What happened in Florida

There are many reasons for the 2016 election result.  Ta-nehisi Coates’s essay, “America’s First White President,” is essential reading to understand how 2016 was possible.  FiveThirtyEight, as usual, has a big list of stuff.  America’s baked-in sexism and dedication to white supremacy, GOP redistricting, Russian kleptocrats, the prosperity gospel, Clinton’s team underestimating a group of 4chan trolls who’d sharpened their teeth on GamerGate — you can find almost anything with an large enough effect to swing a few hundred thousand votes and tip the election.

One common aspect among all the hot takes: most of these reasons are difficult to quantify.  Sexism definitely had a negative impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but translating that impact into a number of votes is pretty much impossible.  For every extra thirty minutes waiting in line because half the polling places in your county were closed, how many people turn away and go home?

There is, however, one place in America where a single, quantifiable phenomena can turn the state from red to blue.  Florida has a problem with voter disenfranchisement.

In Florida, 10% of adults cannot vote because of a prior felony conviction.  Florida is one of three states in the US that strips the voting rights of anyone convicted of a felony permanently.  Because our criminal justice system has a profound racial bias, this has an outsized impact on black and latino Floridians.  One in four black men in Florida has lost his voting rights.

Donald Trump won white America, but lost spectacularly with black and latino voters.  If Florida’s 1.5 million former felons, who are significantly more likely to be black or latino, were allowed to vote, would that change the outcome?

Using exit polls from CNN and prison statistics from The Sentencing Project, I crunched the numbers.

Florida projection

If these theoretical enfranchised voters showed up in numbers even vaguely similar to the turnout among the rest of Florida’s population, Clinton could have won Florida instead of losing it by more than a hundred thousand votes.  I’m not a sociologist, and I only used data that was accessible via the internet; this projection is far from perfect.  However, it’s an obvious, dramatic change caused by a single bad policy (tirelessly protected, of course, by Republicans).

In the 2016 election, Florida’s electoral college votes wouldn’t have been enough to change the overall result.  But in 2000, when Al Gore was defeated by George W. Bush, Florida was the deciding factor.  In 2000, the margin wasn’t a hundred thousand votes, it was five hundred.

There are a lot of reasons why we’re stuck in the flaming municipal waste disposal plant of 2017, but this is, undeniably, one of them.

When a man sees you as pornography

In college I spent a semester creating a solo show for the tiny student gallery outside the dining hall.  I drew an entire room of eight foot tall self portraits, confronting my fat, nude body.  My inspirations were women who cared about material and weight: Diane Victor, Jenny Saville, Eva Hesse.  I remodeled my self image via the transitive property; my body was in a drawing, and the drawing was beautiful, so my body was beautiful.

I was intensely alone during the process.  In my locked studio space, I would strip and prop my macbook up on its side, then take short videos for reference material.  That way, I didn’t need anyone else — nobody to hold the camera, nobody clicking a shutter.  Later, I scrubbed through each frame until I found something to draw.  There was no outside viewer and no gaze in these moments.  I even deflected my own gaze, putting off looking at myself until after I was clothed and finished modeling.

For my final critique, I was alone in the gallery with four professors judging my work.  They asked for details of my process, and I mentioned using video as source material.  On his turn to speak, my (male) advisor was very interested in the video aspect.  He said to me, “you know, home video makes me think of amateur pornography.”  I had never thought of my work having a connection to pornography; I felt naive and immature for missing it.  Then he suggested I display my reference material alongside the portraits — how interesting that would be — maybe using projectors?

I remember saying no, no, I did not want to show my reference material while my professors discussed the best way to present it. The pressure was on: to expand my work in an interesting direction, I should get over my discomfort.

That critique stuck with me like a stone in my shoe, for half a decade.  I no longer feel naive; now I feel angry.  My work involved nudity and video but it was not in conversation with pornography.  A man (a professor, a person in a position of power) looked at my body and all on his own he connected it to sex.  He compared pictures of me to porn, then suggested I display them publicly and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t on board with the idea.  Instead of reacting with empathy to my statement on body image, he dismissed it to become a voyeur.  I created no space for the sexual male gaze in my work so he inserted it himself.

It is humiliating to have your carefully communicated thesis ignored in favor of one man’s sex thoughts.  I showed him three months of being sore and tired and covered in soot in a cold studio with a concrete floor and he told me about his boner.  I felt like a failed artist because a man looked at me and saw pornography.

This is the price of objectification.  Men expect female bodies to revolve around them; if a woman’s nudity isn’t for male consumption, it must at least be about male consumption.  It took me a long time to realize that my advisor’s reaction to my senior thesis was not my fault.  It was the fault of a world that cannot imagine a woman without a man to look at her.