It’s tough to find a silver lining in an election year that’s better described as an ordeal than a process. But one exists: the fact that Donald Trump is, in one convenient package, a living demonstration that sexism is real and that women who complain about facing it aren’t just making stuff up. To women, this offers a sense of grim relief. For men, it should be a wake-up call.
Trump’s rise has proven to even the most skeptical that double standards exist when it comes to age and gender. A 70-year-old technically obese woman who lives in a golden luxury apartment in the sky, has five children with three different men, has been divorced twice, and who has frequently noted how sexually attractive she finds one of her sons might make for a fun companion for a night of cocktails, but would make a dead-in-the-water presidential candidate. If that 70-year-old woman also bragged about kissing young men without their consent, if she bragged about grabbing those men by the dicks sometimes, she’d be a hacky punchline in a middle-tier summer dad comedy, not Success, The Brand and certainly not a major political party presidential nominee. There is no female Trump because the only kind of Trump who is allowed to exist by a racist and sexist society is a white male Trump.
Trump, a man who was born into wealth and privilege, is a living example of a man who believes that each of his victories was the result of his own genius, but each of his failings was the result of other people sabotaging him. Trump, who started his business with a “small” million-dollar loan from his father, who dives through every tax loophole like a soccer player chewing up the clock, and who used a dubious foot condition to dodge the Vietnam draft (although he says he’s always felt as though he’s been in the military, because he went to an expensive military school for boys who can’t behave), has suddenly found himself losing. This election, he’s fond of saying, is going to be rigged. That’s Trumpese for “I’m going to lose.”
Before the first two presidential debates, from CNN to the LA Times, political watchers concluded that Trump had a low bar to clear. Clinton didn’t get the same luxury. MSNBC suggested all Trump needed to do to win the debate was “stop lying, show humility, and fill in the gaps in his policy proposals.” Clinton, meanwhile, had to explain exactly what she’d do and how she’d do it, but also be warm and funny. It was like a game of basketball where only one person was required to dribble, or pass, or shoot. Women know this frustration. Men who doubted its existence have now seen it in action, on the biggest stage imaginable.
Trump has proven that there are men with such hubris that they’ll brag about sexual assault, invite the media to prove it really happened, and then blame the media for acting unfairly when they find women who experienced some of the exact sort of behavior Trump bragged about.
As women have come forward to corroborate Trump’s boast, Trump has responded by demonstrating the reasons women take years to speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, if they do at all. Trump has attacked his accusers’ looks, he’s attacked their trustworthiness, he’s questioned their motives. Trump surrogate AJ Delgado suggested that any woman who was truly assaulted would come forward right away, and to not do so is an insult to women who have really experienced sexual assault. Lou Dobbs, one of Trump’s media allies, tweeted the address and phone number of one of Trump’s accusers. Why don’t women press charges or take action at the time of their harassment or assault? Because this might happen. This exact thing that’s playing out on a national scale, right now.
Trump’s history of alleged workplace harassment is more extensive than his history of alleged sexual assault. Cast members of The Apprentice allege that Trump would ask male cast members if they’d have sex with specific female cast members. Trump’s initial stab at forming an economic team contained all men, including six men named Steve. Trump has been sued for being a creep to a business associate. Why don’t women lean in at work? Maybe because sometimes a Trump-y man is on the other side of the board room, ignoring their best efforts or wiggling their unsettlingly bushy eyebrows as they try to catch a glimpse down their shirts.
Trump’s public statements and behavior show that some men really do view women as objects for personal pleasure or derision, nothing in between. In this world view, women are sexy or useless, objects of lust or disgust, Melanias or Rosie O’Donnells. Softened versions of this tragic dichotomy confront women every day of their lives. Here it is, guys. Here is exactly the thing women complain about, and it’s running for president on a major party ticket. It has the support of 40 percent of the electorate, give or take. Do you believe sexism exists now?
Trump is a veritable buffet of sexism. A sexist supervillain. A library of chauvanism. An everything bagel of misogyny. He’s a one-stop shop for proof that a host of feminist issues are not made up complaints. He’s a human department store that sells pay disparity and creepy old man grabbiness. For women who have faced sexism for their entire lives, seeing it in a national figure with a devoted following of millions is dreadful. But at least now when men want to know what sexism looks like, women have a larger-than-life example at the ready.