Teaching (fellow white women) How to Dougie
by Madeline Anscombe
It is 10:30 PM on a Tuesday night and I haven’t even started studying for my final tomorrow. Instead, I have been listening to the song “Teach Me How to Dougie” by the infamous Cali Swag District on repeat for a solid hour. Tonight is not a normal Tuesday night though, tonight my beautiful state of Alabama made history by electing it’s first democrat to the senate in 20 years. This by any account was not a normal election. Doug Jones is a centrist democrat with incredible accomplishments in civil rights -- most notably prosecuting the KKK after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. His opponent was Roy Moore, who was by any account absurd, even before 8 allegations of sexual assault came to light during the election cycle. For the last few weeks, Alabama has been a spectacle; people who traditionally care very little about the state were all of a sudden intrigued and invested in the possibility of turning a deep red seat blue. As a democrat, a survivor of sexual violence and a rational human being, I am ecstatic and relieved that we elected a competent man like Doug Jones to the senate.
But the thing is, I shouldn’t be. In looking at the exit polls and results, I noticed two things: first, how few people believed the allegations against Moore and second, how few white women voted in their best interest.
I will not delve deeper into why we need to believe women and all survivors. This is common knowledge and something that I have covered extensively. If you have even an ounce of doubt, it is more probable that you will get struck by lighting when you walk out your front door this morning than it is that all of these women are lying. I will, however, attempt to answer a question that is troubling me, as a white woman who supported the only candidate who supported me.
Say what you want about Alabama, but the election results reminded me of when a mere 11 months ago, 53% of white women in the nation voted for Donald Trump. Instead of pedophilia, Donald Trump has been accused of 18 accounts of sexual assault, yet white women were again skeptical and oblivious to the experiences of women who looked just like them.
I stayed up late last night thinking about this. Why are white women voting so far out of their favor? What are we doing?
At first I couldn’t begin to fathom how so many people who look like me could act and see the world so differently than I do. I thought back to a time a few summers ago when I was in a friend's room. I was sitting on his bed and picked up a thick book. I asked him what it was about and he responded that I shouldn’t worry, it was “a book for guys.” I scoffed but was quick to let it go. In my reflection, I started to see that my position in the world has often allowed me to unintentionally reinforce the bad behaviors of white men. Memories have started to flood back to me. While I am probably one of the most argumentative people I know, I have let so many men in my life get a pass to being sexist, homophobic and racist without even realizing it. I thought of how after the rallies in Charlottesville, activists urged white women to not excuse themselves from the narrative. I am reminded that when they returned home, white women made their husbands dinner and slept beside them at night.
We excuse this behavior from ourselves as well, calling ourselves feminists while failing to understand that our own narrative only represents a small fraction of what it means to be a woman. In times when white women haven’t felt it necessary to raise their voices, we have historically remained silent and complacent. This is reflected in the polls. White power feminists are more likely to overlook the needs of lower and working class women because it does not fit their personal agenda. In doing so, we often compromise our own best interest -- overlooking blatant examples of misogyny and violence because maybe we will benefit from a tax cut down the road. And maybe, just maybe, white male power might rub off on us one day when we are used as a puppet by politicians who want to win our vote.
Audre Lorde said it best when she said “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
White women can’t just try to do better, we NEED to do better.
It is on us to start a conversation on why and how we should change. We must push ourselves to understand the narratives of those outside of our (sometimes very sheltered) outlook on the world. For example, instead of electing a pedophile we might consider thinking of lesbian women and those in the LGBTQIA+ community whom Roy Moore has repeatedly condemned and called disgusting. We might ask ourselves what are we not seeing in the experience of immigrant women? It turns out, they experience higher rates of sexual assault and are often afraid of reporting it out of fear of deportation.
Electing someone like Roy Moore would likely instill more fear in these women’s lives. When someone says that America was great during slavery, do not vote for them. You can’t tell me that isn’t flat out racist. We have to challenge ourselves to see the whole picture because sometimes our white privilege gets in the way of what it means to be a woman. We need to expand our horizons beyond marches and pink knitted hats and ask ourselves how we may are contributing to sexism, racism, and classism.
It is 9:04 A.M. and I am still listening to Teach Me How to Dougie. For some reason I very vividly remember learning how to dougie (probably because of how awkward I looked doing it). My club soccer team was taking a water break in high school and a Latina woman from the inner city taught gawky suburban me a dance that I would have never mastered without her help. I followed her lead and learned how to dougie, and while I will refrain from making any super-serious connection or metaphor here, I think as white women there are a lot of things women of color can teach us, as long as we are open to it. We cannot just thank black women for doing the heavy lifting, we must listen to them, support them and follow in their footsteps. Whether that be in elections, in the classroom or in our daily conversations (and that doesn’t mean just saying you love the newest Beyoncé song). We cannot support some forms of bigotry and then expect others to treat us as their equals, it just doesn’t work that way.
Today I am ecstatic because we won a historic election and the voices of 8 women spoke louder than hatred. But by no means should that detract from all of the work we have left to do.