Damseling intensifies over Trump’s failure to venerate women.
Response to two recent stories coming out of the Trump campaign give an interesting look at how egalitarian statements from a candidate can clash with the public’s gynocentrism.
The first instance was over Trump’s response to a request by Chris Mathews, hypothetically discussing illegal abortion during a lengthy interview, that he answer “yes” or “no,” to the question “Should abortion be punished?”
Trump answered, “There has to be some form of punishment.” When asked, “For the woman?” he answered “yes.”
Trump’s answers triggered both sides of the abortion controversy, with abortion advocates accusing him of wanting to cause women’s deaths, and abortion opponents accusing him of misrepresenting their position on abortion. Both sides, using only slightly different terms, described aborting mothers as victims, and criticized Trump’s statement as anti-woman. The outrage burned so hot that Trump has since reversed his statement and adopted the position of his right-wing critics that women seeking abortions aren’t responsible for their actions, but victims of the practitioners they patronize.
While the female victim narrative is consistent with past abortion advocacy, it’s interesting to see it also coming from the opposition, especially in discussing women seeking illegal abortion.
To understand why, one should first take a moment to enter the mindset of an abortion opponent. This is one of the hardest topics to get people to view from the other side’s perspective, but if you’ll bear with me on this, it’ll make clear exactly how senseless the right’s reaction to this was.
In general, those who advocate for an end to legalized abortion do so based on considering the fetus a living human being, entitled to the same protection under the law as any human being. While that belief may be under debate, it’s a solidly held one in the pro-life community.
From that perspective, an abortion is considered the act of murdering a living human being, in which one person is paying another person to do the killing. In other words, to an abortion opponent, the procedure is an equivalent to a contract killing. While many reading this may disagree with that assessment of the act, it makes no sense for those who agree with it to then view the payer as the killer’s victim.
Under the law, when one person is caught hiring or having hired another to kill a third party, there’s a penalty, not just for the killer, but also for the contractor. While there have been cases in which that law has not been carried out or upheld, it exists and maintains punishment for hiring someone to commit a murder. Desperate circumstances rarely prevent prosecution, as even in terrible situations, the individual is expected to seek other avenues of escape.
This raises the question, why would abortion opponents who consider the procedure to be murder exempt hypothetical women seeking it illegally from accountability? This is a group which advocates accountability when arguing that women should carry to term and, if unable to handle raising a child, avail themselves of the adoption system. The existence of other avenues of escape from the rough circumstance of single motherhood should, in the eyes of an abortion opponent, make women accountable, not victimized, when they choose to instead opt for an illegal abortion. By responding to Trump’s statement with the argument that aborting mothers who seek out illegal services are victims of the practitioners they’d be patronizing, these advocates are calling women victims of their own choices.
It’s one thing to refer to abortion advocacy and the abortion industry as a scam. There is logic behind that. It still doesn’t exempt women from accountability, but instead indicates that women should do their own careful research rather than trust providers whose goal it is to sell them a service to be honest with them about everything it involves. It’s another thing, however, to exempt from accountability an individual who seeks out an illegal service in an environment where the prevailing narrative is that said service is an act of murder.
To call that individual a victim requires believing her incapable of mindful moral and ethical consideration. In this instance, Trump’s critics on the right are essentially claiming that women are too stupid to handle pregnancy without breaking the (hypothetical) law. Likely none of them have thought of it that way, because contrary to the above description, they have not followed “abortion is murder” to its logical conclusion and do not view hiring a practitioner to kill one’s gestating offspring an act of violence in the same way one would see hiring a hit man to murder an adult.
Since this is a group which views a gestating embryo as a living human being, it can’t be because it’s not born yet.
Logically, it’s because the person doing the hiring is female. She’s not accountable for breaking the law because she’s female. Paying for a murder isn’t an act of violence because she’s female. Trump is the bad guy, even though his position is pro-life, because his statement didn’t give women a pass on accountability for protecting what this particular segment of his critics otherwise consider a life supremely deserving of protection. This, we’re told, is a misogynistic attitude; such a lack of respect. Doesn’t that man know that women are supposed to be exempt?
The second instance is better described by gender-reversing it.
Imagine, for a moment, that a male reporter who failed to ask his question during a press conference followed and shouted questions at Hillary Clinton as she headed toward the exit, refused to maintain his distance when warned by Secret Service, and when ignored by the candidate, physically reached for her. What if the incident were reported by various news outlets?
There would be outrage from Clinton supporters, especially the women. The reporter would, at the very least, be branded a creep with boundary issues. More likely his actions would be described as dangerous or threatening. He’d be lucky to not get tackled by Secret Service, but only grabbed and pulled back by her campaign manager. He’d be likely to face some type of criminal charge. If he complained about being manhandled, he’d be ridiculed as a wimp and an idiot who should have known better than to chase after a presidential candidate, especially a woman. In fact, his behavior might even be deemed a sign that reporters weren’t taking Hillary as seriously as the male candidates because of her gender.
The behavior described is exactly what former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields did following a press conference with Donald Trump. She had to be restrained from nagging and touching the candidate by his manager, Corey Lewandowski. However, Fields was not criticized as explained in that example. Instead, she damseled for the public, initially lying about the incident, dramatically exaggerating the roughness with which her intrusion was handled. When footage was released showing what really happened, instead of admitting her gaffe and moving on, she went on the offensive. She published a photo of a bruise on her lower arm (not where the video shows her being touched,) and filed an assault charge against Trump’s campaign manager.
In this instance, the left and right aren’t united in their response. Women on the left are calling Lewandowski’s act “violence against women,” and even comparing it to domestic violence.
You read that right. It has been argued that pulling an aggressive person away from a presidential candidate after that person has been repeatedly warned by secret service to back off is domestic violence.
The right isn’t going that far, but both of Trump’s rivals have criticized him for not firing his campaign manager. Even while acknowledging that Fields behaved inappropriately, critics on the right can’t seem to connect that with the consequence of being forcibly prevented from continuing. Imagine what they’d be saying now had Secret Service tackled her the way they did the man who jumped over the barrier in Dayton, Ohio, who received no degree of sympathy for any roughness he experienced as a result of his actions.
The difference is again, gender. Because Fields is female, she is able to exploit as a distraction the social expectation that men must be gentle with women. Lewandowski’s critics are too busy focusing on the experience Fields described to consider the possibility that he might have seen her as a danger to the candidate. In fact, because she’s female, fewer people will naturally consider the idea that she might have been a threat. Her aggressive behavior is being downplayed, and his response to it is being treated as an initial act of aggression.
The exemption from accountability prevalent in both situations is a privilege specific to women in our society. In both instances, the underlying factor leading to the public’s response is a failure to consider women capable of formulating and acting on intent to do harm. That blind spot in America’s view dramatically alters the direction discussion of any conflict or confrontation involving a woman or women will take. The question is, how deep does Trump’s ability to see women as agents of their own choices go, and how profoundly will it affect his candidacy?
- Aggressively woke: feminist-approved “toxic masculinity” | HBR Talk 183 - June 10, 2021
- The supposed gendered nature of coercive control | HBR Talk 182 - May 27, 2021
- Is female agency going to crap? | HBR Talk 181 - May 20, 2021