Last week, America received definitive proof that Donald Trump is exactly and precisely as awful as his political opponents have long said, thanks to a 2005 audio tape in which we collectively heard him boast of his capacity to physically assault women at will.
It was, I'll admit, somewhat heartening to see the outraged backlash. Women have been the objects of gendered harassment, abuse, and assault throughout recorded history, and it's only been in recent decades that we've begun to convince society that that's a problem. For every person who insisted that the tape was a "boys will be boys/locker rooms will be locker rooms" moment, there were seemingly 20 others who were openly horrified.
But not all outrage is created equal. There was a fair amount of pearl clutching about Trump's vocabulary (as if the word "pussy" were the affront), and some concern that in one of his boastful tales, Trump was married and making moves on a married woman (as if married people haven't been having sex with people to whom they're not married since the dawn of marriage.) And then there were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
The Republican Party's Congressional leaders both registered strong disapproval of Trump's behavior within hours of Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold breaking the news — and on the face of things, were as righteous in their indignation as the next feminist. Let's go to the statements:
McConnell: "As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments."
Ryan: "Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump… works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests."
Respect! Why, these legislators sound almost like an Aretha Franklin song!
Except not so much — because if you really listen to these statements and others like them (Jeb Bush: "As the grandfather of two precious girls, I find that no apology can excuse away Donald Trump's reprehensible comments degrading women") you can hear the patriarchy calling from inside the house.
When you talk about women as Trump does, you dehumanize us, stripping us of agency. When you talk about women like McConnell, Ryan, et al do — as people who exist in relationship with men and require championing and reverence — you dehumanize us, stripping us of agency. Sorry, Speaker Ryan, "champion and revere" is the flipside of Trump's "grab 'em by the pussy" coin — it's all objectification.
Women don't deserve to be treated with the respect due any human being because we're someone's daughter — we deserve to be treated with the respect due any human being because we're human beings. And if you insist on championing and revering us, what happens when you decide we're no longer worthy of your efforts?
People of color in particular have pointed out that the GOP didn't flip out during the years in which Trump led the birther chorus, or during the months in which he disparaged the Mexican people as rapists, or when he referred to Latina former Miss Universe Alicia Machado as "Miss Housekeeping." No, indeed, what got these mostly white, mostly male Republicans to don their armor and mount their steeds? The verbal abuse of white women.
Which is deeply problematic in its own right, and upon further examination, even more revealing than these men may realize — because history shows that even the privilege of being a white woman isn't enough to guarantee the GOP's chivalry.
Remember Sandra Fluke, who had the temerity to try to tell Congress that birth control is health care? How about country music stars the Dixie Chicks, who had the temerity to exercise their constitutional right to express an opinion about President George W. Bush? For that matter, what about Hillary Clinton, about whom Trump's supporters have been making vile comments (and T-shirts and signs) for months? How many Republican leaders have championed the good names of these women?
No, apparently, women are to be championed, revered, and treated with the tenderness reserved for daughters — but only when Republican men agree with what we have to say. Otherwise, that pedestal is made of sand, sister.
It's very important to note that sexism is hardly unique to conservatives. As a lifelong liberal, I can assure you that misogyny is an equal opportunity social ill — just listen to Bill Maher, or ask yourself how many women Democrats have nominated as their presidential standard bearer.
But for Republicans in particular to be in a froth right now is excruciatingly hypocritical. No one gets a cookie for saying that Trump violated the honor due to their women. Do you know what all women — regardless of relationship, color, or interest in men — actually need?
Equal rights. Let's get on that.