Trump's contempt for women is astonishing. Decades of progress are now at stakeby Diane Roberts / November 11, 2016 / Leave a comment
It was supposed to be a historic moment in American politics: the first woman elected to the presidency. Women took their daughters to visit the New York grave of 19th-century suffragist Susan B Anthony in anticipation of Hillary Clinton’s victory, placing their “I Voted” stickers on her headstone. The glass ceiling was surely about to shatter. The United States, a republic founded on slavery, had progressed so far that the people twice put a black man in the White House. Now we would choose a woman, and the long arc of the moral universe would bend still further towards justice.
Of course, it didn’t happen. Clinton lost; Donald Trump won. The pundits will spend months, perhaps years, working out how and why. Was it the relentless misogyny brought out by the long campaign, the absurd accusation that she was weak and lacked stamina? Was it a final rejection of the talented but scandal-prone Clinton family? Was it Hillary’s private email server, Benghazi, FBI Director James Comey’s theatrical proclamations on his stop-go-stop investigation of Clinton’s emails? Was it lower turnout among African-Americans, Latinos, young people and women? Or was it simply that Trump inspired all those angsty white folks who felt that the country was falling into the hands of the undeserving and coastal elites with contempt for “flyover country,” the so-called “American heartland,” where jobs have gotten scarce and God and guns rule.
Whatever the reason, the US is now a much worse place to be a woman. While Trump’s policies on issues such as reproductive rights and marriage equality have ranged over a very large map, his astonishing contempt for women is his most consistent characteristic. Unlike his shifts from Democrat to Republican—from wanting to ban all Muslims (unconstitutional) to maybe only some, from once being a pro-choice playboy to this year bemoaning the way “in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother” (which doesn’t happen)—his cold-blooded treatment of women has not changed. Remember, this is a man who discussed whether his grown daughter Ivanka had gotten breast implants, and told a shock jock to refer to her as “a piece of ass”; who picked a fight with a Venezuelan former Miss Universe, calling her “Miss Housekeeping” and insulted her weight; who cheated on at least two of his wives; and, who offered no convincing display of remorse, after being caught bragging about a career of groping and insulting women with impunity.
Indeed, he’s been rewarded for it. Trump will become the 45th US president. Misogyny will be back in fashion (if it ever really wasn’t) legitimised by the leader of the free world. “Boy talk,” as his wife Melania blithely called it, will be OK. Grabbing women by the genitals will still be assault but—hey!—sometimes boys just can’t help themselves.
Strange as it may seem, evangelical Christians voted for Trump in large numbers. You might think that his crude talk and flexible sexual morality would offend them, but Jerry Falwell Jr, son of the preacher who famously blamed the 9/11 terrorist attacks on gays and lesbians, shrugged and said: “we are all sinners.” That attitude was not extended to Bill Clinton when he had sexual relations with an intern, but then he was not married to a subservient woman. His wife was seen as a ball-busting “feminazi” (to use Rush Limbaugh’s term) who rejected the housewifely virtues—no cookie baking!—and tried to foist “socialised medicine” on a nation where healthcare has never been a human right but a nice little earner for insurance companies, doctors and hospitals.
Congress, still in the hands of Republicans, will feel emboldened by Trump’s win. The House of Representatives is likely to attach riders restricting reproductive rights to everything from the Budget to the Armed Services Bill. Trump’s supporters will want him to nominate an anti-choice justice to the Supreme Court, now at four conservatives and four progressives. Extreme “pro-life” groups have been waiting for their chance to bring a bill which would turn back “Roe v Wade” and re-criminalise abortion. Contraception, now readily available from the Affordable Care Act, could become harder to get, along with free mammograms and other gynaecological care.
A Trump presidency could bring about a shrinking of opportunities for women (beauty pageants don’t count). Trump has disparaged women in the armed forces, blaming them for the rise in sexual assault: “What did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together?”
It’s not only women whose lives are about to get harder: Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, vilified on a regular basis by Trump, now have to live in a nation where he holds the power to alter society. Perhaps the millions of women—mostly white, mostly straight—who voted for Trump think that it doesn’t matter if he’s a pig; perhaps all that mattered to them was the jobs and money he promised or slapping the smug face of the establishment. Maybe they genuinely think that nice girls don’t get raped or that if a guy harasses you, you should be tough enough to deal with it and if you get pregnant it’s your own damn fault and the taxpayer shouldn’t help you out. Maybe change has happened too fast for some Americans: a black president, same-sex marriage, universal healthcare, women in combat, transgender rights, all in the space of a few years. Some people clearly want America to go back 50 or 60 years, back to when the country was “great”—for white men. It’s as if the bold new society of equal opportunity and tolerance we were beginning to create in the last eight years has been roundly rejected.
But what will Trump voters’ daughters make of this retrenchment? Will they want to go back to Kinder, Küche, Kirche? Or will they, when their time comes, revolt as well?