One of the most obsessively tracked stories of the Trump era, especially among nerds who can be fucked to care about things like voter demographics and stats and shit like that, was about the fickle allegiances of the vast American suburban electorate. Specifically, since 2016, op-eds and explainers about the power held by white suburban women over who wins elections have maintained a rapid and steady spawn rate.
A quick google search for the phrase ‘suburban white women’ (SWW) will turn up hundreds if not thousands of conflicting headlines preaching varying degrees of blame to be leveled at this group for assorted election results. Vanity Fair talks about how they won Trump the election in 2016, while New York magazine would like everyone to stop saying exactly that. According to the Washington Post, they cost Roy Moore, a Republican pedophile from Alabama, his Senate seat in 2017. On the other hand, they couldn’t quite pull through for Jon Ossoff, a Democrat for Georgia who also had a shot that year, says USA Today.
The New York Times, Politico, and others spent much of the run-up to the 2020 election divining SWW’s impact on the election, and while NBC gives them partial credit for Biden’s win, the Cut would like everyone to remember that a lot of them still voted for Trump. I honestly don’t know how these publications keep managing to dig up new angles for this story, but here I am also talking about it so I guess what the fuck do I know.
But why, exactly, is everyone so obsessed? Well, it should be obvious that SWW make up a very powerful voting demographic, but that’s not even close to the whole story. First, know that wide-reaching demographic trends do a pretty bad job of representing the individuals that they describe. NPR notes that when we talk about ‘suburban women,’ we’re usually referring to well-educated white women who are often married, but even this is overly broad, which frankly makes for great headlines. Second, I think people pay so much attention to trends among SWW because they have historically maintained a fairly sizable allotment of power in society, and therefore it’s worth paying attention to what they’re thinking.
Let me explain. I don’t mean to suggest that SWW are by any means the most powerful group, that would be ridiculous. But, compared to other demographics, the power of the white woman has been present for a while now. I’ve already elaborated on their political clout, but if you’re not convinced, here is a real quote from Trump’s 2020 campaign trail: “can I ask you to do me a favor, suburban women? Will you please like me? Please. Please. I saved your damn neighborhood, OK?”
SWW power doesn’t stop with elections, though. During the 20th century, they completely reshaped the advertising industry as women in the nuclear family took control of household purchasing power — the idea was that married women were the ones who spent money because they would buy shit out of the Eaton catalogues and off commercials that played between daytime TV programs. According to Forbes in 2019, American women still drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing in the country. Other surveys show that most women also talk shopping on social media, and almost 75% of women identify themselves as their household’s primary shopper. This means that for business leaders, SWW are still pretty much the prime marketing target.
Women, am I right?
Finally, being such a large demographic, trends among SWW attitudes can also tend to mirror broader social attitudes. Women in general are overall less and less likely to vote Republican in the U.S. and while Trump won suburban voters in 2016, Biden won college-educated white women in key Midwest states by huge margins. White women who identify with both sides of the aisle are less likely to harbour racial or gender resentment than their male counterparts, according to a UCLA study. According to another UCLA study, white women are also less likely to support harsher immigration policies than white men, especially when it comes to child separation.
So, if SWW make up such a key political constituency, control a majority of American household purchasing power, and are more closely in step with social trends and attitudes, then answer me this: why are they so goddamn weird?
I’ve got a group activity I want to do before I answer. It pains me to do this, but I need everyone to watch this Tik Tok. I’m sorry, I know it’s the fucking worst when someone tries to show you a video they think is funny, cause you just know it’s not gonna be as good as they’re hyping it up to be, but when I tell you I was losing my fucking shit when I watched this. I’ll link it below, just let me know when you’ve finished watching it.
Ok did you watch it? Are you done now? Can I keep going? Cool. I looked this up by the way, and that video is completely accurate. Oh, just in case you refused to watch the Tik Tok cause you’re like afraid of Chinese hackers or something, it shows a small mob of about 20 or so white women rushing into a Marshall’s and hurrying, Black Friday style, to buy out kitchenware from this one pottery brand called Rae Dunn. The narrator explains that these women will visit every store with this brand every day and buy out the stock, before flipping the mugs or casserole dishes or whatever online for a profit. Seriously though, watch the video.
Rae Dunn pottery
There are Facebook groups of women who do this in every city where they sell Rae Dunn, which, as a brand, is certainly not worth the hype. Rae Dunn is literally the Supreme of pottery, except at least Supreme occasionally releases original designs. This brand is literally all the same shade of cream ceramic with skinny minimalist letters that spell a single word catch phrase or instruction on the front (mugs will say “SIP” or teapots will say “TEA”). Yes, I looked if there was a Facebook group for Ottawa, I found one and asked to join, but I got ghosted :(
Anyway, I’m bringing it up because, personally, when I think of a SWW, I don’t think of Jon Ossoff or immigration reform, I think of this shit. It reminded me of a different article in the New Yorker from 2019 called “The Quiet Protests of Sassy Mom Merch.” This article covers a different consumerist phenomenon unique to SWW. It involves the production of mugs, T-shirts, pillowcases etc, emblazoned, invariably in what’s been termed “Bridesmaid” font, with a corny slogan like “Thou Shall Not Try Me: Mood 24:7,” “Mamacita Need a Margarita,” “Jesus and Chick-fil-A,” or “Coffee, Wine, and Amazon Prime.”
Yeah, those made me want to blow my brain out too, but then I started wondering why. The New Yorker article (written by my queen, Jia Tolentino) frames these shirts and mugs and cringey slogans as a sort of cry for help. Tolentino argues that “sassy mom merch” offers a quiet way for SWW to rebel against the unrealistic expectations that have been set for them in domestic life. “Coffee, Wine, and Amazon Prime” are coping mechanisms for incredibly busy days spent balancing full-time jobs and home life.
The thing is, in the days of the nuclear family, you could get away with having fucked up expectations of a mother, because she wasn’t supposed to do anything other than be a mother. And, wages weren’t completely stagnant, so despite the fact that it’s hella sexist, it was at least a reasonably sustainable way of life for the average American. Now, women are more free to live their lives as they see fit. However, the expectations associated with domestic life still exist, so if you have a child for example, you’re expected to maintain your full-time job and raise the kid like how they used to back in the Johnson administration.
This is really fucking hard to do, especially when you’re also meant to put it all on the internet. Social media, according to Tolentino, “exacerbates two competing impulses in the performance of one’s everyday self: aspiration and honesty.” SWW have a desire to “keep it real,” while simultaneously always aspiring to measure up to the draconian social standards of the 50s, and those competing impulses often offset one another.
I think the blend of those two desires manifests itself in an incredibly niche aesthetic: infinitely Pinterestable cream ceramic with sassy writing, or shirts with the holy trinity of SWW screen-printed on a Costco T-shirt. Something you can post that will get you likes, but that also says “sometimes, I use Amazon Prime to buy laundry detergent, and sometimes, I just want all my kitchenware to match with minimal effort, because goddamn it, I have three kids and a full-time job, and I’m going through it just like the rest of you.”
Imagine you pull up to the function and shorty's got this drip, oof
So, as much as I want to bully moms who flip mugs on kijiji as a side-hustle, I have to say I kinda get it. En masse, SWW have a lot of power in a lot of aspects of social life, but when it comes to control over their own life, the support is lacking. Maternity support, affordable childcare, and wages are not where they should be for many women, and trying to abide by the expectations of a modernized world, where women go to work and present themselves for the internet daily, while continuing to maintain traditional gender roles is just not feasible without, at the very least, some coping mechanisms. Hell, I’d wear a cringey shirt too.
Anyway, that’s it for my analysis of suburban white women, but I think there’s a lot on the topic that I didn’t cover, particularly with regard to race and racism, so I’m thinking of turning this into a little series. Let me know if there are any other trends in the world of white moms that I haven’t caught onto yet, and maybe I’ll discuss them soon. Okay, the end for real now.