Making America Openly Sexist -- Again

And I'm afraid that these normalizations of abhorrent attitudes cannot be rectified in four years.

A recent New York Times op-ed, entitled “Do Millennial Men Want Stay-at-Home Wives?”, brought forward an onslaught of polling demonstrating that younger Americans have increasingly shifted away from previously progressive views on women in the workplace and at home.[1]

The existence of these trends would have been troubling in any administration, but the current situation gives particular cause for concern. One now must consider the impact these trends will have on the perception of women in tandem with the elevation of a man to the highest office of the United States who has been repeatedly been accused of sexual harassment and assault.

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States has opened the door for thoughtless and contemptible sexist rhetoric to once again exist openly in our highest political conversations. This is not to say sexism had previously been eradicated in politics, indeed there were countless examples of sexism in previous administrations on both sides of the aisle. But at least in recent years this form of discrimination was greeted with public shaming and denunciations, and promises of progress.

Yet time and time again, Trump has managed to barrel through these cultural mandates directed towards the mistreatment of women with an unapologetic rapidity and force.

Take for example, the presidential debates, which had record-high ratings. [2] Over the course of the debates, 259 million Americans in total watched as Trump incessantly interrupted Hillary Clinton, referred to her as a “nasty woman”, and spat out the pronoun “her” like some kind of slur. In the time leading up to the election, American voters were also privy to Trump accusing Clinton of “playing the woman card”, and referring to news anchor Megyn Kelly as a “bimbo”. During this election cycle, parents got to debate letting their children listen to the nightly news, for fear that might hear their future president’s “words” as he described an act of sexual assault, or worse, hear the accompanying commentary from a pundit trying to normalize rape culture.

“Locker room talk”, a phrase so blithe one cannot possibly entertain the notion of anyone considering its construction for more than 90 seconds, was apparently good enough for American voters.

And so, American voters shook their heads, shuffled their feet and escorted sexism back into the mainstream while walking to the polling booth.

All is not lost—in future years, we may be able to ensure the continued funding of important women’s health grants like Title X, we will one day be able to walk back the Mexico City Policy once more. We might convince the Secretary of Education that Title IX is worth enforcing on college campuses (though given the recent decision to appoint Carlos G. Muñiz, the lawyer who defended Florida State University in a controversial rape case, as general counsel of the Education Department, this does not seem likely). One day we may obtain paid family leave with this President’s signature on the bill. In a democracy, anything is possible.

Nevertheless, by electing a man who brought all the aforementioned sexism into the political arena, I believe we have perhaps forever forfeited our credibility in our daughters’ eyes. How can we continue to tell them they are valuable, when the President we elected for them would never bother to echo the sentiment? In a society in which sexism was already on the rise, one has to consider how reintroducing it in its most crass form in our most important office affects not just us, but future generations.

For those who claim that the President’s words are “just words” from the past, I would then ask how his present actions have indicated a change of heart. From where I sit, we look at pictures of the Oval Office filled with men, signing bills, not a woman in sight. We see videos of President Trump refusing to shake the hand of Angela Merkel, the leader of one of our strongest allies. In the midst of atrocities in Syria, I see our President rushing to the defense not of Syrian victims, but of Bill O’Reilly’s reputation in the midst of sexual harassment claims.

Sexism no longer sits shamefacedly in the corner decades of feminism dragged it to—it has been ushered back with the help of American voters to the forefront of American society with a seat in the Oval Office, along with a slew of other equally dangerous –isms, including racism and nativism. Unlike this presidency, I am afraid that these normalizations of abhorrent attitudes cannot be rectified in four years.

[1] For example, one statistic cited by the article claims that in 1994, 83% of young men rejected the superiority of the male-breadwinner family however by 2014 that number fell to 55%. The study, from Council on Contemporary Family is linked here.

[2] “The Presidential Debates Set Ratings Records in 2016”, Adweek, October 24, 2016.