Demanding Liberal Women Marry Trump Supporters Isn't Just Sexist
It's also racist and homophobic. That's patriarchy!
Credit: Jami430. CC BY-SA 4.0
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This week the Washington Post editorial board crawled forth from its reactionary offices in Jeff Bezos’ butt to chastise liberal women for refusing to marry conservative men. Lots of liberal women replied (to paraphrase), “Fuck you, Washington Post editorial board.” Which seems like the right response.
Other folks have ably kicked apart WaPo’s condescending assurances about the awesomeness of marriage and the happiness of all those who find themselves in the institution, yay even unto those married to Trumpists. Rather than elaborating on the WaPo’s sexism, which has been well-covered, I’d instead like to briefly sketch out the racist and homophobic assumptions embedded (marginally) more subtly in the piece.
WaPo’s plea for white unity
The moral-panic-about-marriage-and-partisanship article (of which WaPo’s is but one example) is a subgenre of the moral-panic-about-partisanship article (like this one.) As I’ve discussed before, these worries about partisanship have a long and unseemly history in the US, going back at least to the post-Reconstruction period.
As you can see in the film Birth of a Nation, and for that matter in many high school textbooks still today, the Civil War was often framed restrospectively as a tragedy of disunity, in which (white) brother fought (white) brother, rather than as a fight to overcome a monstrous injustice. In other words, the evil of the Civil War was not an evil of slavery, but an evil of partisanship. The solution to the great rift was for white people to find common ground with each other—ie, in whiteness. That entailed abandoning the commitment to racial equality or civil rights. To discard partisanship and achieve unity meant to discard Black people and find common ground in white supremacy. Which is exactly what the US did from the 1870s to the 1960s—and arguably, for much longer than that.
The Washington Post doesn’t come out and say that it is advocating for white unity. But it almost does. It’s concern about marriage, it admits, is specifically a concern about white women.
This ideology gap is particularly pronounced among Gen Z White people. According to a major new American Enterprise Institute survey, 46 percent of White Gen Z women are liberal, compared to only 28 percent of White Gen Z men, more of whom (36 percent) now identify as conservative. Norms around sexuality and gender are diverging, too. Whereas 61 percent of Gen Z women see themselves as feminist, only 43 percent of Gen Z men do.
At the conclusion of the op-ed, WaPo argues that in the interest of happiness, people need to put aside their investment in identity politics. “A cultural shift might be necessary — one that views politics as a part of people’s identity but far from the most important part. Americans’ ability to live together, quite literally, might depend on it.”
But if we recognize the op ed as a plea to white people in particular, it reads a little differently. WaPo isn’t really telling people to set aside political identity for shared movie viewing habits. It’s asking white women in particular to set aside their political identity as women who are concerned (as one example) about laws restricting their bodily autonomy, and instead embrace their political identity as white people. The disavowal of politics is (here as elsewhere) an embrace of the politics of reaction, which need not be marked as “politics” since they are the default status quo.
The not very hidden agenda here resonates too with far right eugenic paranoia. Nazis and their fellow scumbags are consumed with worry that white people will be out-reproduced by non white people—that’s the basic fear at the center of Great Replacement conspiracy theories. The WaPo op ed is the genteel version of these anxieties, gently chiding white women for embracing liberal causes (like abortion rights) rather than doing their wifely duty and marrying white men to produce white children.
Which brings us to those children themselves, and what WaPo’s plea for more white marriages means for them.
Queer kids in the WaPo utopia
The Post’s editorial is devoted entirely to a discussion of (potential) husbands and wives. It does not mention children once. But marriages do often lead to children. And how to children fare in this nonpartisan utopia?
One of the most disturbing, and most sweeping, signs of partisanship in the current age is a terrifying rise in homophobia on the right. This year over 520 anti LGBT laws have been introduced in state legislatures, the most on record. Seventy of those have been enacted. These include bills which strip former legal protections from LGBT people. They also include a slew of bills that deny medical affirming care to trans youth.
The relentless assault on LGBT rights has had an effect on public opinion; support for LGBT people has fallen the last couple years, defying a decades long upward trend. That fall is especially sharp among Republicans; the percent of GOP voters who believe LGBT people are morally wrong rose 8 points, from 76% in 2021 to 84% in 2023.
The Post is, in other words, recommending that liberal white women marry conservative men who despise queer people. What happens in these mixed ideological marriages when that liberal woman has a child who is gay or trans?
This isn’t an idle question. WaPo is sure to include a “to be sure” caveat that abusive marriages are bad, but that’s not really sufficient when it’s by default encouraging people to marry and have kids with homophobic spouses. LGBT kids regularly face serious, traumatic, and even life-threatening abuse from their parents. A 2022 study found that 83% of LGBT people have adverse childhood experiences such as sexual, physical, and emotional abuse compared to only 64% of non LGBT people. Other researchers found that LGBT youth make up about 7-9% of the general population, but about 29% of youth experiencing homelessness. That’s because LGBT youth are frequently thrown out of their homes, or else have to leave home to avoid homophobic abuse.
Again, WaPo doesn’t directly encourage liberals to marry homophobic assholes. It doesn’t consider children at all. But the inevitable homophobic outcomes are baked into its reactionary and heteronormative advice. WaPo’s view of marriage is centered on white women failing to perform their proper reproductive function. It doesn’t mention changes in marriage such as (for example) the growing acceptability of interracial marriage, or the legalization of gay marriage.
We are at a point in history when, pragmatically and legally, more marriage options are available to more people than ever before in the history of the country. You’d think that would deserve a mention in an article about how people’s marriage options are constrained by politics. But WaPo doesn’t mention marriage equality because its editorial board is focused on the marriage options of cishet white male conservatives—the Trump base.
Centering the Trump base in your analysis of marriage leads you to embrace patriarchy. Patriarchy is bad for women. It’s also, though, bad for Black people, and for children, and for queer people. A hierarchy which ensconces (white, cishet) men’s concerns as determinative and most valuable is a hierarchy that erases, denigrates, and torments women, children, queer people, and non-white people. WaPo’s bland call to eliminate politics for the convenience of white guys is a not-so-bland demand to preserve the power of white fathers at the expense of literally everyone else. That’s not a path to peaceful happy unity. It’s a path to the repressive unity of fascism.
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