Trump's attack on Kirsten Gillibrand is the hardest kind of sexual harassment to call out
Donald Trump says a lot of offensive things. This isn’t really new information, but it just seems to get worse with each passing day. On Tuesday, Trump’s attack on a female senator shocked people on social media for its misogynist implications. The verbal attack is a reminder that sexual harassment comes in all forms. This particular breed is hard for women to call out, since, well, you have to read between a lot of lines, and in fairness, it could be interpreted in different ways. If there are a bunch of conservatives that don’t mind explaining away an alleged child molester, they likely won’t even register the fact that Trump essentially called New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand a whore.
Because she is a very high-profile Democratic senator — who has made a name for herself in D.C. for attempting to push through legislation that would protect female military personnel who are sexually assaulted and for being a vocal opponent of Trump — people on social media, including stars like Connie Britton, immediately came to Gillibrand’s defense on social media. But this is the kind of off-hand, dismissive crap that men throw around when they think no one is listening.
He tweeted on Tuesday, “Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Charles E. Schumer and someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”
Usually, people mock Trump for not making sense or being a buffoon, but here he seems to know exactly what he’s doing. Not only does he attach yet another of his nicknames to her like a middle school bully, he implies that Gillibrand can’t think for herself; that she’s only effective (and she is, as much as any senator can really be these days) because she’s guided by another (male) senator from New York. But then it gets nasty. What does “begging,” in quotation marks mean exactly? What is this “anything” that she’d allegedly do for donations?
Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University, told the New York Times, “In his tweets, whether intentionally or not, Donald Trump cues these gendered beliefs that women are less capable (or “lightweight”) and that ambition in women is something to be maligned.” This is not the first time that Trump has used a slur against women or talked about them in such a way. He’s called women a number of things, all of them sexist, demeaning slurs.
And people — including Trump’s son Eric and even some women on his team, like White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders — defend him. He’s dismissed all of the 19 women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault, three of whom held a press conference on Monday, prompting over 50 senators — including Gillibrand — to call for an investigation of his actions.
What’s so infuriating about Trump’s misogyny is that he doesn’t even try to hide it or show any remorse or shame at all. This is not coded. It’s flagrant, prideful, and sadly normalized. Much like the leaked audio tape from Access Hollywood in which he outlines how he likes to approach women (grabbing them “by the p*ssy”), this tweet doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination. On Twitter, there are men and women out there defending him, saying that feminists are overreacting about the language of his tweet, even making their own misogynist accusations.
All this “locker room” talk.
What makes these kinds of comments so dangerous is that they’re so common. And what did Trump say really? Since he didn’t come straight out and call Gillibrand a “whore” or a “slut,” instead opting for random quotes and parentheses to insult her, people have more room to defend him. The president (the President of the United States, you guys) tweeting something like this and being defended is just another reminder that there are so many people out there who don’t trust women, don’t think women are valuable, and are scared of women who are effectual and powerful. When you unpack Trump’s words in that tweet, there is nothing but hatred for women there.
But people way less famous than Trump make comments like these all the time. You’ve probably seen it in your own workplace, on social media, or in a group chat. Saying that Gillibrand is a lackey who would do “anything” for money is akin to a bunch of people in a break room rolling their eyes at a new female boss whipping the team into shape or insinuating that a woman’s promotion has to do with anything other than her abilities and talents. It’s akin to middle school girls being sent home for their tank tops being too “distracting.” These sexist micro aggressions are simply everywhere, at all levels of power.
Just because Trump is the president and seems so extreme doesn’t mean that comments like the ones he made this week don’t come out of the mouths of many men (and women) all over the place. Just like sexual assault doesn’t just happen in Hollywood, demeaning women with vile comments isn’t exclusive to Trump. It’s no surprise that Trump lashed out at Gillibrand in the most cowardly way, but it is disheartening. And a good reminder to call out the everyday sexist things we hear in our own lives, because no one should be allowed get away with this kind of sexist messaging anymore. If they want to call us names and make accusations, they could at least be more direct.