Wendy Davis Didn’t Lose ‘Women’: Let’s Be Specific

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Wendy Davis Didn’t Lose ‘Women’: Let’s Be Specific

Imani Gandy

In which I defend from absurd attacks Andrea Grimes' article about the lack of empathy in the white community.

If we are to make any inroads in the fight to ensure that women don’t end up corralled in Republican-funded breeding farms, serving as little more than brood mares in a dystopian landscape that would make even Margaret Atwood shudder, then we need to figure out a way to reach the women who are currently voting against their interests and the interests of their women of color sisters.

That is the point made by Andrea Grimes in a piece entitled “White Women: Let’s Get Our Shit Together.” In that piece, which seems to have caused much confusion among otherwise intelligent people, Andrea describes the problem with blazing headlines screaming that Greg Abbott “won women”:

The story does not begin and end with “men” and “women”; we have to look at which men, which women—particularly if the Democratic Party is ever going to decide to come out fighting hard on issues like immigration reform and moving the gamepiece aggressively forward, rather than backward, on reproductive rights.

The point of the piece is a fairly innocuous one, especially from the standpoint of trying to improve the political landscape for all women by, among other things, expanding Medicaid, improving access to affordable health care, and ensuring safe abortion care for all: In order to figure out what caused Wendy Davis to lose as spectacularly as she did, we must drill down into the data and go beyond blanket declarations that Wendy Davis lost “women.”

This doesn’t seem like a difficult concept to me. But the article was met with truly absurd interpretations: that Andrea was saying white women weren’t really women, that simple math demonstrates that Greg Abbott did win women (52 to 47), and that stupid feminists like Andrea don’t understand that. Stupid SJW! LOLZ!!11

Really, people? I mean, really really?

In her piece, Andrea wasn’t doing anything that political analysts don’t do all the time. Every election season, we hear Democrats fretting about how “white people” are going to vote. But they are rarely wringing their hands about “white people” writ large, but rather about some subgroup of white people: How did single white people vote? What about working-class white voters? What about white voters under 45? White voters under 45 without college degrees? White voters under 45 who are vegetarian but sometimes can’t help sneaking a piece of bacon when nobody is looking?

Pundits and analysts are obsessed with the white voter and every subgroup of the white voter. All Andrea’s piece did was apply this sort of analysis to women voters, concluding that Black women and Latina women are doing a better job of pushing for candidates from the perspective of the reproductive justice community.

In response, Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine—who, between writing this piece and his back-and-forth with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Melissa Harris Perry, should probably abstain from ever commenting on race again—claimed that Andrea’s piece argued that “it is racist to credit Abbott with winning the women’s vote merely because more women voted for him than his opponent.”

No. No, it didn’t.

For starters, to write that Andrea claimed that any headline or person crediting Abbott with winning the women’s vote was “racist,” is, at best, intellectually dishonest. Furthermore, neither she, nor Jenny Kutner writing for Salon, argued that “arithmetic is racist.”

Andrea’s piece simply pointed out that women are not a monolith, and that analysts and journalists who continue to propagate claims that “Candidate X won women” or that “Women won it for Candidate Y” (as many did after Black women ensured that Ken Cuccinelli lost the Virginia gubernatorial race to Terry McAuliffe) aren’t telling the whole story. And it noted for the people in our field—reproductive rights and justice advocates—that these sorts of blanket statements about Wendy Davis’ loss miss an opportunity for deeper analysis.

As Steve Koczela and Rich Parr recently wrote for Boston’s WBUR:

Women tend to favor Democratic candidates over Republicans, both here [Massachussetts] and nationally.

But while it is convenient for analysts and campaign advisers (us included) to talk about women as a group of voters, and focus on how much candidate X trails candidate Y among women, the reality is more complicated. It’s more accurate to think of the gender gap as the accumulation of many smaller margins among different demographic groupings of women, the totality of which lean toward the Democratic column. Within each of these margins are different influences, experiences and socioeconomic realities that, taken together, make the common reference to the gender gap a clear oversimplification.

It is an oversimplification to claim that Wendy Davis lost women. That claim doesn’t get you anywhere in terms of election and campaign strategy.

And in making that point in her article, Andrea was urging—as I have urged—that we stop oversimplifying gender-gap data, because doing so obscures crucial information that will help us in our fight for reproductive rights and justice. (And it also erases the work of women of color who have been on the front lines in that fight.)

If we stop oversimplifying data, we can figure out ways to reach out to white women and to encourage them to stop voting for people who seek to strip them of their reproductive autonomy. We can come up with a strategy for dealing with what Andrea called a “historical crisis of empathy in the white community.” We can figure out ways to convince white women—married and relatively wealthy white women—that, as Ilyse Hogue recently put it, there can be no economic security for women in this country without reproductive freedom. We can figure out how to encourage this subgroup of white women to be more empathetic to their less well-off sisters: women of color, single white women, and poor white women.

This is not a novel concept. This is not a concept warranting facile headlines which imply that the sum total of Andrea’s argument was that “arithmetic is racist.”

Andrea’s piece was common-sense political analysis of the sort that pundits, campaign strategists, and journalists routinely engage.

And it’s the sort of political analysis that just might benefit all of us.

I dare not speak for Andrea, but I know her. She’s a wildly intelligent woman and I feel confident in saying that she knows that 52 is more than 47. But the point she was making was far deeper and far more important than reductive claims based on simple arithmetic that “Women voted for Greg Abbott.”

And to those on the Right who likely quibble with my framing or who think that we’re being “sore losers” by pushing back on the narrative that “Women voted for Greg Abbott,” try this statement on for size: Women vote for Democrats.

What’s the matter? Don’t like that statement?