A no-holds-barred look at the American presidential race
★ ★ ★ ★
Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves—and the World
By Maria Behan
Apologies to the tens of millions of American men who loathe Donald Trump and will help hurl him onto the gilded dung heap he so richly deserves come Election Day. And condolences to the thousands of pollsters and pundits who’ve spent countless hours parsing the subtleties of a contest that sometimes looked like “coastal elites” versus “the heartland,” or maybe whites versus minorities. Those and other societal fault lines have certainly come into play during this way-too-long, way-too-excruciating election season. But in the end, the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has come down to one thing: the boys against the girls. And the girls are going to win.
In the first column I wrote for The Wild Word back in February, I predicted that Trump would lose, and grisly as having to look at, listen to, and think about Trump would be, his unsuccessful campaign would ultimately be a purgative tonic for America. My take was that his downfall would hasten the demise of the rotting-from-within Republican Party—a process that looks to be well under way. But I can now see an even greater good, with an even more far-reaching impact, arising from Trump’s bid for the nation’s highest office: His puerile misogyny has ignited a feminist revolution.
It began early in the campaign, when pollsters first noticed a pronounced gender gap caused by women rejecting Trump in large numbers. It picked up steam this summer, when Trump tried to belittle debate moderator Megyn Kelly by claiming she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” And it reached its zenith with the October release of the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged that “stars” like him can “do anything” they want to women, including “grab them by the pussy.”
The instant that tape came out, Trump’s campaign went from troubled to toast. That night, I heard a cable-news talking head opine, “So…this is most likely not going to help him with women.” No shit, Sherlock.
Although I’m female and feminist, identity politics don’t compel me in the voting booth. Supporting Obama over Clinton in the 2008 primary, and Bernie Sanders in this year’s, I’ve gotten into tussles with Democrats, both male and female, who accused me of being a traitor to my sex. But for me, candidates’ policies and character far outweigh their gender.
Yet identity exerts an undeniable pull—and when you’re a member of a marginalized group, a compatriot’s breakthrough feels a bit like your own. I bawled tears of joy watching Geraldine Ferraro accept her historic vice-presidential nomination back in 1984. Because Hillary Clinton strikes me as too far to the right (and not entirely on the level), I’ve seldom felt all gooey and girl-powery about her. Now, thanks to Trump’s barrage of attacks, including his “such a nasty woman” snarl in the final debate, I’m starting to. And I’m not alone.
Nasty Girls Let It Rip
In decades past, ambitious women (even Hillary Clinton) worried that advocating for themselves and their gender might make them appear unladylike, abrasive, unappealing. But these days, an increasing number of girls and women aren’t just being assertive, they’re being aggressive. Perhaps taking Donald Trump as their inspiration, they are opening newfound potty-mouths to proclaim, “Fuck this shit!”
If you want evidence, poke around online. Take a look at the usually warm and fuzzy Etsy arts-and-crafts site, which is now selling t-shirts and buttons emblazoned “Don’t Grab my Pussy.” Type nastywomengetshitdone.com into your search engine, and you’ll be redirected to a page where you can contribute to the Clinton campaign. Or read Liz Meriwether’s unsettling fantasy, in which President Clinton taunts prominent male Republicans with Trump-style locker-room banter. If you think you can handle it, watch this video of little girls in princess costumes dropping an arsenal of f-bombs while citing statistics on rape, sexual abuse, and wage discrimination.
Or check out the news. Gloria Allred, the attorney representing some of the women accusing Trump of precisely the kinds of assaults he bragged about in that Access Hollywood tape, practically beat her chest like a gorilla as she warned Trump to “be careful what you wish for” and threatened him with “an army of lawyers.” And the most adept Trump-taunter of all, Senator Elizabeth Warren, recently charged, “He thinks that because he has a mouthful of Tic Tacs that he can force himself on any woman within groping distance;” then prescribed the remedy: “We nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever.”
If this newfound female wrath continues (and it will) and Hillary Clinton becomes America’s next president (and she will), resentful men and conservative women will undoubtedly blame Clinton. But the fault does not lie with Clinton. The fault lies with men like Donald Trump.
Do My Hands Look Small in This?
One senses that Clinton cares a lot about what people think of her as a leader, but not much about how people rate her physically. As a college student, she wore big glasses and not a lick of make-up, as her husband fondly recalled during the Democratic National Convention. When she became an aspiring politician’s wife, she begrudgingly paid a bit more attention to grooming, but with a fair amount of eye-rolling and the occasional aside that revealed her impatience with the focus on her looks.
As first lady, senator, secretary of state, and now a presidential contender, Clinton has been assailed by endless observations and outright insults about her weight, age, clothes, and body from her hair down to her ankles. If some of that strikes a nerve, she never shows it. In fact, Clinton has even used the media’s reductive objectification to her advantage, as when she cheekily observed, “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.”
Donald Trump is the polar opposite. Not only does he never change his hairstyle (despite the fact that it’s the number-one thing people ridicule), he clearly cares a whole lot about his looks—and what people think of them. During a magazine photo shoot, he insisted that a sweater be cut off his back rather than lifted over his head, since that action might disturb the flaxen beast that lives atop it.
When it comes to his appearance, it seems like Trump has a lot to prove—especially about his penis. He boasted about it during a primary debate, and seems to be making a case for it even when ostensibly talking about something else, like his shifting immigration policy: “I don’t think it’s a softening. I’ve had people say it’s a hardening, actually.” Trump’s dick-centric worldview is most nakedly on display when he’s demeaning women to impress “friends” such as snarky radio host Howard Stern, and even a simpering non-entity like television host Billy Bush. It’s infuriating, of course—but it’s also pathetic.
Triumph of the Hill
They should have been more than enough, yet Trump’s racism and xenophobia didn’t torpedo his campaign. Nor did his authoritarian predilections, his jaw-dropping ignorance, or his oozing conceit. Trump has contempt for pretty much everyone beside himself, but it’s his contempt for women that will be his undoing. Right now he is polling 15 to 20 points down among women, the largest gender gap ever recorded in American electoral history. And not only do females outnumber males, we vote in greater numbers.
On November 8, a woman is going to be selected to take on the most powerful position in the world. Do I wish it were another woman? Indeed; principled streetfighter Elizabeth Warren would be my choice. But in terms of symbolism, the ascension of Hillary Clinton—who’s taken shit for everything from the circumference of her ankles and her husband’s affairs to the sound of her laugh and her lack of deference—is a gratifying spectacle.
And you know what, Republicans? You’d better get used to that laugh.
Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, and Northern California Best Places.