Hardly anyone I’ve heard has tried to argue that Trump is a good person. One of my mom’s and my favorite quotes is, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” It’s a Maya Angelou quote. Trump has consistently revealed who he is, and I think for the most part people believe him; whether or not that translates to a revocation of political support is another story.
And I also think the response to Trump’s comments about women – both the general ones about appearance and such and the more explicit ones about unwanted sexual advances – shows that people generally understand the gravity of his comments. But there are still people out there supporting Trump, and despite my reservations about Hillary (I cannot excuse the issues plaguing her past either, and I am still terrified at the notion of a liberal Supreme Court determining the direction of business and employment laws), I am deeply concerned about Trump’s impact on our society, and particularly on our young women. There are even deeper issues about self-worth and the human spirit that are not being addressed when discussing Trump’s flippant, disrespectful treatment of women.
Let me caveat this by saying that I think we have made great strides when it comes to the equal treatment of women. But there are remaining obstacles to overcome, and Trump represents every one of these obstacles.
The reason why I care deeply about Trump’s comments is because I was one of those young women whom I can envision internalizing the kind of comments Trump makes and being adversely affected by them. I distinctly remember becoming aware that the world tends to judge the worth of women based on their looks in seventh grade. I will add that I think much of this is perpetuated by women themselves (which for the life of me I cannot understand – but anyone who’s ever seen the satire Mean Girls knows this is true), but it is also perpetuated by men like Donald Trump.
To compound my seventh-grade realization, puberty was not kind to me. Between the bullying on the bus, the lack of friends, and a rather anxious and reclusive personality, seventh grade was mostly a hellish nightmare for me. I didn’t exactly do myself any favors when it came to the social scene, as I tended to carry a book with me everywhere and converse with literary characters rather than real people. But although I did and do of course love reading, books were also my defense, as I was traumatized by most people I interacted with. The literary world was a welcome break from the real one.
I can remember all of the comments on my appearance throughout middle school. “Jesus, if I had your hair, I’d shave it all off and wear a wig.” “You kind of look like a Pomeranian.” “Has anyone ever told you that you look like the Predator?” “Ha! You look like you stuck your finger in a light socket.” Those were a collection of the hair comments…some of which were actually uttered by adults, not kids. The worse parts of my day were the bus rides. I remember the older boy who would seek me out every morning and afternoon while I silently prayed that he would sit elsewhere. I dreaded the moment he stepped onto the bus. One of his favorite hobbies was sitting too close to me, poking me incessantly, and saying the words “penis” and “vagina” over and over again to make me uncomfortable. Which was highly effective. I wouldn’t exactly characterize it as sexual harassment, as that tends to imply some sort of sexual desire – but he frequently reminded me of how very ugly I was, so I knew that wasn’t the case.
I also had the rather unfortunate experience of my hips and thighs filling out much more rapidly than my top half, which made me want to cry when I stepped into the girls’ locker room during P.E., because the girls whose proportions followed the unwritten rule of the beautiful woman, the kind of girls who never talked to me, were confident and beautiful and social and made me want to hide inside the locker and not come out until it was time to go home. I also had connecting eyebrows, which someone, to my embarrassment, brought to my attention in seventh grade. And it was funny because before seventh grade, it never even occurred to me to care. I was confident, active, imaginative, and vibrant, and I didn’t really care what other people thought of me.
I’ve reached that level of peace with myself again, but it was a long, hard road that honestly took me nine or ten years, the discovery of brow waxing (thank God for brow waxing), lots of horrible hairstyles and highlights-gone-wrong, and years of battling eating disorders to overcome. I am light-years from that 12 or 13-year-old seventh grade girl with her forehead pressed up against the glass of the bus, listening to angry music like Blue October’s “Hate Me” and wishing she was anyone but who she was.
As I got older, the conversation changed a bit. Looks still mattered, of course, but there was also the discussion of what a woman should do with her life. And coming from a conservative Christian community, I have to admit that conservative Christianity often doesn’t help. Granted, the ’90s were very different from today, but look up Trump’s comments on the role of a woman to an interviewer in 1994 and you’ll see what I mean. This kind of thinking still persists. I don’t know whether Trump still believes those things, but some people do. We live in an era where women can be anything they want to be, and they can choose how to live their lives. They can choose whether or not they want to get married. They can choose whether or not they want to have children. They can choose (depending on their economic resources) whether or not to stay home, work, or do a combination of both. We live in a world where women can do anything – they can be breadwinners, stay-at-home moms, equal contributors to the household, working moms, single, married, in a relationship, indifferent. They can do whatever the hell they want. And no one should be able to say anything about it or place any kind of value judgment on it. The same goes for men.
So when we have a presidential candidate who thinks he can make these kind of value judgments, who calls women “pigs”, who (allegedly) made sexual advances on women without their consent, who fired a woman from his reality show for being, in his opinion, too fat, who responded to a woman’s allegation that he groped her on a plane with “Believe me, she wouldn’t be my first choice”, you can imagine why I might be worried for the young women of America. Don’t get me wrong, Hillary has plenty of flaws, and with the exception of some of her social stances, I disagree with most of her policies.
But for the self-worth of our female youth (and a host of other reasons, not the least of which is that I don’t want an asshole for president of the United States), I cannot elect Donald Trump. I want to live in a world where women are respected and celebrated for their intellect and achievements, the impacts they make on people, and quite frankly the people they are – rather than how they look or how sexually desirable they are. Donald Trump is not the sole problem, of course – but he is a representation of it and as a leader, he may have the power to perpetuate it.
And I simply will not stand for it.