The latest outrage over insulted womanhood has focused on Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and evil clown of the Republican presidential race. Trump's remark that seemed to imply that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was having her period when she asked him hostile questions during last week's debate set off a bipartisan outcry.
Trump got summarily booted from the RedState Gathering, a major annual event for conservative activists, and was roundly denounced for a long history of being offensive toward women. But is our admirable anti-sexism just a new version of old-fashioned chivalry that falls far short of truly equal treatment for women and men?
For the record, I am inclined to believe Trump's assertion that his comment -- "She had blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever" -- was misinterpreted. I thought so after I watched the clip of the CNN interview in which the remark was made. It sounded more like a fumbled metaphor than a crude joke about female physiology; there was no vulgar insinuation in Trump's tone, and a couple of minutes later he said that Chris Wallace, Kelly's male co-host, "also had blood coming out of his eyes."
However, given Trump's history of crude and offensive comments -- his spat with Kelly during the debate was over his habit of referring to women he doesn't like as "fat pigs" and "disgusting animals" -- it's hardly surprising that many were quick to think the worst.
Yet when it comes to offensiveness, Trump is very much an equal-opportunity offender. The last time he caused an outcry, already nearly forgotten in the current brouhaha, it was by suggesting that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who underwent a harrowing ordeal as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, was no war hero because he got captured. (Earlier, Trump referred to McCain as "a loser.") Nor is Trump particularly nice about male pundits who criticize him: He has referred to Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer as "a real jerk," a "loser" and an "overrated clown."
In the same interview in which the remark about "blood" was made, CNN's Don Lemon questioned Trump about retweeting some nasty anti-Kelly tweets from his supporters, including one that said, "We can gut her." Such "harsh language," Lemon noted, is troubling to many people "when it comes to women." But surely the same kind of comment could have been easily made about a male journalist. Is it worse to be nasty toward women?
Frances Martel, an editor for the right-wing site Breitbart.com, is one woman who has taken exception to the anti-Trump outcry from a pro-equality point of view. "There's something very sexist about attacking Trump -- a person whose entire public persona is 'he insults people' -- for insulting a woman," Martel tweeted. She added that she would be "sorely disappointed" if she ever got on Trump's bad side and was treated like a "lady."
Some liberal commentators did argue that many conservatives' condemnation of Trump's swipe at Kelly was rooted in traditional paternalism, not feminist opposition to sexism. But the truth is that, these days, it is increasingly difficult to tell the two apart.
We are entering a political season in which at least one and possibly two women -- Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina -- will be major contenders for the White House (and Trump, it is safe to say, will not). This should be an exciting moment for American women in politics. But it will be a hollow victory if women's presence in this race turns the debate into an endless litany of cries of sexism.
Cathy Young is a regular contributor to Reason magazine and Real Clear Politics.