Donald Trump is What It Looks Like When Women Step Between Men and Power

Barbara Lee
Oct 31, 2016 · 4 min read

Donald Trump’s misogyny escalated with every presidential debate. At the first debate, he interrupted Hillary Clinton 39 times and said she “lacked the stamina” to be president. At the second, his taunts were more malicious as he threatened her with a special prosecutor and said she should be jailed. He did all of this while lurking behind her at every turn. And in the last debate, he called Clinton a “nasty woman” and said he’d leave the American people in suspense over whether or not he’ll accept the outcome of the election if he loses.

Trump has made it abundantly clear that he feels entitled to women’s bodies.

With months of insults hurled at many women, a tape where he brags about sexual assault, and women coming forward with accusations of him touching them without consent, Trump has made it abundantly clear that he feels entitled to women’s bodies. Unfortunately, far too many women know what that feels like and I’m no exception. I experienced horrifying behavior firsthand shortly after my divorce.

One evening at a party, I was walking down a narrow hallway by myself when a man I knew grabbed me by the throat and pinned me against the wall. He then leaned in and said, “I would date you, but you’re too smart and too powerful.” At the time I was too stunned to respond. Luckily, I walked away unharmed. But thinking about it rattles me still.

That was 20 years ago. Watching the last debate brought the memory rushing back. Trump attempted to intimidate Clinton at every turn with his creepy pacing and scowling demeanor. By invading Clinton’s personal space Trump was trying to assert dominance over her. If he can do that to a person as powerful as Hillary Clinton, imagine how other women at home must’ve felt. It made me cringe.

It is unprecedented to see behavior this aggressive on a debate stage. However, diminishing women by interrupting them, invading their personal space, or belittling their accomplishments is par for the course in everyday life. Sometimes, male entitlement manifests as sexual assault on a college campus. Sometimes, it’s an urging to “Give me a smile!” on a suburban sidewalk. And sometimes, it’s subtle digs at women’s ability to lead.

In two decades working to elect women to public office, I’ve seen it firsthand. At a roundtable discussion with donors to a woman running for governor, I was the only other woman in the room. Men asserted their opinions, talking over me, even though I was the only person in the room with a track record of electing women. It was like high school all over again.

I’ve heard all the excuses for not backing a woman candidate: She’s not ready. She’s not likeable. It’s not her turn. I’d vote for a woman, just not that woman.

In those same rooms, I’ve heard all the excuses for not backing a woman candidate: She’s not ready. She’s not likeable. It’s not her turn. I’d vote for a woman, just not that woman. Once, a towering man got too close for comfort and insisted, despite my expertise and experience to the contrary, that women candidates don’t face higher standards than men and that sexism is over. It was aggressive. It was in my face. It was more than mansplaining. It was a tired and oft-used tactic to dismiss women and shut us up.

This problem is bigger than Trump. Sub-cultures that create and perpetuate misogynistic talk and behavior cause real harm. To men like Trump and the people who support him, women aren’t human beings with agency and autonomy; they are objects to be conquered. For them, a woman’s place is not in power.

Clinton’s candidacy represents a new spin on an old tale: Throughout our country’s history, women have been punished for attempting to own their rightful space. In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested and found guilty of illegally voting. The same year, when the first woman presidential candidate Victoria Woodhull ran as a third party candidate against Ulysses S. Grant, she was dubbed “Mrs. Satan.” The suffragists were mocked as unattractive, man-haters and it took 70 years to win the right to vote. When Shirley Chisholm ran for president in 1972, she was derided as a “transvestite in men’s clothing” who remained under “psychiatric care.”

This helps contextualize the vitriol we’ve seen in this election season — shrugging off sexual assault as “locker room talk”, calling for the repeal of women’s 19th amendment right to vote, telling women they should be “punished” for having an abortion, selling T-shirts emblazoned with “Trump that B*tch” — but it does nothing to excuse it.

When women step between men and the power they’ve always held, the reaction looks a lot like Trump’s sexism spiral on the campaign trail, the debate stage, and at rallies. It’s shaken some men to their core. Trump and others may be turned off by ambitious, qualified women who dare to lead, but the times they are a’changing. The inclusion of women at all levels of government moves America closer to a true democracy. The march of progress is slow but steady.

Hillary Clinton is poised to disrupt the power dynamic that has been the norm in this country since the Founding Fathers put quill to parchment. We’ve seen what it looks like when men figuratively and literally step between women and power.

There’s a simple but significant way for all of us to step between men like Donald Trump and his ascension to power. It’s at the ballot box.

Barbara Lee

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Electing women, strengthening democracy.