When President Trump and Melania Trump visited France this July, President Trump’s first action was to look First Lady of France Brigitte Macron up and down and pronounce her to be “fit.” Trump said to her, “You’re in such good shape.” He then turned to the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, and said, “She’s in such good physical shape. Beautiful.” Clearly uncomfortable, Brigitte Macron grabbed Melania’s arm and stepped back away from Trump. This incident was broadcast live around the world.
What message does it send when the American President treats the First Lady of France like a sex object?
I admit that I got nervous when the Trump transition team demanded that the State Department submit details of programs and jobs dedicated to promoting gender equity. Given Donald J. Trump’s history of demeaning and assaulting women and his sexist behavior during the presidential campaign, it seems quite possible that his administration will pursue the elimination of all funding for women’s empowerment programs in the same way they have planned to defund Planned Parenthood, which will deprive poor women of basic healthcare services.
Misogyny is a difficult and important concept to understand if we are to grasp many of the challenges that women face in politics and in the workplace. One source of confusion is that misogyny is actually an umbrella term that encompasses multiple concepts such as sexism, patriarchy, gender-based oppression, and internalized oppression. Both women and men participate in perpetuating the misogynistic attitudes, behaviors, and practices motivated by hatred or distrust of women. Such concepts are largely unconscious in individuals and often institutionalized in the policies and practices of organizations and societal institutions. I wrote about some post-election examples of misogynistic behaviors in a recent article.
Women in the United States struggled many years to win the right to vote, and we still have not been able to win the presidency. At least fifty-two other countries in the world have had a female head of state—some countries multiple times—but we have not. Hillary Clinton’s recent run was not successful, but she took us one more step along a very long journey for women in the United States.
Gretchen Carlson went public about the sexual harassment she endured from Roger Ailes as an employee of Fox News and got Roger Ailes fired. Carlson did not agree to stay silent when offered a settlement as part of a nondisclosure agreement, and she got fired. It took courage to go public, and, subsequently, many women have come forward to tell their previously undisclosed stories of sexual harassment. In her article in the New York Times, Carlson notes that, according to the National Women’s Law Center, “almost half of all women have been sexually harassed at work. And those are the ones who have been brave enough to reveal it.” In a previous article, I explain why sexual harassment is still so prevalent in the workplace.
I have been designing and facilitating women’s leadership-development programs for more than twenty-five years, and I always include a segment on misogyny. I begin by asking for participants to raise their hands if they have heard the term misogyny before—usually no one has, until this year. This fall, when I asked the question, almost every woman in the audience raised her hand and knew the definition: having or showing a hatred or distrust of women. The women in my most recent program were from the whole spectrum of political ideologies, but this year’s election campaign elevated both the term misogyny (which is not really a new word but had almost disappeared from use) and awareness of the behaviors associated with it to the level of national discourse. Misogyny has always been with us, but we often didn’t see it, had become numb to it, or did not have a name for it. This election campaign brought misogynistic attitudes and behaviors to the surface and out in the open.