This is the question we have all been asking ourselves for the past six months. These women are not part of the disgruntled white working class—which seems to be made up mostly of partly-educated out-of-work men. But there is something about this man, Donald Trump, that draws us in spite of the incongruities, that makes his misogyny, vulgarity and ignorance seem not only amusing, perhaps somehow alluring.
Trying to find an answer, or answers, I turn to the character of Tea Cake in Zora Neale Hurston’s remarkable, Their Eyes Were Watching God, originally published in 1937 and the subject of an admiring essay by Alice Walker in the March 1975 issue of Ms.
Tea Cake erupts into Janie’s life when she is an overworked, underappreciated wife laboring in the fields on a southern plantation and running her husband’s little store. Janie is just about ready for a change when Tea Cake saunters into the store.
“Good evening, Mis’ Starks,” he said with a shy grin as if they had a good joke together. She was in favor of the story that was making him laugh before she even heard it.”
Intimacy is established in the first two minutes—the intimacy of a soon-to-be-shared joke. Does anyone remember the intimacy of “little hands”?
Tea Cake then buys a pack of cigarettes and asks, “You got a lil piece of fire over there, lady?”
They both laughed…
He flatters Janie by proposing a game of checkers—“You looks hard to beat”. When he tells her his name, she is already won, replying “Tea Cake…You sweet as all that?” She laughed and he gave her a little cut-eye look to get her meaning….”
Things proceed rapidly after that: Tea Cake carries Janie away on a train, promising to marry her—which he does—“And such another hugging and kissing and carrying-on you never saw…”
Do we long so for excitement, as Janie did, for the big promises– one of which at least Tea Cake fulfills—for the spurious intimacy of vulgarity that we are as dazed as she was after the hugging and kissing and carrying on?
When Tea Cake drifts off to sleep, “Janie looked down on him and felt a self-crushing love. So her soul crawled out from its hiding place.”
I don’t know if any of the women who voted for Trump felt that same soul-crushing love, but its first evidence is the abandonment of our own best interests.
It’s only a few days before Janie tells him where she has hidden her money. Tea Cake takes it and disappears. Janie begins to be anxious, but then Tea Cake comes back and explains it all away. Bus “She began to be snappish a little”—and jealous: “A little chunky girl took to picking a play out of Tea Cake in the fields and the quarters.”
Snappish, a little. I’m not the only woman feeling snappish now: “Fire and Fury”—perhaps that should be our boast, rather than the President’s.
A wise woman whose name I didn’t catch this morning on an NPR interview show asked, “Are you inwardly powerful, but weak in outward support? Or are you inwardly weak, but powerful in outer support?”
Most women, blessed by the moon and the goddess, feel our power inwardly but lack the outside support that might make us less hesitant to take controversial stands. I wonder if this question occurs to Maxine Waters, the long-time Democrat in the House representing Los Angeles, who has promised to “take the gloves off” with the president and is waiting for outside support. I hope she will be only the first of her fellow Democrats to blast Congressman Ben Ray Luján and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi for deciding that the party will support anti-choice candidates.
Probably we will all sigh and figure that the president, like Tea Cake, is just a little boy who needs our protection. And our fellow Democrats will agree.