Oh, where to begin.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has said a lot of things that would torpedo the campaign of a mere mortal, but his Teflon among Republican voters has been impressive. But now, the torpedoes are coming from all directions.
In the first presidential debate for the Republican primary, Fox anchor Megyn Kelly asked Trump if his past descriptions of women – as “fat pigs, slobs, disgusting animals, and dogs” –might exacerbate the perception of the “Republican War on Women.”
At the debate, he answered by discounting concerns about his comments as mere “political correctness” that he doesn’t have time for. But as the night wore on, his responses just kept getting more offensive.
He tweeted that Kelly’s question was “ridiculous” and that she “was not very good or professional,” and referred to her as a “bimbo.”
It was as if he was hell-bent on using every sexist trick in the book to attack an assertive woman’s credibility. Rather than address the question, Trump challenged her question as nonsensical. He indicted her ability to do her job. He reduced her down to Barbie- doll status (bimbo). And the public response to those comments was fairly muted, it’s just Trump being Trump.
But then he pulled the period card. In an interview with CNN, Trump said “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” And that’s what it took for everyone to say “ Oh no, he didn’t!”
It’s nothing new to suggest that menstruating women are hysterical harridans. The myth of “hormonal” women as lunatics has had tremendous staying power from the time of Aristotle to today. Scholar Lauren Rosewarne has documented the impact of the “menstrual accusation.” It serves to immediately invalidate a woman’s concerns and her competence.
But something shifted in the public sphere this weekend. There was the expected horror expressed by liberals, but then the Republicans piled on. Senator and Presidential candidate Lindsay Graham, (who already called Trump a “jackass” for suggesting that John McCain was not a war hero) said “Enough already with Mr. Trump.” Jeb Bush expressed it in pragmatic terms: “Give me a break. Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters? What Donald Trump said is wrong.” And candidate Carly Fiorina condemned the comment with the tweet: “Mr. Trump: There. Is. No. Excuse.”
Ironically, the most reasoned and passionate criticism of Trump’s comment was from Erick Erickson, the organizer of the RedState conference, who disinvited Trump from the event after the CNN interview. Erickson said: “His comment was inappropriate. It is unfortunate to have to disinvite him. But I just don’t want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal. It just was wrong.”
Despite Erickson’s own history of offensive comments about women, he schooled Trump in the basics of gender equality. Female journalists deserve to be engaged with on the issues they present, not their gender and definitely not their menstrual status. Decades of research show that menstrual phase has no effect on women’s cognitive abilities, and for the great majority of women, little effect on emotional functioning.
The resounding and widespread criticism of Trump’s menstrual accusation was heartening. Even if only motivated by political realities for some, it was a positive step for women in all walks of life. There was a consensus that it is offensive and inappropriate to respond to a woman’s assertiveness this way. And for that, I say , thanks Donald Trump.