Apparently, Donald Trump finally went too far for his own party’s leadership. The release of a 2005 tape in which he describes his casual sexual assault of women in graphically dehumanizing language appears to have been a tipping point. So much outrage and spectacle on the part of powerful men who overcame so many other reasons to reject Trump and, in this video, have found the straw they were waiting for.
Let’s be clear about this. This weekend’s outrage was almost all men’s and almost all, in terms of what might happen, conservative men’s. This tape revealed nothing new about Donald Trump’s misogyny and certainly didn’t teach women anything we don’t already know. All women know men like Trump. We have to smile, be nice and politely fold humiliation and fear into our lives at school, home and work.
So, this weekend’s outrage isn’t about women. It’s happening now because it is putting the notion that the leaders of the GOP, almost entirely white and male, cannot be trusted. These are men who are now worried, embarrassed, ashamed or exploiting this situation for personal and political gain. Trump will go away, but their governance, and attempts to make it seem moderate, woman-friendly and tolerable, will not. This outrage, mainly about making sure that important edifices stay in place and that now at-risk Senate and House seats don’t disappear, is deeply hypocritical and self-serving.
The tape revealed that Trump is, in private, knowingly acknowledging how his misogyny and status work to hurt women. The same men who are claiming that Trump is finally indefensible because of his attitude towards women routinely engage in behavior that equally denigrates us, denies us dignity and respect, and violates our human rights.
The most basic way they do this is by making sure women cannot decide if, when and how to reproduce and by devising radical strategies for ensuring that women are compelled to live lives they have little or no control over. Their cynical attempts to mask this oppression of women by defending personhood-for-zygotes has already resulted in bills and laws that criminalize pregnancy and abortion and penalize women for being women, with female human bodies. They approach the law with the fundamental belief that because women can get pregnant, we cannot think clearly, ethically, morally and rationally about our own lives, families and bodies or the consequences of our actions. They insist that women should be personally responsible, but do everything to make sure women stay personally and institutionally powerless.
Second, Trump’s expression of male sexual entitlement wasn’t new, but it was undeniable, and targeted white women easily identified in relation to men like those in charge of the GOP. He had a smug assurance usually hidden in back rooms, lockers, golf courses and boys clubs and routinely excused on playgrounds and Sunday morning talk shows as “boys being boys.” Trump’s most sexist and egregious behavior has almost always been defended by his and others’ rote repeating the standard conservative tropes about how men should feel about women: that they adore, love, defend and protect them. Like a cherished possession. In return for this protection, men are granted greater power and authority. Trump and Bush showed that the “protection” that is provided in return for power is inextricably linked to predation and exploitation. This puts all of these men’s legitimacy at personal risk.
Third, Trump’s reduction of women to pussies is more vulgar than good Christian men can abide, but when he calls them pigs or dogs, he isn’t breaking any Republican molds. Conservative legislators have a long history, often in debates about reproductive rights or immigration, of making comparisons between women and animals. If they use references to domesticated animals - pigs, cows and livestock, the women are more likely to be white. When the animals and women are not domesticated ― i.e. operating beyond the direct control of men ― they’re more likely to be depicted as sexualized and base, making them dogs or wild animals. Two weeks ago, for example, in a congressional hearing to discuss the Hyde Amendment, as a roomful of almost all white, all male politicians deliberated on how to regulate women’s reproduction, two GOP representatives used dog metaphors to describe the plight of low-income women of color. Women immigrants are referred to in legislative debates as “dropping anchor babies,” the way mules do.
Fourth, Trump and Bush jokingly described making women with less power and status do what they wanted, with no regard for their will or consent. Coercing women with less power and making them do what men want is the leitmotif of the GOP’s economic and social policies, many of which can easily be distilled into some version of “you can’t trust women.” This justifies their belief in male governance and intervention and shapes everything from their approach to immigration, domestic violence, wage gaps, reproductive rights, food assistance, health and child care. This isn’t speculation, but fact: this party’s leadership is on the verge of being all male and all white and the people whose lives they are most negatively affecting are primarily women of color.
The indisputable proof of Trump’s misogyny and its connection to his status and power makes for very uncomfortable domestic lives.
Trump is a Trainwreck Patriarch whose narcissism and insecurities makes a mockery of all of it ― the words, the promises, the bargains and the power. That’s not just political, but personal. It’s why so many of the responses to the video have cast Trump’s behavior as a threat to “wives, mothers and daughters,” a typical, transparent and unconscious hat tip to protectiveness and male centrality. This still is not about women’s dignity or humanity, but about women’s relationships to men.
When you put women on pedestals they are unable to do much without falling. And a fallen woman isn’t one you protect.
In the traditional formulation, protecting women, particularly white women, has been the go-to device for justifying racial and ethnic violence. Consider what this means, for example, in terms of race and immigration. Trump is a loud, exaggerated example of the toxic masculinity; some might say toxic border patrol masculinity, demonstrated by a GOP whose paternalistic treatment of women shares a lot with their defense of the nation as an ethnic stronghold. These ideas come together, frequently, in the notion that white women’s bodies require protecting from brown and black men. That’s why when Trump wants to other men of different ethnicities, he uses rape to do it. Yesterday, before the tape was released, Trump doubled down on his belief, despite DNA evidence that has cleared the men accused, that the Central Park Five were guilty. He is on the record saying that Mexicans are all rapists. When conservatives want to silence American women talking about sexual assault, their most common knee-jerk response includes descriptions of Moslem men as all being sexual predators.
We live in a world in which men, not women, decide when something like what Trump did is “really” outrageous. This latest fiasco has less to do with women’s rights or equality than many people would prefer to pretend it does. Trump has given these leaders infinite opportunities – his endless sexism, racism, xenophobia and ignorance - to stop supporting him. His trading in the full spectrum of available hate didn’t do what this one tape did. Trump has a well-documented public history of sexist and racist abuse of women that includes allegations of harassment, rape and workplace discrimination. He’s built an entire media career on exploiting, objectifying and shaming women and regularly boasts about it. He has surrounded himself with a fraternity of men who are abusers of women and responsible for cultivating the ugliest forms of civic expressions and racialized division.
No, this is dangerous and deeply personal to these men. A particular irony considering their visceral dislike of anything smacking of “identity politics.” Rejecting Trump for these reasons is a defense of the worse sort for American women. It pays to remember that we live in a world in which, structurally, systemically, men are the people who continue to decide how much is “too much” and what is worthy of “outrage”.