In a story on Morning Edition about life-long democrats in Western Pennsylvania turning to Donald Trump, NPR’s David Greene spoke to Trump campaign volunteer Trisha Cunningham. She is drawn to the candidate because of his strong position against illegal immigration. She explained that illegal immigrants without insurance are unfairly competing against her husband’s tree clearing business by undercutting his prices.
When the reporter asked whether she was bothered by some of the things Trump has said about women, she said no.
GREEN: “She said strong women like her and her mom should just brush it aside.”
CUNNINGHAM: “Strong women are not going to be offended by anything anybody says.”
They then visited with Cunningham’s mother in a nursing home. Amy Dudley was a factory worker who voted for Ronald Reagan more than three decades ago. For her, too, strength is the most important characteristic for a leader. In fact, she recently registered republican after a lifetime as a democratic in response to Donald Trump’s strong position statements.
She doesn’t think that Hilary Clinton is a strong woman, and that opinion goes back to the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the mid-1990’s. Ms. Dudley felt that Ms. Clinton was too accepting of her husband’s behavior and consequently, twenty years later, she holds a lasting impression that Hilary Clinton is not a strong woman.
Another NPR story that figures into this discussion was from yesterday’s All Things Considered. In light of the new HBO movie Confirmation, Nina Totenberg recalled the drama over the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991. From the transcript:
SHAPIRO: And as you say, Anita Hill was also viciously personally attacked. Clarence Thomas was viciously personally attacked. But I suppose the upshot of all this is how much the event changed the workplace. All over the United States today there are policies in place that exist in large part just because of this
TOTENBERG: Totally because of this. The number of sexual harassment claims doubled over the next year or so. Up until this point, most professional women in varying degrees had been sexually harassed. Some had been actually attacked, some simply profoundly embarrassed, whatever. But women didn’t talk about this for a reason that may seem odd to the millennial generation. We were embarrassed to talk about it.
What do we take away from these two stories? What are the characteristics of a strong women and how does a women’s age figure into this?
I’ll start with a cartoon from John Atkinson at https://wronghands1.com.
Nina Totenberg is at the very beginning of the Baby Boomer generation while Trisha Cunningham is a Gen Xer. Anita Hill was born right in the middle of the Baby Boomer years. Unlike the cartoon above, Trisha Cunningham does not appear to be a whiner. To her, a strong women brushes off inappropriate comments about women.
For professional baby boomer women, on the other hand, a strong women is one who stands up for her rights and her gender. Most of them had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and it wasn’t until Anita Hill’s public accusations against Clarence Thomas that they realized there was an alternative to just putting up with the abuse. Anti-harassment laws and policies are a direct result of this awakening.
Trisha Cunningham may never have experienced sexual harassment because as a 17 or 18-year old at the time of the confirmation hearings, the workplace may have changed quickly enough to greatly reduce its prevalence. Her mother is a baby boomer though, and she worked in a factory. She probably would have experienced sexual harassment.
And that may be the difference. It may not be generation that matters as much as geography and vocation. Perhaps the emphasis on strong women by Trisha Cunningham and her mother, Amy Dudley, is cultural. Perhaps they have experienced many adverse situations in their lives and they feel strong women like them just overcome or ignore them. It is just what strong women do.
So these particular strong women don’t worry about Trump’s inappropriate comments about women. That’s not worth fighting for? What is? Illegal immigration. Thats an abuse which affects their livelihood and is a case of changing (or ignoring) the rules to benefit someone else over them. Ms. Cunningham doesn’t blame the people who hire the immigrants; she blames the immigrants themselves for breaking the rules.
Would a President Trump give them what they want? I doubt it. Most experts believe that he would not be able to keep his promise to deport 11 million illegal immigrants or get Mexico to pay for a wall. His idea to stop remittances from the U.S. to Mexico would sow economic unrest on our southern border. We’ve seen what problems are caused by economic downturns in countries around the world. Do we really want to make things worse in more countries and so close to home?
So who are the stronger women? Is it those who pledge their support based on who they feel is the toughest, and easily forgive indiscretions? Or is it those who stand up for themselves and work toward fairness? There is strength in both groups.