Donald Trump’s boasting about his ability to “grab [women] by the pussy” has opened the floodgates.
Since those remarks came to light, corroborating stories are popping up all over. In a 2005 interview with Howard Stern, Trump chortled about how, at beauty pageants he owned, he would barge into the contestants’ dressing rooms in the hope of seeing them naked. Five women in the Miss Teen USA pageant have confirmed that he did this to them – yes, peeping on teenagers.
Other women have also come forward to accuse Trump of groping them or touching them without consent: a Florida photographer, a businesswoman who met Trump on a plane, a receptionist at Trump Tower, a reporter for People magazine, a pageant owner, a makeup artist… and more and more. And yes, this man is the nominee of a major party for the office of president of the United States.
Trump’s misogynist remarks have drawn storms of condemnation even from conservative politicians. For example, from Mitt Romney:
Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America's face to the world.
— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) October 8, 2016
This is a forceful and well-intentioned condemnation of Trump’s remarks, except for one thing. Notice how Romney speaks of “our” wives and daughters. “Our”? Who is the “us” he’s envisioning?
Whether intentionally or not, this implies that the only people whose feelings count – the people Romney thinks of as “us” – are men, some of whom have wives and daughters. It implies that Trump’s remarks were wrong not because they insulted or demeaned women, but because they offended men, some of whom have reasons to care about specific women.
Jeb Bush didn’t do much better:
As the grandfather of two precious girls, I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) October 7, 2016
Again, this uses all the right words of condemnation, except for the bizarre emphasis on the existence of female relatives as if this is needed to justify why the statement is being issued. If Jeb! didn’t have two granddaughters, would he have found Trump’s remarks any more acceptable?
John Cornyn, a Republican senator from Texas, uses the same telltale language about “our” women:
Even Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, said that he was offended “as a husband and father“. If he were unmarried and childless, would this have been OK with him? Why can’t he just be offended as a human being?
I am disgusted by Mr Trump's words about women: our daughters, sisters and mothers.
— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) October 8, 2016
The list goes on and on. Male Republican leaders are joining a chorus of condemnation, but they all seemingly feel the need to point out that they have a wife, or a daughter, or a mother, as if this is somehow necessary to understand why they’re criticizing him.
This attitude is summed up by an immortal article from The Toast, “As A Father Of Daughters, I Think We Should Treat All Women Like My Daughters“:
It didn’t always used to be this way. I used to only have sons. Things sure were different then. How merrily I used to drive down country lanes in my old Ford, periodically dodging off-road to mow down female pedestrians (you must remember I had no daughters then). Was what I did wrong? How was I to know? I had no daughters to think of.
…Did you know that when you have daughters, it’s like making a woman you have to care about out of parts of your own body?
This wives-and-daughters talk may be benevolent sexism, as opposed to Trump’s aggressive and hostile sexism, but it’s still sexism. It stems from ancient notions of women as property. In this archaic worldview, women’s male relatives were obliged to safeguard them and defend their virtue – as if women were porcelain vases or marble statuary, to be kept on pedestals surrounded by velvet ropes. Why is it so difficult just to say, “Women are equals and should be treated with the basic respect and dignity that all people deserve”?
The conservative politicians who use this rhetoric may think it’s chivalrous, but in reality it’s condescending. It implies that women aren’t agents who can be offended in their own right, but only objects on whose behalf certain men can be offended. It’s also insulting to men, since it implies that we can only understand why sexism is wrong when we have female relatives who suffer personally from it.
There’s a stink of hypocrisy hanging over all this. Most of the religious-right politicians condemning Trump’s remarks, protesting that women should be reverished and cherished, have a long record of opposing equal rights for women. These are the same people who voted against equal pay for equal work, who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, who oppose paid maternity leave, who want women’s access to contraception to be at the whim of their bosses, who want to allow hospitals to deny women medical care so they can bleed to death on the waiting room floor.
This may be the true reason for the GOP’s outrage. Normally they hide behind a veneer of false compassion, claiming that they just want what’s best for women. But Donald Trump’s blunt cruelty makes the link between regressive legislation and rank misogyny too obvious to deny. He’s depriving them of their ability to carry out the culture war in secret, and that’s what they fear most of all, because they know they’ll never achieve their goals when the electorate sees them for what they really are.