, have more to lose by not understanding how power and powerlessness play out. Gender fault lines, among many other things, are gaping in the wake of this campaign, election, and cabinet selections. And they need to truly understand how this impacts them.
When girls understand the power they possess, they can help protect their rights, stand together, speak up against hate, get involved en masse in politics, and spit out the stereotypes, racism and misogyny that have been laid bare by a contingent of the more extreme Trump supporters.
Here are five reasons why, now, more than ever, we need to redouble our efforts to awaken the powerful force girls represent:
1) The Impact of Trivialized Sexual Violence
Trump sanctioned sexual violence by calling his behavior “locker room” talk. Some have called this “toxic masculinity." He has essentially trivialized a criminal behavior. It’s simple. Sanctioning, justifying, or accepting violence begets more violence. The rate of sexual assault in this country, already intolerable at 1 in 5 women in her lifetime, is not headed for improvement with this as a national backdrop. Girls need to understand that sexual violence is not their fault. They need to have a framework to push back on the cultural norms that allow for an “acceptable” level of violence. Teaching girls about power, about consent, about their legal rights related to consent, teaches them that they don’t have to stay silent, that we stand with them.
2) Bullying & Harassment in Schools are Spiking
There has been a lot of light shined on the dark views of alt right members, a group that attempts to normalize white supremacist views. Since the election, there has been a significant spike in reported hate crimes. More individuals are using hate and violence to target immigrants, Muslims, people of color and folks who are LGBTQ. Schools are on the front lines as students are more emboldened in targeting these marginalized group. An increase in harassment and bullying has been reported in American schools since Trump's victory. This perceived increase in the bullying of marginalized kids has been dubbed "The Trump Effect," and it could potentially get worse.
3) We are losing Michelle and Hillary
“She’s a slob.” “She ate like a pig.” “A person who’s flat-chested is very hard to be a 10.” Donald Trump said all of these things, and worse (think pussy-gate). According to The New York Times, forty-two percent of sampled girls said comments of Trump’s like these have negatively impacted how they view their own bodies.
This is bad enough.
But as we move from having a substantive, celebrated First Lady in Michelle Obama, and the opportunity to have a female President, now more than ever, girls need to develop the power to counter the ugly heap of destructive messages that are likely to keep coming under a Trump presidency.
4) Party Identity Math
White women – particularly those who lack college degrees and live in the Rust Belt - were a key demographic in defeating Hillary. Analysts say that party identification was the key indicator of vote choice, and there is no evidence that gender affinity would buck that trend. Meanwhile, Black women, at a rate of 97% supported Hillary. Across the country, they were able to put aside the ways that they, as women of color, have historically been left out of the women’s movement to support a white woman for President.
I highlight these two demographics because it is young women - across both racial groups - who overwhelmingly supported a progressive agenda championed by Clinton. Clinton won women 18 to 29 years old 63 percent to 31 percent. We need to fuel that progressive party identity. Teaching more girls about the power of their vote, and making sure they show up in droves, could secure the policy agendas that the majority of them support.
5) Their Rights are On the Ropes
Politics has never been more personal for young women. This generation of girls is the first that may lose the rights that those of us born in the 1960s and before have enjoyed. Aside from a steady flow of insults, Trump paid little attention to women's issues during the campaign. But on reproductive rights he supports traditional Republican policies to restrict the availability of abortion.
It doesn’t end there. He can repeal or rewrite the Affordable Care Act, and use executive action to eliminate regulations that require insurance companies to provide women with free access to contraception.
Girls deserve the power to have a say in decisions that affect their lives, and a chance to advocate for the rights they are in danger of losing. Before they are lost. So let's help them get it.