Maggie Passmore of St. Paul, Minnesota, had been watching election returns at a party but reverted to watching at home “when things got scary.” She fell asleep, then awoke to learn that Donald Trump was defeating Hillary Clinton.
“And then I threw up,” said Passmore, 54. “My body totally rejected the result.” Hours later, she found herself writing an email to her kids saying how terrified she was for the country’s future: for the Supreme Court, for health care, for international relations.
Shock. Despair. A punch to the gut. Hopelessness. Countless female Clinton supporters used those words Wednesday to describe their feelings. Some spoke of collapsing in tears, or seeing strangers do the same – on the subway, or on the street.
For many women, the election was a one-two punch. A huge milestone that had seemed so tantalizingly close – the election of a woman as president – was now out of reach. And the victorious candidate was one who had denigrated women, mocked a beauty pageant contestant for her weight, described grabbing women by the genitals with impunity, and been accused of multiple instances of sexual assault.
By the time Trump had called his opponent “such a nasty woman,” it had seemed that women might hand him a defeat at the ballot box. But when the dust cleared, the unprecedented gender gap – 13 points in Clinton’s favor, assuming exit polls hold up, the largest since the exit poll began in 1972 – wasn’t enough.
And the fact is that millions of American women did vote for Trump.
“Listen, I didn’t love either of the candidates,” said Susan Paarz, 69, of Somers Point, New Jersey. “But I voted against corruption and dishonesty.”
For Clinton supporter Jan Risher, Election Day had begun joyously. She’d rustled up the best pantsuit she could – not matching, but no matter – and headed to downtown Lafayette, Louisiana, to take a happy photo with some similarly attired women. Hours later, instead of celebrating the first woman president as she’d expected, she was searching online for how to immigrate to Canada.
“I have never felt so forlorn in my life,” said Risher, 52. “I just feel such alienation from my country today.”
On social media, many women asked: What will we tell our daughters? Clinton herself addressed the issue in an emotional concession speech. “To all the little girls watching: Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” she said.
Not all of the women who voted for Trump completely condoned his behavior. They just preferred him to the alternative.
To Trump supporter Diane Massaroli of Staten Island, New York, the candidate’s vulgar, caught-on-tape comments were disgusting – but not a dealbreaker. And the series of women who accused him of sexual assault didn’t persuade her, she said. (Her 15-year-old daughter, though, was a Clinton supporter – and in tears at the result.)
“A lot of people said that to me: How could I vote for him, being the mother of a daughter? … But I think everything else is far greater” than his comments, Massaroli said. “I think people just didn’t trust her as much as they would trust him.”
Said Paarz of Trump’s vulgar comments: “Any woman would have been offended. But guys talk that way in a locker room. Is he different? Probably not.”
A clearly disappointed Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, preferred to accentuate the positive in the election: Clinton, she noted, won among young women, not to mention winning the popular vote. And the subject of sexual assault made it front and center in the campaign.
“A sleeping giant has been awakened on this issue of sexual assault,” Spillar said. “Women have made it very clear that they’re not going to be treated this way by men.”
In Florida – a key battleground state won narrowly by Trump – Phyllis Towzey of St. Petersburg watched election night returns from her sofa, and started to cry. “I’ve dreamed about a woman president since I was a little kid,” the 57-year-old attorney said. “And if she couldn’t win over a grossly less qualified male candidate, I don’t think there’s any hope in my lifetime to have a woman president.”
Nora Rubel and her two daughters were among throngs of people who went to suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s gravesite Tuesday to celebrate voting for Clinton – the Rochester, New York, graveyard had extended its hours, expecting the crowd.
“The energy was incredible, and it felt prophetic,” she recalled.
A day later, her 13-year-old daughter was sobbing so hard over Clinton’s loss that the girl stayed home from school.
Rubel struggled with what to say to her despondent children Wednesday, but settled on this: “We’re all disappointed. There are checks and balances, although not as many as we want, and we all have to take care of each other.”
Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.
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