Editor’s Note: Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project and author of “Everyday Sexism.” The project has amassed more than 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality worldwide and expanded to branches in 25 countries. Bates writes regularly for The Guardian, Time, International Business Times and others. She is contributor for Women Under Siege, a Women’s Media Center initiative dedicated to tackling rape in conflict zones worldwide. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Laura Bates: Different forms of prejudice are deeply ingrained within our society
She says Trump voicing such ideas runs risk of reaffirming them as socially acceptable
A man who has called women pigs, dogs and slobs, who has discussed underage girls in a sexual manner, who has joked and boasted about sexual assault, who has smeared Mexicans, who has twice been sued over racial discrimination, who led the “birther” movement and who suggested that Muslims should not be allowed into the country, has a real chance of becoming the next president of the United States.
This is public validation, at the highest level, of some of the most abhorrent prejudices and beliefs existing in our society. That somebody voicing such hatred, so publicly, has faced relatively little significant recrimination and instead stands on the verge of the most powerful office in the world has terrifying implications.
Different forms of prejudice, many exemplified by Donald Trump at various points in his campaign, run deeply ingrained within our society. They are brushed off and glossed over, dismissed as jokes or banter, and normalized through a sense of social acceptability. Trump was even able to bluster his way out of the release of taped comments about grabbing women “by the p—y” by dismissing them as “locker room talk.”
There is a real risk that when someone so popular, powerful and high profile voices these ideas so openly, they are reaffirmed as socially acceptable. Trump has been hailed by many as a brave champion voicing unpopular but widespread opinions in a world where “political correctness” has gone mad.
When it comes to sexism, Trump has used his platform to reinforce prejudice in many of the areas women have battled for decades to challenge public perception. He has suggested that women should be judged and valued according to their looks. He has implied that we are irrational and hysterical while on our periods, impacting on job performance. He has floated the possibility of punishing us for daring to take control of our own reproductive systems. He has claimed that women making allegations of sexual abuse are liars.
He is emboldening all those who secretly hold these views at every turn. If he were elected, it would be a hugely powerful validation of these opinions and would risk securing them in societal acceptability for generations to come.
We already are seeing the impact of such public misogyny being spewed with so little recrimination. With polls showing Trump would win if only men were allowed to vote, thousands of his supporters responded by tweeting #RepealThe19th, suggesting that the amendment that gave women the right to vote should be overturned.
We’ve seen Trump’s supporters follow his lead and abuse Hillary Clinton throughout her campaign on the basis of her sex alone. We’ve seen his famous slogan co-opted by a candidate for insurance commissioner in North Dakota, tweaked to read: “Make America Rape Again.”
There is a common and valid argument that a figure such as Trump airing these views so publicly at least provides an opportunity to get these issues out in the open, and to provide a robust ideological challenge. Certainly it has created the opportunity for powerful and impactful responses such as Michelle Obama’s excoriating speech. Yet while these arguments are important and will resonate, they cannot entirely offset the danger of a man as powerful as Trump trading on the notion that he is liberating millions of Americans by saying what they are secretly thinking.
Perhaps the only remaining chance to turn this fiasco into a positive outcome would be the kind of landslide victory Clinton has appealed for, with Americans across the country using their vote to show that Trump’s misogyny, xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia has no place in the 21st century, let alone in the Oval Office.