How Trump and the GOP Spent Women’s History Month
Despite what they claim, the Trump administration and the Republican Party have never been tireless champions for gender equality. While they’ve said they respect and honor women with little to no evidence in their favor, these past few weeks have been particularly revealing for how they see and value women. To make a long story short: they don’t, and they spent Women’s History Month proving it.
Early in the month, Trump told Planned Parenthood the White House would protect its funding if it promises to cease providing abortions. Surprising no one, Planned Parenthood refused to cow to political pressure and stood by its position that comprehensive reproductive health care includes abortion.
At a campaign-style rally in mid-March, Trump, railing against judges who had halted his Muslim travel bans, told the crowd, “The law and the Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration — when he deems — or she, fortunately it will not be Hillary, ‘she’ — when he or she deems it to be in the national interests of our country.” At a time when Trump looked weak, his preferred tactic was to remind his supporters that at least he was not a woman.
Then there was a major test for the new president’s infamous and well-documented misogyny: his meeting with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel. Trump, looking possibly his most uncomfortable since assuming the office of president, not only didn’t shake her hand, but he didn’t even look in her direction. Compare that behavior to his photo-op with Shinzo Abe, in which he ended his long and awkward handshake by complimenting the Japanese Prime Minister on his “strong hands.” Trump’s bizarre handshakes will one day be the subject of a psychology dissertation. For now I will assume that he views the common greeting as a masculine tug of war, a contest of strength in which the dominant man ensnares the weaker man’s hand, refusing to let go even when normal social conventions demand it.
In another display of not-so-subtle sexism, Trump tweeted that the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May was “strong and doing very well” after a terrorist attack in London. She is the leader of 65 million people — the fact that she is “strong” should not need to be stated. If there were an attack on Russia, can you picture Trump tweeting patronizing condolences to Putin? Probably not, since he’s made it clear even before his campaign that he sees Putin’s machismo as the mark of true leadership.
While Trump has a clear distaste for treating women as equals (with the notable and creepy exception of his oldest daughter), his party hasn’t been doing much better. With the now dead American Health Care Act, Republicans in Congress tried to prevent people from using Medicaid at Planned Parenthood, effectively cutting off access to affordable contraception, cancer screenings, and STI testing for thousands of lower-income women. Is this how you “champion and revere women,” Speaker Ryan?
Then it was Vice President Mike Pence’s time to shine. Remember that the ex-Indiana governor is so extreme on women’s health that his agenda inspired the “Periods for Pence” campaign, in which his constituents bombarded his office with details of their menstrual cycles and gynecological visits. Last Thursday Pence met with members of the House Freedom Caucus to discuss eliminating a requirement to cover essential health benefits, like maternity care. Pence may not have been the only one from the White House at the meeting, but he is the only one who tweeted a picture of the all male group, apparently seeing no problem at all with not inviting a single woman to the table.
Not to be outdone, Republican senators had their day in the sun as well. When asked if he supported the plan to get rid of the mandate for covering essential health benefits, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) told Talking Points Memo, “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms.” Plenty of people responded angrily to the senator’s cheeky comments by informing him that men can get breast cancer too. But is that really the only way to appeal to the need for women’s healthcare? Breast cancer killed more than 40,000 women in 2013, the last year for which data is available, according to the CDC. It will likely kill as many women this year. Is that fact not enough to prove that women’s healthcare matters?
Sexism isn’t anything new under Trump. Republican ideology has never exactly been friendly to women. From the 1991 smear campaign against Anita Hill to Reagan’s stereotype of the “welfare queen,” the GOP has consistently failed to abide by a simple truth: women are human beings. This year’s women’s history month is almost over, but I think it will be one for the books. Time the party in power could have spent advocating for women was instead spent refusing to shake their hands and attempting to take away their health care. They failed this time. It’ll take us all fighting together to make sure this anti-woman agenda fails again.