The Politics of Sexism
By Crystal Defatte
Many people would like to believe that our society has moved into an age that is post-sexism. After all, women have the right to vote, there are policies in place that encourage businesses to hire women, and we even live in an age where a major political party has nominated a woman for president. Yet despite these advances toward gender equality, we still live in a society that perpetuates a patriarchal culture at home, in the workplace, and in politics.
It’s no secret that republican nominee Donald Trump has proven himself to be a sexist. This is a man who, while on the campaign trail, has been quoted as saying in reference to Secretary Clinton, “I haven’t quite recovered, it’s early in the morning, from her shouting that message. I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman because, of course, a woman doesn’t shout.” Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this statement is he isn’t entirely wrong. One can see out dated gender roles being taught as early as preschool. Boys are given toys that revolve around possible careers like fire trucks and police badges, careers that almost always require a certain level of assertiveness, teaching them that their primary focus should be asserting themselves in a career once they become adults. Girls on the other hand are given kitchen sets that teach them the most important thing to aspire to is being good at taking care of a home, not asserting themselves in the workplace. Girls learn from their crying dolls that their job is to nurture and soothe, ultimately internalized into a belief that women don’t shout and make waves; women calm the storm. It’s not surprising to see Trump interrupt Secretary Clinton 51 times during the presidential debate, or to watch the male moderator let those interruptions slide most of the time, because men are taught that they are supposed to assert themselves and their viewpoints at every turn, whereas women are taught that asserting one’s self is akin to being a bitch.
Trump, speaking of Carly Fiorina during the run for the republican nomination, said, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not supposed to say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” We live in a culture where beauty is a commodity. This sexist viewpoint is evident in the job market, as a study done by the University of Messina in 2013 showed that when resumes included a picture of the potential employee, attractive women had a call back rate of 54%, whereas women generally thought to be unattractive had a call back rate of 7%. If you look at magazines geared towards boys you’ll notice that they emphasize and foster an interest in science, discovery, and teach life skills. Magazines for girls emphasize the need to be beautiful and pleasing by focusing on hair and makeup trends and how to land a boyfriend. Aging or overweight male actors continue to get lead roles, whereas a woman generally needs to be young, thin, and exceptionally beautiful to land a similar role. Male characters in movies and TV generally show more depth, whereas women characters are more likely to be the two-dimensional, pretty love interest of the male protagonist. We expect men to value more than a woman’s looks, yet our culture teaches boys and even girls themselves that above all else women need to be beautiful.
Trump also stated in reference to Fiorina, “When I came out, I was competing against 17 very capable people … and a woman.” , As previously stated, our culture is one where assertive women are bitches and to avoid the label women often behave more passively. Women often have credit for ideas stolen from them when they don’t interject when a man parrots back what a woman has suggested. Women are more likely to allow themselves to be interrupted without any attempt to regain control of the conversation. Women often find themselves apologizing and letting the other person speak first when a man starts talking at the same time, whereas men generally keep talking to get their point heard. It is no wonder that women who are simply acting in the way they are taught polite women act are often seen as less capable of being leaders in the workplace or in politics.
Even during the presidential debate Trump refused to walk back or apologize for the sexist comments he has made. When Secretary Clinton brought up the fact that according to Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, Trump had called the beauty queen “Miss Piggy” after she had gained weight following the pageant, Trump’s only response was “Where did you find this?”. He gave no denial, no apology, and no excuse. Instead he doubled down on his remarks when he appeared on “Fox and Friends” the day after the debate, saying Ms. Machado had, “gained a massive amount of weight and it was a real problem.” It is inherently sexist to speak of a woman’s weight as a “real problem” when, judging by his physique, he seems to have no problem with men gaining weight.
Trump may be the most visible example of sexist attitudes this election cycle, but he’s certainly not the only one. I went to a presidential debate watch party where I overheard a man say he couldn’t wait to see what Secretary Clinton was wearing. There was no mention of what kind of suit or tie Trump would be wearing, but this man said he sure hoped Clinton wouldn’t come out in her famous blue pantsuit. This well-meaning Clinton supporter had bought into the idea that a woman in power had to look a certain way. He had made no mention of what points he’d like to see her make, just simply what he wanted her to wear. When Clinton came onto the debate stage, the woman he had said this to remarked, “Oh good, she wore power red.” I was irritated that fellow democrats would think her outfit was somehow important to the debate; it wasn’t like there was a chance she’d come out wearing anything unprofessional. I was ashamed that in that moment I had become one of those women who didn’t want to make waves and would rather sit quietly instead of voicing my opinion. Finally, I was saddened by the realization that because of the culture we lived in, they were right, what she was wearing would be scrutinized and did indeed matter.
After the debate, when pundits go over the highlights of it and decide who won before the American people even have a chance to process and weigh in on what they’ve seen and heard, Fox News’s Brit Hume had this to say: “And she looked, I think for the most part, she looked composed—smug sometimes—not necessarily attractive.” Merriam-Webster defines smug as “having or showing the annoying quality of people who feel very pleased or satisfied with their abilities, achievements, etc.”, certainly this is a characteristic we’ve seen Trump display, yet he made no mention of smugness when describing Trump. Perhaps this is because taking credit for and finding satisfaction in one’s abilities is only “unattractive” when it’s a woman doing it. It seems, at least in my opinion, that when a man does it he is generally viewed as simply confidant. Brit Hume is also the same man who described Clinton as having “not-so-attractive voice,” and a “sharp lecturing tone”, as if she should have instead sounded like a phone sex operator in order to sound more pleasing.
This constant need to pick apart and analyze a person in power’s voice, mannerisms, and dress is only applied to women. We rarely hear about a man’s voice being too annoying for politics. You’ll rarely hear pundits talk about how a man needs to smile more to seem more likable and warm. You will rarely hear two people talking about what a male candidate is wearing or should be wearing. A male candidate has never, to my knowledge, had to deal with his opponent say he is too ugly for the job. These things are known to be irrelevant in choosing a male for office, yet women are held to a different standard.
It is easy to become discouraged about the future of women in politics when we see them treated with such disrespect, but we are in a period of time where a cultural and political revolution is already taking place. Sexism will die out if we teach our children to be whole people without segregating them into conventional gender roles. It will die out if we recognize it and address it when we ourselves are guilty of it. It will die out if we have the courage to speak out against it when we see it in others. Sexism will die out when we as a culture decide to judge a woman based on the same criteria we would judge a man. If we are to see our daughters become respected leaders we must first break the chains of the patriarchal society we still live in today.