The politics of misogyny
The media is replete with analysis and counter analysis of the ongoing US presidential race. So far, I have refrained from adding my voice to the cacophony because politics is not my cup of tea! This does not mean that I have not been perturbed by the bizarre and bitter campaign rhetoric. Republican candidate Donald Trump has consistently attacked Muslims, Hispanics and African-Americans. But what has revolted me the most is his utter disrespect for women, despite the fact that they constitute about 53 percent of the electorate. His attitude is well documented in the Access Hollywood (2005) taped conversation with journalist Billy Bush, where he bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women saying that "when you're a star, they let you do it!"
Since the release of the tape, several women have come out and accused Trump of making unwelcome sexual advances. This notwithstanding, what has particularly riled me is the outrageous defense put up by Trump supporters. A female spokesperson for the Trump campaign declared unabashedly that American voters were not interested in the sexual assault stories, but in "policies and real issues". I am no professed feminist, but as a person who believes in equal rights for women, I would like to highlight some of the "real issues" underlying Trump's misogynistic behaviour. Issues that not only affect women, but our society and our world:
1. Trump's derogatory comments about women cannot be waived off as mere locker room banter. For they reflect how men like Trump perceive women. More seriously, as the presidential nominee of one of the major political parties in the US, Donald Trump is expected to set the highest standard of probity. It is therefore pertinent to ask: Will "President Trump" serve as a role model for young people who learn by precept?
2. Trump is somewhat of a loose canon hurling insults at the media and minority groups. But when he calls his opponent "nasty" and a woman a "fat pig", he breaks an inviolable code of etiquette. After all, one of the first lessons in civility we teach our children is not to indulge in abusive name-calling. Social interaction must be guided by certain standards or else we would have a society where disrespect for a fellow human being, especially a woman, becomes the norm.
3. According to allegations, Trump's sexual misconduct extends to the workplace. For decades, women have been fighting against sexual harassment and exploitation with a fair degree of success. The fact that Trump's surrogates consider his predatory actions to be a non-issue is a serious blow for the movement to secure a respectful environment for women, both at work and outside.
4.Trump's wife Melania claimed in an interview that women "throw themselves" at her husband, implying that he is the victim, not the predator. This is, of course, the traditional male chauvinistic point of view where women are told that they need to protect themselves with taboos and "conservative" dress codes lest men are tempted to "assault" them! Ironically, the man then becomes the prey and the woman the seductress.
5. Rather than apologise for his actions, Trump continues to call his accusers "liars". What he fails to comprehend is that a public disclosure by a sexual assault victim is like a violation of her body, once again! Thus Trump's scornful comments may act as a deterrent to many women who wish to identify or prosecute their sexual offenders.
The sad truth is that Donald Trump may have partially undone what social reformers have achieved through years of consolidated effort – a balance between masculine and feminine roles and responsibilities with men and women living by well-defined codes of mutual respect. He may have thrown us back into the medieval era when women were objects of conquest and pleasure. He has successfully exploited the economic anxiety of a segment of the electorate by promising a country where immigrants, minorities and women will no longer be their competition. Unfortunately, his followers (even women) believe in this masculine, sexist image of a "Trumpian America".
Whatever his supporters may say, we cannot deny that candidate Trump's disrespectful attitude and actions toward women are "real issues" in the presidential contest. Americans and the world cannot afford to have someone in the Oval Office who practices and sanctions misogyny. Thus, it may now be exigent that a woman be elected to the presidency. A woman who will make a loud and clear statement: I demand honour and respect because I am capable and I can do the job.
Fortuitously, the American people have been given the opportunity to change the course of their destiny by rejecting Trump's sexist politics and electing their first female president. Hopefully, they will make the right choice for the sake of our daughters – and posterity!
The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.