Imagine, for a moment, the presidential candidacy of a rich, brash real estate magnate and reality TV star named Donna Trump.
Quizzically coiffed and stubbornly sun-kissed, she’s on her third marriage. There’s clear evidence that infidelity factored into the demise of the first, and among her children is one conceived when The Donna wasn’t married to the other parent.
Her sexual appetites have been prodigious, at least according to her frequent claims and vulgar cant. And she has a tendency – disturbing on its own, even more so in someone who aspires to civic leadership – to talk about men as sirloins and rump roasts of disparate succulence. She denigrates those who displease her on cosmetic grounds:
So-and-so used to be a 9 but, with that male-pattern baldness and desperate comb-over, is down to a 6. So-and-so thinks he’s covering up that paunch with baggy suits, but we all know better.
How well do you think The Donna would do in the polls? How far into the race would she survive?
The 2016 quest for the White House has included ample exegeses on gender and plenty of talk about double standards, but most if not all of those have pertained to Hillary Clinton. Is a raised, emphatic voice heard as something more grating when it emanates from a woman? Is toughness perceived as something more pernicious when the hide and stride are female?
But for an even more obvious, indisputable example of unequal treatment, look to Donald Trump. A woman with his personal life, public comportment and potty mouth wouldn’t last a nanosecond in a political campaign – or, for that matter, in a boardroom. Her name on a line of scarves wouldn’t be the selling point that his on a line of ties is.
The moral judgments – in particular the sexual ones – that we make about men and women are utterly and unjustly dissimilar. This primary season, and the back stories swirling around it, have illustrated that anew.
Bill Clinton’s sexual behaviour before and during his presidency surged back into the conversation, and I was struck again by the fact that a woman dogged by as many accusations of philandering as he was would never have won the White House.
And a woman who behaved as he did in the White House wouldn’t now be seen as someone who could lend a positive jolt to her spouse’s presidential campaign with frequent appearances on the trail. She’d be tucked away in an attic somewhere, damaged goods forevermore.
I’m not arguing for greater chastity in men. I’m arguing for a fairer and more forgiving attitude toward women.
I’m noting, as I have before, what the journalist Peggy Orenstein explores so forthrightly and explains so well in her timely new book, Girls & Sex, to be published next month.
“A sexually active girl is a ‘slut’ while a similar boy is a ‘player’,” Orenstein writes, acknowledging this as a timeless dichotomy. “Now, though, girls who abstain from sex, once thought of as the ‘good girls’ are shamed as well, labelled ‘virgins’ (which is not a good thing) or ‘prudes’.”
A young woman is supposed to be some sexual Goldilocks, finding a “just right” between frisky and frigid. A young man simply has fun.
The Trump campaign’s success doesn’t say anything good about our progress toward gender equality, not merely because he gets away with things that a woman never would but because he thrives in spite of overtly sexist language and remarks that routinely objectify women.
These have been duly noted in many compendiums, including an especially clever one by Andrew Kaczynski and Nathan McDermott in BuzzFeed last week. They listened to hours of audio from Trump’s appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show over the years, and they unearthed such gems as his boast – just months after Princess Diana’s death – that he probably could have slept with her; his ratings of the attractiveness of the cast of Desperate Housewives on a scale of 1 to 10; his assertion that he probably couldn’t work up an erection for Madonna; and his declaration, after he purchased the Miss USA pageant, that he wanted the “bathing suits to be smaller and the heels to be higher”.
More sombre examinations of Trump and sexism, however, have been crowded out by reflections on his diatribes against, say, Mexicans and Muslims. Commentators have wrung their hands to rawness over how a Trump presidency might inflame tensions on racial and religious fronts and what an intolerant portrait of America it would project to the world.
But what about the way a Trump presidency would make the women of this country feel? Or how Trump’s sexual braggadocio would diminish the dignity of the office and the country?
Female voters have not flocked to him in the same percentages as male voters, according to exit polls from the caucuses and primaries thus far. And national surveys suggest that the Republican Party could be looking at an especially ruinous gender gap if Trump is its nominee.
In a hypothetical matchup of Clinton versus Trump, she’d get 54 per cent of women to his 35 per cent, with the rest going elsewhere or sitting on the fence, according to a Fox News poll from two weeks ago. That 19-point advantage for the Democrat would be greater than the one that Barack Obama got in his 2012 race against Mitt Romney (11 points) or his 2008 contest against John McCain (13 points).
And we can presume that the gap isn’t solely about Clinton’s appeal. After all, she lost the women’s vote to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire by 11 points.
To be fair to Trump, there are moments when he has exhibited something more than just a drooling interest in the opposite sex. At last week’s Republican debate, he defended Planned Parenthood (somewhat) against his rivals’ blanket vilification of it by noting that “millions and millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood”. (He nonetheless said he’d cut off any federal funds to it.)
But such bright spots of sensitivity are eclipsed by the creepy stuff, like his repeated references to his daughter Ivanka as someone who, in a different situation, he might well date.
“What a beauty, that one,” he told Paul Solotaroff, who profiled him for Rolling Stone, last year. “If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, her father …”
Now put those words in The Donna’s mouth instead. “What a hunk, that one,” she says of one of her sons. “If I weren’t happily married and, ya know, his mother …”
We’d never hear the end of it. And yet we haven’t seen the end of Trump.
The New York Times