Women’s Bodies—Feeling the Hate by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonWarning friends, the first four paragraphs of this post includes quotes/references of some of Donald Trump’s misogynist rhetoric. 

I never bothered to watch Donald Trump’s television show “The Apprentice.”  The teasers advertising the TV program were enough to keep me clicking through the channels.  Why would I watch his display of pomposity, crudeness, condescension, and entitlement?  I don’t understand why anybody watched him and the participants of his “reality show” on TV week after week.  Even more baffling to me is why anybody agreed to take part in that show, vying with other candidates to be Trump’s apprentice.

Just based on the coverage the media has given him during this presidential election process, there is no doubt in my mind that Trump is a misogynist.  He’s also a bully, a xenophobe, a racist, politically inept, morally bankrupt, rude, and totally unkind.  Today, though, I want to focus on misogyny.

I’m confused, at this point, as to why it took that 2005 tape with Billy Bush (Access Hollywood) to get people’s dander up regarding Trump’s misogyny.  One of my colleagues thinks this tape showed that Trump crossed the line over into lewdness.  He was explicit about groping and kissing women without their consent. “When you’re a star, they let you do it.”  I think he’s been lewd all along.

For example, when speaking about Megyn Kelly, Trump said, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.” The New York Post’s article said, “Trump’s fury was sparked by Kelly’s opening question, asking if calling women ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals’ is behavior befitting a president.”

Trump’s comment was both lewd and crude. Does it befit anybody?  His kind of talk taps into the baggage that women (and men) in our culture carry regarding menstruation. This article, “Pennsylvania man wonders what will happen if 68-year-old Hillary gets her period in office,” is especially on target.

Women are often exempted (forbidden) from religious rituals when they are menstruating.  Perhaps this insures that men are more likely to retain power in religious institutions since women would be unable to lead or participate in rituals for approximately one week every month.  In addition, women are considered dirty during their menses.  Just look at the plethora of products available in drugstores to keep women “fresh” when they menstruate when, in reality, daily bathing suffices.  All of this cultural baggage came into focus with Trump’s crude and lewd remark about Megyn Kelly.

One of my students suggested that Trump’s comments on that 2005 tape directly targeted white women in a way that had not yet been as blatant.  In the U.S., there is a history of some “protection” afforded to white women from the threat of sexual assault.  That same “protection,” historically, has not been given to women of color.  Trump’s assault (caught on tape) on white women crossed a line.  There was enough outrage among white men to create some havoc.  We heard from some of these men who, in effect said, “Stop it, Donald.  We have daughters, sisters, and wives.”

Our culture teaches us all to hate women’s bodies.  I learned early on to hate mine.  It never measured up to the standard—a man’s body.  How did this happen—men’s bodies becoming the standard?  Patriarchy, no doubt, but how did patriarchy become so entrenched?  There are lots of theories, but one thing is sure: Hatred of women’s bodies has always been evident when Trump speaks.  He “categorically denies” the accusations brought forward by women who claim to have been sexually assaulted by him. Yet, he unashamedly proclaims, “Really, she wouldn’t even have been my first choice.  Look at her.”  We’ve become so used to this misogynistic talk that it just feels “normal.”  This cultural hatred of women’s bodies is especially difficult to address when raising our sons.

When my sons were still living at home, I spoke quite frankly with both of them about gender inequality, couching it all in feminist theory of some sort or another as well as my own experience.  I’m not certain how much impact it all had.  So often, I felt like the Dutch child putting his finger into the dike attempting to stem the flow of water into a wheat field. The Dutch dike only had one hole that allowed water to seep.  Our society leaks misogyny from multiple apertures.

I remember an incident some years ago involving a male relative Ben (not his real name). One of Ben’s friends was visiting from out-of-town with his girlfriend. Ben’s friend was at this time living with his girlfriend.  The four of us were wandering about a popular shopping district when Ben asked his friend why he decided to cohabitate with his girlfriend who, at this particular moment, was some yards ahead of us opening the door to a local restaurant.  Ben’s friend replied, “Just look at that ‘piece of a$$.’”  And they laughed.  I said nothing, complicit at that moment with our cultural misogyny. Today, I like to think I would speak up should a similar situation present itself.

How can we change our society’s misogynistic mindset?  What passes for “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” is not acceptable.  It’s unjust. That kind of talk reflects domination or “power-over” another—the very thing that is at the core of patriarchy.  What is especially disturbing to me is that a goodly number of women, having learned early on to hate the bodies they inhabit, wallow in our cultural misogynistic stew and give Trump a “pass.” Hatred toward our own selves feels so “right.”

I don’t know how to effectively raise sons in a culture that continuously denigrates and devalues women and their bodies.  So often, a mother’s voice gets drowned by the misogynistic-flavored water seeping through the multiple apertures in the leaky dike that drowns us all.

What we (women and men) can do is to continuously question the patriarchal assumptions that undergird our society—assumptions that allow referring to a woman as a “piece of a$$” to feel normal.


Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.  She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam.  She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of VOICE OF AN EXILE  REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY.

Author: Esther Nelson

Esther Nelson teaches courses in Religious Studies (Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Religions of the World, and Women in Islam) at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. She has published two books. VOICE OF AN EXILE REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM was written in close collaboration with Nasr Abu Zaid, an Egyptian, Islamic Studies scholar who fled Egypt (1995) when he was labeled an apostate by the Cairo court of appeals. She co-authored WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY with Kristin Swenson, a former colleague. When not teaching, Esther travels to various places throughout the world.

19 thoughts on “Women’s Bodies—Feeling the Hate by Esther Nelson”

  1. One of the worst things about our culture is that this “culture of misogyny” still exists. One of the good outcomes in this campaign is that we are talking about it.

    We also need to name “abuse of power” as abuse of power. “Seducing” or “coming on to” an employee or a student is still abuse of power, even when the person in the inferior position (female or male, but usually female) consents.


    1. Yes, indeed, misogyny is coming out into the light, so to speak. Let’s hope we continue to address the issue as time moves forward. And I agree with you regarding “abuse of power.” How we express ourselves as sexual beings would certainly be a whole different ball game in a post-patriarchal society. Thank you, as always, for your “on target” comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Ester for a beautiful article. It’s a shame for Trump as a man to say “he has the most respect for women than the next person.”
    1. Do you have respect for your mother?
    2. Do you have respect for your wife?
    3. Do you have respect for your daughter?
    What passes for “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk.” My answer is no respect for his mother, his wife & his daughter. Trump this is like saying your family are undesirable women.


  3. Thanks, Esther. Just to add that I do think Clinton is fighting back effectively — she knows that “sisterhood is powerful.” The following, with important quotes by Hillary, is excerpted from SALON (10/20/16), & edited by Amanda Marcotte:

    “At the last debate, we heard Donald talking about what he did to women,” Clinton said, in full lawyer mode. “And after that, a number of women have come forward saying that’s exactly what he did to them.”

    She continued, “Now, what was his response? Well, he held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough for them to be assaulted.”

    Clinton went on to offer some quick feminist analysis, saying, “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.”


  4. Passionate essay! So on target. I was taken aback by the “we have mothers, wives, and sisters” comments that men in politics were making after the release of the tape–as if men could only be offended/taken aback by Trump’s comments in a second hand manner. Please let this election period end. I feel every U.S. citizen needs reparations from our gov’t after this is over…


    1. Yes, Dale, thanks for your thoughtful comment. We have a long way to go in our society to get to the point where we understand ourselves as being connected to everybody as well as everything. You remember (I know you do) Shug’s comment to Celie in THE COLOR PURPLE. “But one day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed. And I laughed and I cried and I run all around the house. I knew just what it was. In fact, when it happen, you can’t miss it.” When there is injustice in the world, we are all prisoners. When we move towards a connection with all living things, the shackles begin to loosen.

      Reparations from our government for enduring this election period? ;-) I have quite a jaundiced view about this whole process, somehow sensing that there is so much that happens “behind the scenes.” Total lack of transparency. We see the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and I always feel that political issues are almost impossible to address adequately because we (the public) are just not privy to much.


    2. Thanks for that R, Dale.I have often done a double take when Obama speaks of our wives and daughters when addressing sexism. Hey, some of us are women! And as you say, sexism is not only hurting women, just as racism is not only hurting “our Black friends and co-workers.”


  5. Yes, exactly, Sarah. Donald “…goes after their [women’s] dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.” When Donald said “such a nasty woman” (referring to Hillary), I believe it was quite telling that so many women could empathize–after all, what woman living in a patriarchal society didn’t feel as though she were in Hillary’s shoes at that moment? Thanks for weighing in.


  6. “Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.” Thank you Sarah.


  7. I, too, believe this is a teachable moment: Our whole country has had to witness one powerful man’s disparagement AND sexual assault of women. Maybe we’ll get it this time that they’re connected. Maybe we’ll get it this time that it’s not business as usual, boys will be boys, just a trivial problem. Of course, these last two understandings are part of the problem, too. Yay for Hillary that she has been willing to call out Trump’s sexism. It’s risky when sexism is viewed as a secondary problem, really not that “big a deal,” a part of all our lives, normalizing what we at FAR know is huge problem.


    1. Exactly right, Nancy! Sexism is one of those “isms” that often gets put on the back burner. “It’s not the right time.” “There are more pressing issues.” Etc., etc., etc. When, of course, there’s the whole intersectionality thing. As Audre Lorde told us years ago, “There is no hierarchy of oppression.” Thanks so much for your comment.


  8. To say this is disturbing is an understatement. What makes it even more frightening is that a lot of the rest of the world is worse, e.g. massive demonstrations in Argentina because of the rather frequent murder of women, Mexico giving women whistles to use when groped on subways and busses, child marriage of very young girls to older men in a number of countries. How can we be a beacon for the rest of the world when a presidential candidate and many of his followers, including women, seem to think such behavior is ok.


  9. Thank you, Juliana, for your comment. One of the things this election process has laid bare (so to speak) is that patriarchy–that social system prevalent globally–is detrimental to all of us with women paying an extremely high price. My hope is that we will be able to address the misogyny (present all along, but now exposed) effectively.


  10. Thank you, Esther, for addressing misogyny. Regarding teaching sons and daughters to respect females—it has to be instilled very early on, adolescence is way too late. I pray that parents can find real respect for women within, so that they can instill it into their offspring from the very beginning….and the world can really change.


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