Friday, October 07, 2016

Could Misogyny, Of All Things, Finally Destroy Donald Trump?

In our latest spin of the "outrageous Trump remarks" wheel, we landed on misogyny. Specifically, comments Trump made during taping for Access Hollywood where he graphically talked about sexually assaulting women:
During the lewd conversation captured by a microphone Trump was wearing on his lapel, Trump recounts how he tried to "fuck" an unidentified married woman before bragging that he is "automatically attracted to beautiful (women)" and just starts "kissing them." The conversation came just months after Trump married his third and current wife, Melania.
He also said: "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."
How lovely. But this has stood out in that it has seemed to generate a particularly ferocious condemnation from Trump's fellow Republicans. Paul Ryan, set to campaign side-by-side with Trump for the first time, withdrew his invitation and declared himself "sickened". Reince Priebus was far more blunt than I've ever seen him: "no woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever." Jon Huntsman went from endorsing Trump to demanding that he drop out. Even Trump gave a non-apology-apology of the "I apologize if anyone was offended" variety (Jeb Bush: "no apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women.").

And while the comments themselves really cannot honestly surprise anyone, the reaction to them is a bit striking. Liberals have certainly noticed, and been quite wry -- "oh, it was okay to call Mexicans rapists, and to suggest banning all Muslims, and to fan a resurgent conservative anti-Semitism -- but this was the step too far?" Indeed, while there have been other moments where Trump has said outrageous things and political commentators have declared him dead, only for him to emerge stronger than before (think the John McCain "captured" comments), this feels different -- he is the Republican standard-bearer, there is no deluding oneself that by condemning Trump one can simply switch support to another conservative.

Honestly, it is hard to explain. And I'd be very curious to hear what someone like Kate Manne -- who has written very incisively on the role of misogyny in this election and in our society -- thinks of this development. Right now -- improbable as it may be -- it looks like Trump's misogyny might have finally closed the door on his candidacy. There's almost -- almost -- a sense in which it is heartening (though I won't pop any champagne until November 9).


Anonymous said...

Because the only legitimate ethical core at the heart of conservatism is the sanctity of the family and of marriage.

William said...

A number of women on Twitter pointed out something that made this make sense to me. People now repudiating Trump often talked about their wives/daughters/granddaughters. The women responded that no, you should be upset about sexual assault because the victims are people in their own right.

So I think this is getting such a strong reaction because Trump violated patriarchal norms. Him being a misogynist pig to beauty contest contestants was fine, because that's practically what they're there for. Him being awful to Mexicans and Muslims is also fine because they're not part of the tribe. Him being a misogynist pig to somebody's wife, though, that's not on. She's some dude's property. She's almost people.

That's of course no longer the legal structure (although it was for centuries). But it's still a part of the social structure that conservatives are so energetically conserving. Very often when a conservative says that something is destroying "the family", you can substitute "patriarchy" and the sentence becomes much clearer.

Anonymous said...

Not that I entirely disagree, William, but you do understand that is the least good faith interpretation of conservative belief one can have. Many men and women believe that marriage is a sacred institution and that families are the basis for functional healthy societies. There is nothing inherently degrading towards women to believe that hitting on a married woman is a violation of all necessary social norms. In fact, one can believe (as I do) that assault is disgusting no matter who it is committed against, and that trying to bed a married woman is wrong on its own merits as well.

William said...

Sure, Mordy. And I'm not saying that some individual conservatives don't have higher standards. But the question raised is "why is this example of misogyny a step too far for his supporters"? Obviously, they don't consider racism or misogyny disqualifying. The guy has been a pig to plenty of other people. I think the only difference here is who he's talking about and how frank he's being about it.

So yes, it's not a very positive interpretation of conservative moral standards. But it's the most positive one that I can fit to the facts. Consider, for example, all the conservative hysteria about how gay marriage is destroying families. I know GLBT people who are now married with kids, so it's obviously creating families. And when those same people couldn't get married, it put their family and their kids at risk of all sorts of terrible outcomes. So what could conservatives possibly mean?

If you ask, they'll talk about traditional families, biblical families. But this comes out of a tradition where women are property. From at least the Iliad forward, women had a status below men but above livestock. Per the bible, they were war prizes, domestic slaves, bearers of children. But not actually people, not like men were. This patriarchal, tribalist mindset was part of the founding of America; the only voters were free white property-owning men. That is, plausible patriarchs.

Now if you'd like to make the case that patriarchy ended on some particular date, I'd be glad to read your thoughts. But my take is that we're still disassembling it. I think it's still pervasive, although not evenly distributed. To somebody who still favors patriarchy, the obvious election choice is the dominant dude. They'll only repudiate him if he violates patriarchal norms. Which is exactly what a bunch of people did here. And many did it while explicitly talking about "their" women.

Do I think this is conscious? Mostly not. One of the tricky things about defending tradition is that you don't really have to understand what you're defending. And I don't think that's necessarily bad. A lot of the past is worth preserving; even if you don't know how something works, you can know that it works. And the world is too complicated to go around examining everything all the time.

But there are moments when I think it's worth looking very closely at something. And this election is forcing people to look carefully at race and gender in ways that normally don't get examined much. At least, not by people who get the upside of America's patriarchy and racial bias.

Unknown said...

Whiteness. He bragged about assaulting a white woman. A lot of racism is about "protecting" white women