The gender war has long been an aspect of campaign 2016. Now, with the sexual assault accusations against Republican candidate Donald Trump, it has become one of the election’s principal themes: America’s Worst Misogynist versus the Feminist-in-Chief. But even as we head toward the near-certain election of Hillary Clinton as America’s first female president, many are pointing to Trump as proof of still-rampant or even resurgent sexism in America. Is that so?
Thus, Daily Beast senior editor Erin Gloria Ryan writes that the silver lining of the Trump campaign debacle is that he is a “sexist supervillain” and a “one-stop shop for proof that a host of feminist issues are not made-up complaints” — from the mistreatment of women who bring accusations of sexual assault to discrimination in the workplace. The mere fact that a man widely viewed as a politically ignorant, boorish buffoon has a chance in a contest against an experienced politician such as Clinton is, to many feminist pundits, a reminder of the double standard women face.
Yet the truth is that you could just easily point to the Trump saga as evidence of womanpower in America.
Let’s not forget that before the exposure of the 2005 tape in which Trump made crude comments about women and bragged that his star power allows him to kiss and grab women at will, the tycoon-turned-presidential aspirant had made plenty of outrageous statements. He suggested that POWs are not true heroes, went after a judge’s Mexican heritage, insulted the parents of a slain American Muslim soldier, and insinuated that the father of one of his Republican rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), was implicated in the John F. Kennedy assassination. Yet none of that caused the same outrage as the 2005 tape. Indeed, that was an exceedingly rare public apology, however grudging and self-serving.
Likewise, the allegations that Trump had molested women seem to have damaged him far more than earlier, well-known allegations of other vile behavior — including allegedly fraudulent business practices and habitually cheating small-business owners of money owed for services.
Certainly, Trump has a history of treating women like sexual playthings — as part of a general history of exploitative and demeaning conduct toward everyone. But far from flaunting this attitude during his presidential run, he has labored mightily to hide it behind his history of promoting women in his organization and behind female surrogates, from campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to daughter and business associate Ivanka Trump.
As for claims that Clinton has been judged by much tougher standards than Trump, supposedly in a display of blatant sexism, let’s not forget that Trump defeated 16 Republican contenders, nearly all vastly more fit for the office of president — and all but one of them men. Some of those contenders were slaughtered by the media over gaffes that pale next to Trump’s antics. Being a white male does not explain why Trump received preferential treatment over other white males.
It’s also important to remember that Clinton, however experienced and knowledgeable, has problems as a candidate. Even many people who root for her to win believe that her handling of the scandal over her personal email server shows dishonesty and arrogance. Are there people who dislike her for sexist reasons? Sure, but there are probably as many who have rooted for her because she is a woman.
Trump has had a toxic effect on American politics and culture. If he is held up as a reason to hype female victimhood and demonize men, it will add to the damage.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.