This week, thanks to a widely touted New York Times piece, we learned more about Donald Trump’s history with women.
Among the allegedly startling revelations, we learned he sees many women as sex objects, whom he’d like to see in a bikini. (What a surprise.) We learned he believes the ideal woman is not overweight. (Shocking.) We learned he judges beauty pageant contestants on whether he considers them hot or not. (Didn’t see that coming.) We also learned—perhaps most legitimately surprising of all—that Trump has actually promoted a number of women to key leadership roles within his organization.
It turns out the only real revelation uncovered is that when it comes to his history with women Donald Trump is a fascinating mix of misogynist and mensch, championing women he respects while demeaning women he doesn’t. In other words The New York Times’ groundbreaking investigation essentially proved one thing: Trump is more like the average man than some of us thought only with more ego and money to say what he actually thinks, and to date who he actually wants to.
If anything the backlash provoked by the piece has actually helped prove just how futile playing the so-called woman card will be against Trump this election cycle.
For starters, as the women defending Trump and denouncing the Times piece prove, there are plenty of women who are not shocked by Trump’s treatment of women because he simply sounds like an amplified version of their occasionally obnoxious father, husband, boss, or brother, whom they’ve learned over the years not to take seriously, to often ignore, and certainly not to see as a legitimate threat. I’m not saying Donald Trump’s not a threat. But I am saying that at this point the media coverage of his many misdeeds is having an impact that may actually help him. He’s done and said so many truly shocking things that the Times story landed with a thud in part because… well, at least he didn’t call anyone a rapist or reference his “hand” size.
Furthermore, most women I know, including those I’ve met who are supporting him, believe he sounds obnoxious in the way he speaks about women… and most topics. But they don’t care. To clarify, they don’t care for his sexist rhetoric or wife-hopping but they also don’t believe he hates women or believes we’re inferior. That’s an important distinction. In other words they can separate the occasionally sexist rhetoric he uses from the question of whether or not he is sexist.
Let me say this for the record: I don’t think Donald Trump treats many women with respect. But from what I’ve heard and seen so far he doesn’t treat a lot of people with respect. At this point I genuinely can’t tell if he thinks less of women because of our gender, or simply because we’re not named Donald Trump and he assumes anyone not named Donald Trump should not be treated as his equal and should occasionally be a target of ridicule. (See “li’l” Marco Rubio.) To me this is of far greater concern than how he feels about me as a woman.
As I see it the larger question the Times piece raised is where is the line between judging whether one’s personal treatment of women is significant enough to warrant considerations of how such treatment may be reflected in policy? For the record there are countless examples in history that demonstrate one’s personal behavior and values are not always reflected in their legislative priorities.
Sen. Strom Thurmond championed horrifyingly racist legislative policies, while also serving as an involved father, who visited his black daughter at college and regularly checked up on her academic progress. President Bill Clinton was a staunch supporter of reproductive rights who empowered countless women in his administration, including his wife, yet also has a troubling record when it comes to allegations of his treatment of women with lesser power. Former Sen. Bob Packwood was a hero of many feminist groups as a rare Republican who supported reproductive rights and voted against confirming Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court before his own sexual harassment history was exposed.
And now we have Donald Trump. It’s hard to know how Trump would legislate on “women’s issues” because as with most issues, the man has not exactly been Mr. Consistent. (He wanted to punish women who seek abortions, until he thought about it for a nanosecond, then didn’t.) This should be the larger focus of concern in Trump’s candidacy from his critics in media and on the campaign trail—his actual policies and how they impact women, not his junior high rhetoric or ancient dating faux pas.
We established long ago he’s not a Boy Scout. But it’s unlikely those who are assailing him are either, which is part of why at this point many of these types of attacks aren’t resonating. Many of the media outlets or progressive organizations critiquing him for misogyny may not use his language about women, but they would probably buckle under scrutiny of their own track record in terms of gender parity (or racial parity) in employment, promotions, and compensation—particularly at the senior level. (Here’s looking at you, New York Times.)
And Bill Clinton’s complicated history with women will remain an inconvenient thorn in the side of the Clinton campaign as it strives to use Trump’s own history and mouth against him. Which is why instead of focusing so much on what Trump says about women, the Clinton campaign should continue emphasizing what she has actually done and will continue to do for women policy-wise. But she should also be making the case that besides his lack of filter, it’s his lack of experience, lack of diplomacy, lack of tolerance, and overall lack of class that is fundamentally bad for America, and therefore bad for women. (For someone who says the Iraq War was a bad idea this man sure seems intent on starting another conflict every time he opens his mouth about foreign policy.) But even more important, Clinton should use Trump’s rich man card against him. He keeps insisting that despite being a former senator and secretary of state, Clinton’s candidacy is viable only because of her so-called woman card. Well, most of his successes in life have been possible because he was born rich, white, and male, including his current presidential campaign.
If anything, I felt sorry for Donald Trump reading the Times piece. He seems genuinely clueless that many women he’s crossed paths with over the years don’t find him interesting, charming, or handsome. Just rich, powerful, and useful. Of course those are some of the membership advantages of the rich man card.
It remains to be seen if the same card can buy a presidency.