During the White House Press Briefing on Monday, CNN’s Brian Karam asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she’d ever been sexually harassed. It was an inappropriate question. I have a hard time imagining any male press secretary being asked it. Sanders was right to dodge answering it directly, pointing out that she is there to serve as a public-facing voice of the President and his agenda. And the President had already dealt with the accusations being leveled at him, Sanders added, by denying them all and, subsequently, winning the election.
On Sunday, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley took a different tack on Face the Nation.
“[Trump’s accusers] should be heard, and they should be dealt with,” said Haley. “And I think we heard from them prior to the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.”
Haley and Sanders have laid bare an uncomfortable truth. Time is running out for women in the orbit of men accused of misconduct to both have their Believe Women cake and eat it too. The #MeToo movement is pushing women to join one of two camps: one that believes that women’s stories and voices should be treated seriously, and one that desperately needs for women accusing their boss, ally, husband, or side of harassment to be proven fundamentally untrustworthy in order to survive.
The Olympian gymnastics moves necessary to preserve this illusion are pretty spectacular to watch. Mostly, however, it’s just sad.
Kayla Moore’s husband, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, stands accused of serial sexual misconduct with teenage girls. But instead of believing the women, or the people who corroborated the stories of the women to the Washington Post, or the police and citizens who have pointed out that, come to think of it, Roy was pretty creepy around teenage girls when he was in his thirties, Kayla has chosen to believe that they’re all lying. Kayla Moore is taking to the microphone, spite-saccharine plastered on her face, and insisting that all of these people are lying. She needs this to be true, or everything else in her life falls apart.
Ivanka Trump has been oddly silent on Roy Moore, apart from a comment that neither named him nor called for any action to be taken against him. She’s also ducked or otherwise skirted the accusations leveled against her father, choosing instead to lay low and wait until she can emerge into a world that embraces her frosting feminism. But her brand cannot survive her father; she cannot both say she advocates for women and lead a life that depends on Old Testament misogyny to exist. Perhaps she is spending these days as she spent the days after her father rationalized the Neo Nazis marching on Charlottesville, Virginia, by spacing out. But her silence is itself a choice. By not saying anything really at all, she is on the side that believes women just make shit up.
Kellyanne Conway frequently cites her womanhood as a sign that her boss can’t possibly be a misogynist. But she, too, needs for women—at least the subset accusing her current boss of harassment—to be untrustworthy liars in order to preserve her career. At Politico’s Women Rule summit last week, Conway recalled her own story of being sexually harassed. “[O]f course I’ve had a ‘Me too’ moment,” she said, “but nobody cared about that.” Conway cited her political affiliation as the reason for why people ignored her story. But in fact, her political career now depends on believing women are liars. “If we’re going to have an honest conversation everyone — you can’t pick and choose depending on somebody’s politics,” she added. Why should we believe Kellyanne Conway’s story of harassment and not any of the fifteen-plus women who have accused Trump? She never got to explaining how that works.
Painting women who complain of sexaul misconduct against your allies as fabulists is morally wrong. But it also is not exactly the most politically savvy move either.
Suburban white women have been abandoning Trump in droves as his presidency wears on. I can’t say I blame them. On one side of the aisle are Democrats, who (albeit reluctantly at first) recently began expelling men who contribute to a hostile work environment for women. On the other side of the aisle is a party poised to welcome an accused child molester into its ranks, a party that is led by a man accused of serial sexual assault. That party counts among its ranks women who have bought into the Moore-Trump ladies-lie-about-this conspiracy theory. But it’s narrowing. And it’s hard to imagine suburban white women will come back around knowing what Trump thinks of them; that in order for his presidency to survive, women must be liars.
We’re rapidly approaching a breaking point.
We saw evidence of cracks during Haley’s Face the Nation appearance. Trump himself was reportedly angry that she didn’t toe the line and Sarah Huckabee Sanders lost her cool amid tough questions abouts sexual assault. It’s why Kayla Moore seems so bizarrely defensive, why Ivanka keeps Instagramming her alternate universe, why Kellyanne keeps…. Kellyanne-ing.
They don’t get to have it both ways, and they all know it. At some point, perhaps, maybe someone will break ranks and join the believers.