Reflecting on the Fake Shock over Donald Trump: Why Now?NSRLP
It is rare – as it should be – that my blog is not focused on Access to Justice and self-representation. I am grateful for and respect the fact that the followers of this blog are looking for information, news and analysis on this topic which is so incredibly important, and so dear to my heart.
But this Thanksgiving weekend I am asking your permission to allow an exception to this rule. Because if there was ever a time for every writer who might have some small impact to write about sexism and misogngy, it is now.
“Donald Trump a misogynist? Who knew?”
It has been an extraordinary few days watching the US election and the implosion of the Trump campaign (just in case you have been in a cave for the past 72 hours, see http://tinyurl.com/hhhs4mz).
But what may be the most remarkable aspect is listening to statement after statement condemning Trump’s objectification of women as sexual prey – in a presentation formula that suggests shock and surprise.
It would be ridiculous to claim that Trump’s colleagues in the Republican party weren’t given fair warning. Even before Trump ran for President, his role in relation to beauty pageants and soft porn magazines such as Playboy was well-known, as was his public feud with Rosie O’Donnell, and his extraordinarily inappropriate public comments about his own daughters.
Nonetheless the horror and disgust of those condemning Trump is mixed with a “who knew?” quality. Or if there is any reference to earlier clues, it is always suggested that only now has he crossed “the line”.
Of course, some of this shock is pure political theatre (see Frank Bruni in the New York Times (http://tinyurl.com/ja43hbr).
But I think there is a little more here than just that.
Let me try to suggest what these reactions really mean, and why there are deep and important lessons here.
Demeaning women is still widely tolerated
Women are uniquely and regularly demeaned in our culture. By demeaned, I am talking about being treated as a plaything or a commodity, controlled and moved around like furniture to suit, called hurtful and derogatory names, and condescended to and patronized (sometimes as “cute”). Sometimes really quite nice men (believe me, way nicer than Donald Trump) do and say demeaning things to women. That’s because it’s tolerated, and they feel that is OK..
Being demeaned is not servitude – it’s marginally more appreciative (as in, “whoo hoo! would you look at that!”) – and pageant winners and Playboy bunnies do get paid.
But being demeaned in a culture that tolerates this norm is not pleasant, as any woman will tell you. In the now infamous tape, the way Trump and Billy Bush talked about the actress they were meeting was of course deeply demeaning – but every woman watching winced painfully again when Trump got off the bus and reverted to a “nice boy” posture. In that moment the actress was demeaned further as the “boys” around her were in on the joke, and she was not.
Many other groups are victimized – by racism, homophobia, Islamaphobia, transphobia and more – in ways that are uniquely harmful. But being demeaned is something very specific to women’s experience.
So when Donald Trump used terms that demeaned women, right from the start of his campaign referring to women as “dogs” and “pigs”, there were a few sharp intakes of breath – but that was all. As he escalated, the sharp breaths got a bit noisier, but still the way Trump regularly spoke about women was tolerated.
Crossing what line?
The line that had to be crossed before we began to see consequences for Trump’s long-established sexism and misogynistic commentary was a very long way, from “just’ calling women demeaning and derogatory names. To cross the line Trump had to boast about sexual coercion and power.
Women know that sexual assault and rape is incredibly common. Not because all men are awful – and not because all men who comment on women’s bodies in a demeaning way go on to assault them. But sexual crimes against women are the result of widespread tolerance of entitled male behaviour (whether demeaning or explicitly coercive), and countervailing pressure placed on the women they abuse to tolerate or excuse it, but at minimum keep quiet about it.
Why now? How did we get from there to here?
So when I heard the statements of condemnation of Trump this weekend, I wonder – why finally now? Why did it take something this disgusting to get people in the same party with the same goal of winning the election to stand up and say this is intolerable?
Just to refresh our memories, here is a brief chronology.
At the beginning of the Trump campaign, we knew the following:
- Trump had called women fat pigs, slobs and dogs (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/08/08/so-which-women-has-donald-trump-called-dogs-and-fat-pigs/)
- He liked to boast about hanging out with Howard Stern, playboy bunnies, models and beauty queens
- He told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice that it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees
- He made many numerous inappropriate public remarks about his daughters
As the campaign moved through the primaries and into the conventions, we came to know that:
- A number of women had made allegations against Trump of sexual assault and one of rape
- Trump was close friends with Roger Ailes, a decades-long notoriously enabled sexual harasser at Fox News
- Trump tweeted a split-screen of his wife and Ted Cruz’s wife with a demeaning and insulting message
- He derided the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq saying “she (a Muslim woman) probably had nothing to say – maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say”.
Finally this week, we were told that:
- Trump was recorded describing his own predatory sexual behaviour with women
- Talked with Howard Stern about his daughter Ivanka’s breasts and when asked by Stern if he can could call Ivanka “a piece of ass”, says “Yeah”.
What is the most fake about the fake shock and horror over Donald Trump?
So back to my original question. Are any of those now condemning Trump really surprised? Or do they have to act surprised in order to maintain the widely accepted norm that its OK to demean women in innumerable ways (“its just a bit of a joke love!”) – unless and until they are actually threatened with sexual violence?
Because if you what you see as the lesson here is that boasting about being a sexual aggressor will diminish your chances of becoming President of the United States, look again.
The real lesson is that it is wrong to demean women, and dangerous to tolerate it.