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Why Southern white women vote against feminism

The morning after the 2016 election was not the first time feminists awoke devastated and bewildered by election results.

Three days after Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential victory, this headline ran in the New York Times: “Feminists Dismayed by the Election and Unsure of What the Future Holds.” In the story, George McGovern, the former Democratic presidential nominee who had just lost his Senate seat, blamed anti-feminist sentiment for the titanic Republican wave: “People were reluctant to come right out and admit they wanted to put women in their place, but there was a strong current of that running through much of what happened.”

McGovern was on to something that is still misunderstood today: Republicans had capitalized upon a strong advantage with anti-feminist white women, most notably in the South. The GOP had wooed these women by dropping its previous support for the Equal Rights Amendment and offering up a new dog-whistle tactic: preaching the politics of “family values.” This advantage helped propel Reagan to the White House and reignited the partisan transformation of the South that had stalled after Richard Nixon’s resignation.

At one time, ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment seemed like a foregone conclusion. In fall 1971 and spring 1972, the ERA sailed through the House of Representatives and the Senate by votes of 354 to 24 and 84 to 8. It received such broad bipartisan support because legislators understood that the amendment would create equal opportunities for women should they choose to pursue them.

Read entire article at Washington Post