A troubled woman
I can totally understand how married evangelical white women with great husbands (like mine) could be wondering why younger women are distraught about the election outcome. I have seen many posts from friends questioning the protests, grief, and “melodrama” over the last week. If you are struggling to understand it, I would like to help. I cannot speak for all of the people troubled by this outcome, but I believe I can provide insights into why some women are troubled, including an increasing number who voted for the president-elect.
Before you get defensive: I am NOT disputing the outcome of this election or judging a single vote cast in it. I am not speaking for all women, because many women do not need anyone to speak for them. Many women are empowered by their access to information and opportunities; they make their own decisions with respect to their beliefs, health, education, and vocation. These women voted for the candidate they want to see in office. If you are one of these women, regardless of your political persuasion, I am grateful for you. You are blessed, and you make this country better for all of us. Please seize your positions of influence to champion other women who are not as fortunate as you are, often simply because of where and to whom they were born. There are a lot of women out there who, while legally free, are not socially or economically free to make their own decisions with respect to their beliefs, health, education, or vocation.
So let’s unpack a few possible causes for some women’s fear and disappointment in the election outcome. And please keep in mind that none of us gets to decide that the fears of another person are unmerited.
The Cost of College Education
Let’s consider the scenario of a young college student named Sarah. Sarah is among the majority of college students paying her own way through college. If she graduates from college, she is likely to have around $40,000 in college-related debt before she has married, started her career, purchased a home, or had children. Like most parents of people her age, Sarah’s parents did not save adequately for retirement, so she knows she cannot count on their help and may, in fact, be supporting them before too long.
A Rape Culture
Thanks to efforts to raise awareness on her college campus, Sarah is aware of the reports from the Center for Disease Control that state that one in five women in the US has been raped (not just sexually assaulted; that increases the number to 45% of women). She understands that this means that there are 32 million women in this country who have been raped and are now coping with the fact that the most influential position in the world will soon be filled by a man whose voice they indisputably heard saying, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait... Grab ‘em by the pussy. You can do anything.” Trump dismissed these vulgar statements as “locker room banter.” Imagine how comforting this is to young women who are led to conclude now that either ALL men talk like this about women... or just the President-elect and his buddies do with no consequences.
Let’s picture an emboldened college male emerging from a locker room where he has engaged in some “locker room banter.” He goes to a party, has a few beers, coaxes Sarah into a room alone, and rapes her, putting her among the 20-25% of college females who have experienced rape or attempted rape. Contrary to some ridiculous statements made in the past by ultra-conservatives, women can get pregnant from rape. Let’s say Sarah does. (Sidenote: One change Donald Trump plans to make on his first day in office is to amend the Affordable Care Act so that it no longer provides free birth control for women.)
Access to Healthcare
Planned Parenthood provided 10.6 million services to women in 2013, 42% of which was STD testing (which Sarah now needs), 34% of which was contraception (oops, too late for her now), 9% is cancer screening (probably not her concern in this moment), 11% are other women’s health services (like urinary tract infection treatment), and 3% are abortions. (Yes, there is valid criticism with regard to the disproportionate cost related to these services. Not only am I not disputing this argument; I’m including a link to help you find it.) My point is Donald Trump intends to end all of the services that Planned Parenthood could offer Sarah, no matter what her choice would be.
A Lonely Road
THIS IS NOT A STATEMENT ABOUT ABORTION! I am not pro-abortion (no one is!), and I am not going to get into this issue, so don’t troll me on it. (Instead, consider this perspective about how we can more effectively decrease the number of abortions in this country.) If I had the opportunity to counsel Sarah (though statistically speaking, I likely would not, because women in this situation do not typically talk to anyone due to their fear of shaming; this is one reason why a free clinic is so important), I would strongly discourage her from getting an abortion. But amid my pleas to her, I would have to honestly ask myself if I was prepared to walk alongside Sarah on the very lonely road ahead of her. How could I judge her if I wasn’t willing to be part of the choice I advocated (or actively support organizations who are)?
The Cost of Poverty and Unequal Pay
If Sarah decides to keep her baby (praise God!), she will face a strong cultural judgment toward unwed mothers and will likely enter a cycle of poverty that is very hard to break. (If you want to gain a greater understanding of the challenges faced by those in poverty, I highly recommend this or something like it.) She may be able to receive a government subsidy for childcare (if Republicans have not repealed it), but even so, she cannot afford to take on more college debt. So she will be forced to quit school and immediately start paying back the debt from the degree she did not complete, while working a minimum wage job with no hope of a pay increase under a Trump presidency. Even if Sarah got a lucky break and was able to advance in her job, she is still only going to be paid 80% of what her male peers make in the same position.
The Reality of Adoption
Yes, Sarah could give up her baby for adoption, and I hope she would because I know some amazing people who want to be parents and would welcome her child into their family. But let’s consider the race scenarios here. What if Sarah is black? What if she is white but her rapist was black? I thought our country was making progress on this, but I’m not so sure now. What if her child is born with special needs because Sarah did not have sufficient access to prenatal care (like vitamins and good nutrition)? What if Sarah decides to give up her child for adoption but then holds her baby for the first time and cannot let go? If she decides then to keep the baby, she will be judged harshly. Some will judge her even more harshly if she goes through with the adoption at that point (“How could you give up your child?”). If Sarah chooses to go through with the adoption, research indicates she is likely to face medical, sexual, and/or psychiatric problems down the road, including severe depression.
Sarah’s is not a far-fetched scenario. Quite the contrary: There are thousands of Sarahs (and her friends, who live with the fear it could happen to them) in our communities. They face complex circumstances that are often overlooked by single-issue voters who have not walked in their shoes in today's culture. Many of us fail to acknowledge that not everyone among us has access to the choices we do, and our judgments further victimize them and alienate them from the Church.
Leading with Love, not Judgment
Repeatedly in scripture Jesus warned against judging others. He made it clear that job belongs to Him alone. Yet even Jesus demonstrated love and mercy for the adulterous women (John 8), the shamed woman at the well (John 4), the “unclean” woman who touched his cloak (Luke 8), and other marginalized women and men in His day. He spoke kindly to them, forgave them, and healed them. He did not mock or judge them. Do you remember who He repeatedly judged with great vehemence? Church leaders!
We are commanded to love others, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), Jesus goes to great lengths to explain who that includes. He was not talking about people who share our faith, live in our neighborhood, and have kids at the same school.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:32-38)
Do your part.
Please pray for our nation, our leaders, and for people who live in fear. Do what you can, within your sphere of influence, to advocate for access to better choices. Give your time, talent, and treasure to organizations who serve the vulnerable. (Please feel free to share in the comments the names of these organizations and links to their websites or social media accounts.) Seek first to listen and understand. Leave the job of judging to Jesus, and follow His command to love.