John Kelly Is Sad Women Are No Longer 'Sacred.' Women Are Not That Sad.

Trump's chief of staff is missing the point.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said, "Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor," when he was growing up in the 1950s.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said, "Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor," when he was growing up in the 1950s.
Yuri Gripas / Reuters

John Kelly believes women are “sacred” ― or at least they used to be.

Kelly, the White House chief of staff, made the comment during a news conference Thursday afternoon that focused on President Donald Trump’s bungled phone call to the widow of a slain soldier. Kelly lamented that, unlike in the good old days, some things no longer get respect ― like Gold Star families, religion and women.

“When I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country,” he said. “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we see from recent cases.”

It’s unclear what exactly Kelly was referring to. But his comment comes as numerous women have levied sexual harassment and assault allegations against film executive Harvey Weinstein, and women are sharing stories of abuse on social media under the hashtag #MeToo.

Kelly, however, seems to be missing the point of this conversation, which is that many women have no desire to be treated as separate and “sacred.” They simply want to be acknowledged as human beings who deserve basic respect and equality.

And things weren’t so great when women were supposedly treated as “sacred.”

Kelly was born in 1950, meaning when he was “a kid growing up,” women couldn’t legally get an abortion or open credit cards in their own names. They also did not have access to the morning-after pill, couldn’t always get birth control if they weren’t married, could not marry other women, were not allowed to fight on the front lines and had little recourse for workplace sexual harassment. Marital rape was not illegal. And Kelly was born before the civil rights movement, meaning he grew up in a time when people of color, particularly women of color, did not have the same freedoms he did.

This imaginary era of “sacred” womanhood included plenty of discrimination against women; they just couldn’t always talk about it. The biggest change between then and now is not in the way men treat women but in the position women occupy within society. Since the 1950s, women have entered the workforce in droves. They have become breadwinners, CEOs and politicians. And they have become increasingly vocal about their experiences with sexual violence and discrimination, including in the Marine Corps, where Kelly served as a general.

When women do speak up ― as they have in the cases of Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and President Trump ― they are reclaiming their agency.

Kelly’s comments echo the way Trump likes to pretend he treats women. But more than a dozen women have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, and he was caught on tape boasting about groping women and getting away with it.

Trump, the former co-owner of the Miss Universe organization, denies the allegations and claims that he respects and cherishes women. But he also denigrates the appearances of women he doesn’t approve of, in sexist ways. He reportedly called Khloe Kardashian a “fat piglet,” said that a singer needed “fuckin’ dermatology” and lashed out at Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” by claiming she was “’bleeding badly from a face-lift” at Mar-a-Lago.

The price of treating women as “sacred” is that it assumes women are “other” to men. It plays into years of damaging stereotypes that have been used to justify men continuing to occupy positions of power, both professionally and domestically; that women are weak and delicate; that women must be “handled” by men; that some women are more “sacred” than others because of the way they look or act; and that women must stand to the side and be protected while men go out into the world.

If this is “sacred,” then plenty of women are glad that time is over.

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