Warning 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.