Don't Show Up for Men Who Won't Show Up for You
What to make of the 2022 midterm gender gap, especially for women who date men.
With Raphael Warnock (thank god) claiming victory over former linebacker and abortion coercer Herschel Walker, it’s safe to say that Democrats are damn lucky women, and particularly young women and young people of color, showed up in droves — many of them motivated by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Republican lawmakers banning abortion in more than a dozen states.
But what to make of the persistent gender gap, even across the Democratic base? I’ll offer one takeaway: Don’t waste your time with guys who don’t think your body and your rights matter.
The national Democratic base is made up of the religiously unaffiliated (25% of the electorate); white college-educated women (13% of the electorate); Millennial women (11% of the electorate); Black women (7% of the electorate) and Black men (4%); Latinas; and people who live in cities, among other groups. But basically, Democrats are the party of racial diversity, urbanites, and the educated, while Republicans remain the party of religious rural whites.
The 2022 midterms demonstrated that Gen Z is also strongly Democratic: Voters 18-29 voted Dem more than any other age demographic. And Democratic voters were fired up about abortion — the number of Dem voters who listed abortion as their #1 issue far outpaced Dem voters who listed anything else.
But there are big race and gender gaps, even when you take age into account. Per usual, white voters were much more conservative, and it’s in this demographic that you see significant gaps in education: White voters without college degrees are strongly Republican; white voters with college degrees lean Democrat; and white women with college degrees are significantly more likely to vote for a Democrat than their white male peers.
And across the board, women were more likely to vote for Democrats than men:
In the midterms, an astounding 72% of women under 30 voted for Democrats. Among men the same age, it was 54%. These gaps persist with age: Among women 30-44, 57% voted for Dems, while just 43% of men did.
I highlight these age ranges because these are the people getting pregnant. The overwhelming majority of the people who are getting pregnant are women, and the overwhelming majority of those women are getting pregnant by men. Most of the women in these age ranges will date, partner, or marry men. These stark gender gaps, though — and the huge gender gap among under-30s — doesn’t bode well for good romance and relationships among the heteros.
Not all of these voters are heterosexual, and not all are partnered. But a lot of them are women who date men and vice-versa; a lot are partnered, or would like to be. And so for whatever it’s worth, here’s a little advice: Being single is far, far preferable to being with someone who doesn’t care about your most fundamental rights.
That doesn’t mean that couples can never disagree on politics. Plenty of couples see the world differently, have different policy perspectives, or believe in different solutions to the same problems. People who love and mutually respect each other can disagree on, say, what the top marginal tax rate should be, or how much of the budget should go to defense, or the best way to educate America’s children, or what might be the most effective way to spend on health and social welfare, or the best strategy to support freedom fighters in Ukraine.
But there are a handful of political issues that transcend partisan debate and go straight to the heart of one’s core values, one’s views on human freedom and dignity, and one’s respect for one’s partner. Abortion is one of them.
Because if a man believes that the state should be able to force women into continuing a pregnancy and bearing a child, that man is a misogynist. He does not respect you. He does not see you as a whole being, with a full set of rights and worthy of basic dignity, valuable as you are and not because of your potential to bear children. And if he says sure he’s pro-choice but he’s unwilling to vote to protect those rights, well — you have pretty direct evidence of just how much he’s willing to show up for you.
There are also plenty of men who just don’t care, who could truly give a shit if abortion is legal or not — or perhaps would loosely prefer abortion be legal, but put other issues, like their tax rate, first. Is that the kind of man you want to share a bed with? The kind of man you even want to be friends with?
There are, of course, women who also oppose abortion rights. That’s the thing with misogyny — it isn’t a male-only endeavor, and it’s folded into just about every aspect of our culture, and needles its way into just about every corner of our world. There have always been and probably always will be women who realize that they can personally benefit from enforcing and adhering to patriarchal standards. That many of these women tend to live in close proximity to very conservative and very sexist men isn’t a coincidence: For a lot of women, the choice seems to be to either enjoy the benefits of benevolent sexism (chivalry and protection, even if you’re condescended to, put in a limited maternal role, are dependent on men, and don’t enjoy a full set of rights) or bear the burden of the hostile sexism that comes with being perceived as too challenging or too feminist (abuse, ostracism, sexist maltreatment). And the benefits of benevolent sexism are particularly acute for white women. If you’re valued primarily for your childbearing capabilities, your maternal capacities, and your perceived vulnerability, well, that’s better than not being valued at all.
I’m less interested, honestly, in the conservative white women who vote in the interests of white hegemony and patriarchal dominance.To some degree they’re benefitting from those votes, and to some degree they’re suffering, but they’re also making their own bed. I’m obviously painting with a broad brush here, but the conservative white women who vote for Republicans also tend to be surrounded by other conservative whites who vote for Republicans. They are, generally, part of a broader community norm.
I’m more interested in the women who live in the gender gap — who vote for Democrats, who are pro-choice, who are (at least statistically) probably surrounded by other women who vote for Democrats and who are pro-choice, but see far less support for women’s rights from their male peers and potential partners. That is a much tougher place to live. And it’s where women across demographics find themselves, as there is a gender gap across every racial group and every age demographic.
But the starkest gap is between women and men of reproductive age.
Sexism operates differently from other forms of bigotry and discrimination, because the lives of women and men are and have forever been deeply intertwined. Sexism is profoundly intimate. It’s not Group A harboring biases against Group B over there who they hardly know; it involves people who share homes, who share beds, who are our parents and our children, who ostensibly love each other. It is a very, very complicated thing to hold that a man can love you personally — as your father, your brother, your partner — but also devalue women as a class. Even more difficult is to truly understand that when he devalues women as a class, that includes you.
We don’t get to choose every member of our families. And I do think there is a lot to be said for maintaining community and familial ties, even with people whose views we disagree with. Most of the time, I am going to default to persuasion over shunning, to calling in rather than calling out.
But romantic relationships don’t have be acts of martyrdom, and they shouldn’t involve sacrificing basic self-respect. Choosing to try to persuade friends, family, and community members, and choosing to stay in tough conversations with people you love but disagree with, does not mean you need to partner with someone who fundamentally does not respect you and does not show up for you when it counts. You don’t get to choose your parents, siblings, or even necessarily your neighbors. But you do get to choose your partner. Don’t partner with someone who doesn’t see you as an equal.
Because a partnership should be just that: Two people joining their lives, with mutual respect and support. Too often, though, the respect and support in heterosexual partnerships moves in one direction.
We saw that with this election, which truly was a referendum on abortion. And it doesn’t have to be this way. There are in fact millions and millions of men who care about women’s rights, and who show up for them again and again — not out of some weird sacrifice, but because they just have decent values and they care about other people. I realize I am very lucky, but these are the men I am largely surrounded by in my life. It is possible, and it’s pretty damn great.
None of us should expect any less. But for pro-choice straight women of childbearing age, the truth is that the numbers are not really working in our favor. There are just not as many men who make women’s most fundamental rights a priority as there are women who make women’s fundamental rights a priority. That’s going to mean some tough decision-making. Is having a particular relationship status worth sacrificing your own dignity to partner with someone who fundamentally does not respect you and does not think you deserve full sovereignty over your body — including (especially) over the most intimate sexual and reproductive parts of it? Are there ways to build deep and fulfilling relationships, and ways to create family, that don’t require attaching yourself to a person who sees you as a supporting character in his plot line and a receptacle of his desires? (I promise, there are). And so the feminist project involves changing men, yes. But it’s even more important to change the rest of it. We can choose how we construct our families, form our communities, and build lives that are purposeful, dignified, and deeply satisfying on our own terms.
If you’re a woman who dates men, trust me when I say that you’re just never going to persuade a man you love that he should believe women are people, too. Choose people who care about you. That’s not demonstrated only by how people vote. But a ballot is one instructive data point.