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    • Maya Spier Stiles North

      Columnist, Copy Editor
    • December 2, 2018 in Columnists

    White women and Stockholm Syndrome — how white women chose whiteness over gender

    In situations of captivity the perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the life of the victim, and the psychology of the victim is shaped by the actions and beliefs of the perpetrator.
    Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

    In the wake of the 2016 election horror, white women like me were left reeling in anguish over the majority of my fellows who voted for Trump. How could they? An avowed assaulter of women — a credibly alleged rapist — who as one of his first acts as “president” was to start dismantling every program he could that benefited women (all the awful things Trump has done to gut protections) — these women knew what he was and voted for him anyway. They voted for him even with video proof of every vile thing he was and is — especially toward women.

    As Hillary Clinton said (get a grip — she’s worth hearing):

    During a discussion at the India Today Conclave on Saturday, Clinton was asked why she thought most white women voted for Trump, even after the “Access Hollywood” tape and claims of sexual misconduct weeks before the election.

    “[Democrats] do not do well with white men, and we don’t do well with married, white women. And part of that is an identification with the Republican Party, and a sort of ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should,” she said. (Hillary Clinton in an article by the Washington Post)

    I was discussing this with a dear and brilliant friend who suggested the possibility that these women suffer something similar to Stockholm Syndrome and it hit me hard because I think this is true in situations where women are living with men whose patriarchal attitudes and misogyny create rigid and often intolerable parameters for these women’s lives. In essence, they aren’t just husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. They are also captors.

    Consider this — how many of these women are essentially completely under the control of the men in their lives? Even when the men aren’t explicit about their expectations of obedience, the women know damned good and well what’s expected of them — and the consequences if these expectations are flouted.

    I learned them early as a young girl in Missouri when I was frequently abjured to “be a lady.” The rules of being a lady were very, very simple. Don’t have opinions, don’t be angry, don’t dress to suit yourself, don’t exceed a man, don’t ever be physically stronger, don’t sass or be uppity and never, ever sweat because men won’t like it.

    It all came down to “men won’t like it.” Every. Single. Time.

    Fast forward to a conservative woman’s marriage to a conservative, patriarchal man. There’s a good chance she isn’t employed and even if she is, she often either doesn’t make as much (by societal and economic design, by the way) or she doesn’t control the purse strings, even if she does make some of that money. They were both raised to see him as “king of the castle” and she the biddable, obedient helpmeet there to ensure the king’s every comfort. And if he rewards her servitude with nice things, well that reinforces the right and proper order of life.

    Little wonder such men would assume they had the right to dictate their women’s votes — and make sure they know the precise consequences of disobedience.

    Stockholm Syndrome is defined by a captor who has rendered his captive so dependent that the captive begins to identify with the captor. How is that different from a patriarchal marriage? Her life, her subsistence — and also the status that defines her — are all dependent on her husband. Should he reject her, off she goes to the trash heap of broken dolls, never to be of value again.

    This also keeps such women from realizing that they would be better served to identify with people of color than white men as their situation is far more similar — at the mercy of white men for all freedoms, all rights, and the very safety of their bodies. They choose the vilest aspects of whiteness — the habit of betraying everybody who is not a white, cis male in order to side with the same people who have been oppressing them for millenia.

    Now and then, such women wake up and it’s epic to watch the dawning rage over how long they had to devour themselves to survive and what it cost them. To watch as she separates her own thoughts and opinions and feelings from his and discovers who she is as an individual. But millions of women will never do that. They can’t tell a partner from a captor and spend their days identifying with the very person who will never be capable of seeing her as the potentially powerful individual she could be. In fact, whether they realize it or not, they can only tolerate the power of a woman if it fits within the narrow boundaries they have set for her.

    And to maintain that, these women will vote in a way that betrays every woman alive, every child — and even more than they will ever know — themselves. Sadly, they often only realize this after they’ve been relegated to the scrap heap by husbands who have found a newer model.

    By that time, the votes — and the dice — have been cast and everyone in the equation has been harmed except for the captors themselves, who sit, bloated and satisfied, atop their cess heap of power and profit.

    And conservative white women whose men see them as something to be controlled and even used — be they husbands, fathers, brothers or sons — have sold themselves down the river — and every other woman with them.


      • Greg

      • December 2, 2018 at 10:19 am
      • Reply

      Sometimes I browse the pages of friends of friends who are devoted Trump supporters. And I mean the really gung-ho devotees, not the ones who are sort of moderate Republicans who now seem to have buyer’s remorse and are now silent. Or just voted for him because he wasn’t Hillary.

      What I keep seeing is it’s definitely not economics. Most of these predominately white american males (and females) are pretty well off, retired or semi-retired with good healthcare plans and pensions to match, or at least comfortable.

      Let me share what I see about what makes white american women tick. Every decision that they make with ease is made with whiteness. Every door that opens for them is opened by whiteness. And I know this might come off like I am trying to take away some of your achievements, but I’m not. But I need them to understand that from the Constitution to our education system to our pop culture – everything that they do is steeped in whiteness.

      Now, people ask me to stop making things about race all of the time. But if I stop making things about race, they’re conditioned to make them about whiteness every time. Suddenly I have to navigate what they won’t, or refuse, to see. I am tripping over obstructions that they don’t even know that they’re leaving in front of me. And if that makes them feel bad or makes them feel guilty I do not have a solution for that, because it should make you feel bad and it should make you feel guilty. That is not my goal. (But I’ll admit, sometimes it makes me grin.)

      Now, it’s uncomfortable – it is uncomfortable to realize that a lot of the benefits that you may have come at the expense of other people. And what if that makes you feel bad or makes you feel guilty? And I do not have a solution for that because it should make you feel bad and it should make you feel guilty.

      I have bigger things to worry about. But I will say this: It will not kill you. But if you don’t see it, it will kill me, or it will kill my son, or it will kill my daughter. You have to get used to this.


      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • December 2, 2018 at 11:27 am
      • Reply

      I think we’re both right. I have an inside view of such women in many ways. I grew up when more white women were like this than not and too many still are. But you are also absolutely right. We have so much work to do.



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