I don’t feel much better today than I did the morning after the 2016 presidential election, or the subsequent inauguration. I cling to hope, however, because it’s my nature.
When my 20-something daughters also reacted with anger and hurt after Trump was elected president, despite his publicly exposed sexist history with women, it forced an accidental wisdom to spill from my mouth and heart: this country has seen so much evil, much of it caused and solved by ourselves, that I know we can fix this. We just have to reverse normalizing sexist behavior in our culture.
It started with multicity and international post-inauguration women’s marches, and the first annual repeats this year. We have Indivisible, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and other movements and organizations that provide support for victims of sexual harassment and abuse. Special elections showed that people are registering and voting, and motivated women are running for office. But there is more to do.
Trump made it clear that he is an unabashed sexist when he was a candidate. His admission was superfluous because he “owned” a beauty pageant, which he used as his personal peep show. That should have automatically eliminated him from the campaign. Just a few months after the “Access Hollywood” videotape of his remarks was publicized, look what happened when Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., and others were confronted by their victims. They were out. Why not Trump?
Earlier this month, news surfaced of an alleged cover-up: a pre-election payment to a porn actress to squelch Trump’s extra-marital affair with her. That’s personal, but also pertinent: A politician, backed by Evangelicals, using financial privilege to silence a marital indiscretion is a sexist move. Because it happened close to the “grabbing” comments discovery, Trump invoked male privilege: kill it with money.
Why did people excuse his behavior, especially some women voters? I wanted Hillary to win, but I also thought she should have separated from Bill Clinton years ago, based on his seeming inability to focus on his marriage. Putting marital privacy aside, had she so declared autonomy, she may have campaigned with more solid credibility and respect, which opponents attempted to strip from her daily. Baggage is easier to leave behind when you deal with it first.
By separating herself from one politician who was also given a pass for his sexist actions, Hillary could have driven over Trump, instead of neutralizing, thus normalizing, his offenses. She would have defined historical intolerance of habitual sexist behavior, and therefore highlighted his unfitness for office.
In her role as current first lady, Melania Trump has limply adopted as her cause the social disorder of bullying, a good background for what she seems meant to actually take on: sexism. Private citizen turned public wife of a known sexist, calling out her husband would be an act of profound enlightenment.
She’s possibly already on board. Using their son’s schooling as an excuse, she got a pass for one semester to stay in NYC, away from Trump. In her defense, she is not a law-school graduate, with a history of government service and experience in the Obama White House. She is a beauty contestant who married a rich guy and supported his ambition. That said, she still has a window to pursue her own autonomy.
Since Trump’s pattern is to marry younger women, then get divorced when they age, Melania’s destiny is no mystery. While she has the momentum, support, and the opportunity to define a life for herself and her son, she should act. If Melania never did anything else, she will have empowered women the world over.
Women are speaking out, and men are noting that even the president of the United States can and should suffer the consequences of the sexism and personal privilege he exercises.
Trump is a most unpopular president, and his history with women has a lot to do with it. He needs to know that women mean business, starting at home.
Reach Ellen Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org.