Frida Ghitis: With his sexist statements, boasts about sexual assault and objectification of women, Trump has awakened a feminist revolution
She says his rise in politics has made it jarringly clear that women still face degradations and barriers bolted into society's foundations
Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. The views expressed in this commentary are her own.
There’s something of a revolution spreading across social media in the United States and beyond.
You can see it in the sharp reaction after Newt Gingrich clashed with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, accusing her of being “fascinated with sex” when she tried to ask him about women who accuse Donald Trump of grabbing them and kissing them against their will.
You can see it in the curious ways in which women changed their social media profiles to include “nasty woman” after Donald Trump used the term to critique Hillary Clinton, and you can see it in the conversations in Facebook pages, where women are newly and openly venting about their encounters with sexism.
You can also see it in the polls and in the increasing likelihood that Hillary Clinton will win the presidential election, propelled by a growing margin of support from women voters.
A feminist revolution? It’s all rather startling, because it wasn’t very long ago that young women were explaining why they had lost interest in feminism. During the primaries, with Clinton running to make history as the first female president of the United States, a new generation of women voters were indeed excited – but not about Clinton. Millennials, including women, were lining up behind Bernie Sanders, yet another white man.
Feminism had gone out of style. A young writer explained that feminism is “made up of outdated issues,” adding, “we already have everything [feminism] is fighting for.”
But just a few months later, all of that is ancient history. What happened? Donald Trump.
Trump’s rise in the political arena made it jarringly clear that women still face barriers bolted into society’s foundations. Sure, women can get jobs in every field, study in every university, earn good salaries and make life choices that would have seemed inconceivable barely a generation ago.
But the Republican candidate for president has cast a blinding neon light on the everyday indignities of pervasive sexism that gnaw and degrade and look impossible to fight without seeming to make a mountain of what some might view as a molehill.
With his incessant judging of women by their attractiveness and his boasts about grabbing women between their legs and kissing them without their consent, Trump has reinvigorated feminism by reminding everyone, women especially, of the small irritations and the serious violations.
How many women have been told they should smile more? Enough that a spoof video ad “Smyle, for women, the first daily medication that helps you smile,” has drawn millions of views and thousands of comments from women recounting stories of bosses telling them they must smile more.
And when Canadian writer Kelly Oxford went on Twitter with “Tweet me your first assaults… I’ll go first” and told of being grabbed, as Trump put it, “by the pussy,” when she was 12, the response was overwhelming. Tens of thousands of women around the world told their stories of being assaulted.
Trump’s attitude toward women, his words alone, prompted the most powerful speech of the entire campaign. Michelle Obama articulated the experience of women – in the US and around the world – who confront “The disrespect of our ambitions and our intellect…”
“It hurts,” she noted, describing a feeling most men could not grasp. “It’s like that sinking feeling you get,” she said, “when you’re walking down the street… and some guy yells vulgar words about your body. Or when you see that guy at work that stands just a little too close, stares a little too long, and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.”
Men like Trump and his surrogate, Gingrich, like to have it both ways; stretching the limits of what’s allowed for them, and then accusing women of being “fascinated with sex” when they complain about it. Not surprisingly, those words came from Gingrich, a man who is resplendent in his hypocrisy, a cheater, who demanded that Kelly use the words “sexual predator” to refer to Bill Clinton, the president he lambasted in the 1990s for his extramarital activities, at the precise time when he, too, was having an affair.
The good news is that young women who thought the war for equality was won have now become acutely aware how far we have to go. Better yet, they have no intention of abandoning the campaign.
Hillary Clinton explained feminism clearly, saying it has nothing to do, contrary to rumor, with disliking men. Feminists, she said, believe that “women have the same rights as men, politically, culturally, economically.”
That means not being judged primarily as objects of physical attraction, and not being subjected to different standards, such as the one that rejects strong women as overly aggressive and unfeminine.
If Trump wanted to make history, perhaps he can take comfort in the wave of feminism he unwittingly unleashed across the world. Newspapers in Argentina are reporting how women are raising their voices and mobilizing against Trump.
And in Russia, that band of performance artists Pussy Riot released a new video in reaction to Trump. Their trademark provocative words have lost some of their edge since Trump’s use of the word in the Access Hollywood video. The lyrics go, “Don’t play stupid, don’t play dumb, vagina’s where you’re really from.”
Clearly, there is room in this new feminist campaign for everyone’s style, from Michelle Obama to Pussy Riot to mockery of the annoying requirement that women maintain a teenager’s figure and smile incessantly.
Trump has not only breathed new life, new awareness into the demands for equal treatment for women everywhere, but in the process, he sealed his own fate. Pollsters say millennials are now solidly behind Hillary Clinton, and women’s support may well make her president of the United States.
The world can’t take its eyes off America’s most bizarre election in living memory. I started noticing that many months ago, when I began informally surveying global interest in the campaign. Everywhere I went I found great interest. People were asking “Who is Donald Trump?” “What are Hillary Clinton’s chances?” “How did this all get so strange?”