The Women Leaders of America Thank You, Donald!
Sorry/not sorry about your no-good, miserable recent weeks, not helped by denials of misconduct during the latest debate, followed by calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.”
But seriously, there was nothing new really in what you said about women—wretched and insulting, yes, but in keeping with many women’s lived experience. Beyond the legalities of what your boasting suggests some men feel entitled to do, it confirms this: we women speak truth when we say that objectification of our bodies has been one of the primary blocks to our progress in this culture, including progress toward parity in leadership roles. That stops now because of the public discussion you have inadvertently fomented.
As a woman in your age range, I learned early how to dip and slip away elegantly from men’s unwanted advances, how to ignore their leering gazes and choose which sexist comments to bother calling out, how to smile at compliments I knew were meant to diminish my standing as a serious player.
I came to realize the offending behaviors were motivated primarily by a learned sense of entitlement to power. The men in question knew not what they knew not, through no fault of their own. It simply never occurred to them that the world, including the women around them, might not be entirely, legitimately their oyster.
We women however did know we had to be the perfect pearl. Attractive enough to get attention; standoffish enough not to be taken advantage of sexually or otherwise. The entire choreography was a dance of power relationships. It’s a lesson I want younger generations of women to be able to stop learning. And, Donald, you might just have helped us get there.
Because here’s the dirty little secret you’ve helped reveal: we can’t improve political discourse until we improve how we deal with sex.
Let’s face it: America has a difficult relationship with sex. The reasons are embedded deeply in our fundamentalist roots, a political system uniquely subject to grassroots influence, and the warp speed at which culturally entrenched ideas and ideals of gender roles are changing. The first time a female candidate may actually become president has traditionalist heads spinning.
These social and political battles start with fights over the body because “women” remains code for “sex.”
The male/female gender binary is a key way power has been allocated in our society. It’s the basis of how privilege is received and denied. But there is nothing natural in this order. It’s part of an old lumbering system that dies hard despite the fact that more women are graduating from college, women are ascending to leadership roles in record numbers, and diversity of all kinds turns out to be of value to the bottom line as well as the right thing to do.
As if that weren’t enough, your pacing, sniffing, and violating Clinton’s space violated every woman’s psychological space in one visceral swoop. Hashtags like #notokay brought an outpouring of previously silent women revealing their first sexual harassment or assault. You can buy your Pussy Grabs Back shirt here.
Michelle Obama brilliantly took you to the woodshed. Hillary Clinton observed the paradox of men who think belittling women makes themselves bigger.
No more. The good news is this: your ugly behavior can force positive responses to change.
I spent 30 years working to advance and defend women’s rights to own and control their own bodies. That was leading edge and remains important. But it’s only part of the equation. Now the world’s great need is to expand the movement to include economic and political power. Women are 51% of the population. We have led companies, been successful entrepreneurs and politicians, scientists, artists and more. There is no logical reason, no ability deficit, and no educational aptitude at issue when a woman steps into a leadership role. Notably, many politicians rushing (at last!) to condemn you invoke their wives and daughters. Apparently the political just became personal for them. But they got it only half right. Women are not asking for protection; we are not looking to be merely allowed into the conversation. We’re changing the conversation altogether.
Women brought everyone into this world and we are taking our rightful place in it, starting with ownership of our own bodies and being the CEO’s of our own lives. You, Mr. Trump, brought out the klieg lights and exposed the old order for what it is: misogyny in a party dress. Human liberation properly includes everyone—no matter the gender. You left your mic on, so now we’re all in on the conversation. It’s a national reckoning that will determine the nature of our character and America’s ability to lead on the diverse world stage. The only remaining question is whether women and men who see the brighter future will have the courage to lead this change to the finish line of full gender parity.
This originally ran in the Huffington Post.
About the Author
Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead, is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. She teaches "Women, Power, and Leadership" at Arizona State University and was named to Vanity Fair's Top 200 women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers.