The Women Feminism Forgot: Rural and Working-Class White Women in the Era of Trump
69 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2018 Last revised: 8 Nov 2018
Date Written: May 3, 2018
This article, based on a keynote address delivered at the University of Toledo Law Review Symposium “Gender Equality: Progress and Possibilities,” takes up the task of theorizing gendered aspects of the current chasm between progressive elites on one hand and rural and working-class whites on the other. Pruitt offers observations that aim to cultivate empathy and ultimately temper elite derision toward these populations. The article also lays the groundwork for robust consideration of how feminist legal theory has failed rural and working class white women. Perhaps most importantly, Pruitt begins to think practically about what progressive feminists can and should do to bridge the current divide and, in so doing, cultivate a broad, inclusive sisterhood that better transcends spatial, racial, and socioeconomic differences.
The article proceeds by outlining evidence of our nation’s burgeoning metro-centricity, as well as our ongoing denial of and inattention to issues of socioeconomic disadvantage when they intersect with white skin privilege. Pruitt offers these observations with special attention to the context of the legal academy and legal scholarship. Part II discusses how this neglect of white working-class and rural populations evolved into disdain during the 2016 election season and has hardened into contempt in the era of Trump’s presidency. Part III is a brief overview of socioeconomic and public health trends among these increasingly vulnerable populations, with a particular focus on what has been happening to rural and working class white women since Pruitt began writing about them more than a decade ago. Part IV summarizes what we know about the female vote in election 2016, with some attention also to gendered voting patterns in the special election for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat in 2017. Part V digs into media profiles of female Trump voters, which reveal some themes Pruitt has addressed in prior work, including the understudied and widely ignored tension among various strata within what is broadly perceived as a monolithic white working class. This part also scratches the surface of a major issue in the wake of the 2016 election: the liberal elite tendency to label as “racist” anyone who voted for Trump, as well as the disconnect between this usage and many communities’ far less capacious understanding of the term. Before concluding with thoughts on how to bridge the divide between elites and the white working class, Pruitt uses a personal story (à la Hillbilly Elegy) in an effort to humanize female Trump voters. The postscript holds up the successful West Virginia teachers’ strike of 2018 as a model for cross-class coalition building.
Keywords: socioecenomic class, race, whiteness, rural, gender, feminism, politics, election 2016, social media, coalition building
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