For many American women, these are times when they are feeling seen and being heard.
More women ran for office in 2018 than ever before, a half-dozen are running for president in 2020 and a record number are serving in Congress. Powerful men are being toppled by women whose voices are being heard for the first time. Every January for the past three years, hundreds of thousands have joined in the Women’s March. Rolling Stone put Nancy Pelosi and three new female members of the House on the cover with the headline “Women Shaping the Future.”
But for all the talk of “women’s issues” and “women’s power” and “what women bring to the table,” there are some — arguably a third of American women — who don’t feel that this is about them at all. In these divisive times, women are as divided as the nation as a whole, and “what women want” depends on which women you ask.
“I don’t want these women who are marching and hollering and celebrating to represent me,” says Beth Ann Arnett, 49, a home health aide from North Judson, Ind., who has also worked in a fiberglass factory and driving a tractor-trailer. “I am ashamed of those ladies.”
Agrees Sue Fariello, 71, a retired educator from Lake George, N.Y.: “Those women don’t speak for me.”
A poll of 1,000 women conducted on behalf of Yahoo, HuffPost, Makers and other Verizon Media brands by Langer Research Associates found that while 62 percent of the respondents considered themselves liberal or moderate, 17 percent said they were “somewhat conservative” and another 11 percent called themselves “very conservative.” And to them the world looks nothing like the one that women on the other end of the political spectrum see.
The gender pay gap, for instance, which 64 percent of liberal women call a “serious” problem, is seen as “not serious” by 71 percent of conservative women. Among those is Arnett, who believes that women are paid the same as men when they do the same work, but that much of the time they are not capable of the same work and therefore earn less. “When I’m a truck driver and I’m going to make the same money as a man, that’s equal,” she says. “But when I was in the factory making fiberglass bathtubs, there were jobs that men do better than females, and that’s nature, that’s muscle tone.”
Asked whether “efforts to ensure equal rights in this country have gone too far,” Arnett is one of the 17 percent of all respondents who agree, compared with 46 percent who believe those efforts have “not gone far enough” and 34 percent who believe they have “been about right.”
So is Fariello, who says that she sees conversation about obstacles in the workplace as “whining.” At lunch several weeks ago, she says, “a bunch of friends, all with daughters in their 30s and 40s, we all decided we were sick of their whining. We all had established careers, we had done well, we didn’t whine.
“If women are equal, and I believe they are,” she concludes, “they should just work and that will get them what they deserve. They don’t have to whine.”
Anna Ruman, of Coffeen, Ill., also thinks the spotlight on these subjects does not reflect her own life. Now a veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture doing emergency planning for outbreaks of farm animal diseases like foot-and-mouth and bird flu, Ruman used to be a harness-race driver, and yes, she says, she was treated differently because of her sex.
“They would criticize me more,” she says. “Even if I’d win a race, they would say, ‘Why did you do this? Why did you drive that method?’ I would answer, ‘Well, I won, didn’t I?’” When it became clear that “most owners won’t search out a woman driver,” she says she didn’t “complain about it, I just drove my own horses and showed them.
“All this moaning that people need to change their thinking, or that the government needs to intervene, that’s just people with too much time on their hands and they’re too far away from reality,” she says.
Through this small but sharp lens, the recent wave of women into government, most of whom are Democrats, does not look like progress. Asked whether increased numbers of women in power was de facto good for the country, 88 percent of liberal women said they believed it was, while only 40 percent of conservative women said the same. And nearly 20 percent of strongly conservative women saw it as actually bad for the country.
“Women are more bleeding hearts about issues where that’s dangerous,” says Ruman. “For instance, I know all about the meat industry and how regulations have gone too far, and I know all about organics and how they are a bunch of nonsense. Women tend to be softer and they believe some of that goody-goody stuff. On guns too. I believe in guns, I can fit in a rural community and be seen as an equal because I can function in a lot of ways like a man in a man’s world. A lot of women can’t.”
Arnett goes further still. “I do not believe a woman should be president of this country,” she says. “If a woman is president, even runs for president, then we are now a weaker country in the eyes of North Korea and those kinds of places and they are going to attack.”
(History doesn’t bear out that analysis: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India and Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel all led their countries in war and were victorious.)
“I don’t think women should be in the Senate or the House either,” Arnett continues, rejecting mention of studies showing that the more women in a governing body, the more collegial and bipartisan it can be. “The more women in the room the more drama,” she counters. “If there’s less women in the room, men can get the job done quicker.”
From where these women stand, the #MeToo movement and the growing attention to sexual harassment are not their issues either. While 91 percent of liberal women said they saw harassment as a problem, and 81 percent called it a serious problem, only 47 percent of conservative women described it that way. In part, they say, it is because the women with the biggest platform are nothing like themselves.
“I am sick of Hollywood running the world,” says Ruman. “It might hit closer to home if these were hard-working women that I can relate to.”
While 46 percent of liberal and moderate women felt the attention to sexual harassment had not gone far enough, 32 percent of conservative women believed the same. In contrast, 45 percent of conservative women said the movement to end sexual harassment had actually gone too far, while only 19 percent of liberal and moderate women agreed.
“I was a truck driver, I worked in factories, I have done sexual harassment to men just like it’s been done to me,” Arnett recalls. “I would say, ‘Ooh, I’d like to try him on for size.’ Women do it too.”
As for the presidential campaign of 2016, which fueled the #MeToo movement and the wave of women in office, that too looks different to this subset of women. When asked about the Access Hollywood tape in which Donald Trump was heard boasting that because he was a star he could touch women in intimate ways, all of the half-dozen women interviewed did not immediately recognize the reference.
“I’m not sure I saw that one,” says Arnett.
“‘Access Hollywood’? I don’t know enough about that to give you an answer,” says Darlene Fisher, 64, who runs an antique mall near the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. “I am not at all familiar with the tape.” Once reminded, she replied, “I am more suspicious of Bill Clinton than I am of Trump. I saw pictures of Joe Biden having his hand on women’s parts that he had no right to have. What about Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton? Those facts are being ignored.”
In fact, nearly all the signposts that liberal and centrist women cite as most enraging, or uplifting, or symbolic in the past few years have little resonance to their conservative counterparts.
The testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford accusing then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault while in high school?
“Innocent until proven guilty,” Fisher said. “I didn’t see them prove the guilt.”
“Don’t come out 20 years after the incident, don’t wait 20 years to grow some balls,” said Arnett. “Come out when it happens.”
The Women’s March?
“What I saw was women disgustedly showing off their vaginas, going braless, showing their breasts,” said Fisher. “They were not marching for me.”
Did she attend any of the marches?
“I don’t think they had any in Sioux Falls,” she said. [They did.] “And even so I wouldn’t go. I don’t really see eye to eye with them.”
The newly elected women sitting together and celebrating at the State of the Union address last month?
“I watched because I am very interested in history and government and always have been,” Fariello says. “Not to watch some women act disrespectful.”
And the tribute to the suffragette movement, that swath of women wearing white?
“That’s rude after Labor Day, it’s not fashionable,” Arnett quipped.
“So what, the KKK dressed in white,” said Fisher. “They are tearing the nation apart. That’s what I saw, and I can’t understand how anyone else didn’t see it.”
“What Women Want Now” is a series by Yahoo News and sister sites dedicated to creating content about the issues and stories that matter most to women. Read more here.
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