There’s no sadder commentary about gender politics in America today than the fact that the likely election of the first female president has become a horrific display of toxic masculinity. Hillary Clinton is on the verge of shattering the biggest glass ceiling in American politics, yet her rival has made the race all about male privilege and excess. This is not an accident. It’s a product of political choices made not just by Donald Trump, but by the Republican Party that has made him its standard-bearer.
Clinton’s challenge of the gender hierarchy in U.S. politics comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s upending of its racial hierarchy. In Trump, the GOP is providing an answer to both Clinton and Obama in the form of a politician who is not just a white man, but an unabashed white man: a birther who boasts about grabbing women’s genitalia without consent. By making Trump the face of the party, the Republicans are saying, “Our answer to the diversity of the Democratic Party is a white man who knows how to keep women and racial minorities in their place.”
In one of the most insightful articles on the gender dynamics of this election, New York magazine’s Rebecca Traister wrote:
There is an Indiana Jones–style, “It had to be snakes” inevitability about the fact that Donald Trump is Clinton’s Republican rival. Of course Hillary Clinton is going to have to run against a man who seems both to embody and have attracted the support of everything male, white, and angry about the ascension of women and black people in America. Trump is the antithesis of Clinton’s pragmatism, her careful nature, her capacious understanding of American civic and government institutions and how to maneuver within them. Of course a woman who wants to land in the Oval Office is going to have to get past an aggressive reality-TV star who has literally talked about his penis in a debate.
That article was published in late May. We now know that Trump is no run-of-the-mill male chauvinist. He embodies male privilege in its most obnoxious, offensive form.
Beyond the horror of Trump’s boasts about sexual assault in the Access Hollywood tape lies a simple fact about his character: He sees women only as sex objects, their value determined solely by his level of attraction to them. Responding to journalist Natasha Stoynoff’s allegation in People magazine that he sexually assaulted her, Trump attacked not only her credibility but her appearance, telling his followers at a rally, “Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don’t think so.” This is a familiar defense. In 1994, when asked why he had told a female writer for New York that “you have to treat women like shit,” he replied, “The woman’s a liar, extremely unattractive, lots of problems because of her looks.”
Trump’s singleminded objectification of women helps make sense of even his most bizarre comments. He has repeatedly suggested that he’d date his daughter Ivanka if he weren’t her father, including a 2006 appearance on The View when he said, “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” He also has a propensity for telling young girls that he’ll date them when they’re older. In one instance, at the age of 46, he told two 14-year-old girls in a youth choir, “Just think—in a couple of years, I’ll be dating you.” A couple years. Even if you excuse these examples as failed attempts at humor, the fact that he would sexualize his own daughter and barely-teenage choir girls is damning proof of Trump’s sickening view of women’s role in society.
Many people, including Obama, have been puzzled by the fact that the party that touts family values have nominated a man like Trump, who is not just a lewd libertine but openly contemptuous of the social norms dictating that women be treated as human beings. But Trump’s dominance of the Republican Party makes sense when we realize that “family values” is just code for “patriarchy.” And Trump is patriarchy in its most unvarnished form, without even the mask of chivalry to humanize it. Faced with the prospect of a female president, Republicans decided not to embrace social change, as they could have done by nominating Fiorina, but rather by embracing toxic masculinity at its ugliest.