Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in Washington and author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN. This piece has been updated to reflect the latest news.
The President of the United States has a massive platform. He holds the most powerful office in the world. With just a few words, a president can launch a war, move markets, inspire millions, and quite literally change the course of world history.
So, of course, Donald Trump is using that privilege to attack a celebrity he thinks doesn’t love him enough.
Apparently seething about an MSNBC town hall on criminal justice, where participants issued what he deemed insufficient praise for a piece of criminal justice legislation Trump signed, the President tweeted, “I SIGNED IT INTO LAW, no one else did, & Republicans deserve much credit. But now that it is passed, people that had virtually nothing to do with it are taking the praise.” And then: “Guys like boring musician @johnlegend, and his filthy mouthed wife, are talking now about how great it is - but I didn’t see them around when we needed help getting it passed.”
That “filthy mouthed wife” is Chrissy Teigen, a model, author, and Twitter personality in her own right. Teigen leaned into the characterization, tweeting a (to my mind) delightfully filthy response that even worked in one particularly lewd word for female genitalia that the President had previously been caught on tape claiming to grab (Trump: “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.” Teigen: “lol what a p**** a** b****. tagged everyone but me. an honor, mister president.”)
Donald Trump is a bad-insult machine, and he regularly targets men, too. But his objection to foul, filthy language is primarily directed at women. Chrissy Teigen is a “filthy mouthed wife.” Ilhan Omar is “Foul Mouthed Omar.” Elizabeth Warren “has a nasty mouth.” Congresswomen who criticized him should apologize for the “foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said. So many people are angry at them & their horrible & disgusting actions!” (“Disgusting,” by the way, is a word he mainly reserves for women he disdains.)
This is from a President who isn’t exactly known for his decorum. But Trump has been clear. He mainly expects women to be ornamental, not outspoken. Like children, they should be seen (and present themselves as attractive), but not heard.
This is evident in Trump’s own hiring decisions: As President he has brought on far fewer women (and people of color) than his predecessors, making his cabinet the whitest and most male in recent history. Women are fine in theory, but not in positions where they might challenge, inform or even contradict him.
Teigen, luckily, is an excellent foil for a fame-thirsty President who, behind all the bluster, is fundamentally seeking the approval from the many who have long rejected him for being boorish, uncouth, racist, and generally repulsive.
She’s not a politician, and she doesn’t have to play by political niceties. Nor is she a typical celebrity, clinging to fame by remaining apolitical and hoping that no one boycotts her next movie. Teigen is, indeed, “filthy mouthed,” insofar as she sometimes uses curse words and often speaks her mind quite plainly.
She’s also refreshingly authentic, the kind of celebrity people (like yours truly) who generally ignore celebrities are surprised to find so winning. She has the same kind of social media magnetism as Trump, except that hers comes from being smart, self-effacing, funny, while to many people (like yours truly) his is more the “can this really be happening?” shock-horror combo.
No one ever wins a Twitter war, but in Teigen v. Trump, she has clearly come out on top. No doubt our thin-skinned President, who reportedly whiles away his evenings yelling at the television, will try to strike back in his own loosely-cogent (to be kind), inexplicably capitalized way. Teigen is a woman, after all, and she has embarrassed him.
But women are watching. And even women who may not pay close attention to politics know the feeling of a man jeering at us for being insufficiently ladylike. We know the frustration and fury that rises when we are identified not by our own accomplishments or even our own names, but by our husband or closest male relative (Trump didn’t even use Teigen’s name; she is, as far as he is concerned, John Legend’s wife).
A Twitter spat isn’t going to lose Trump the election. But with every repeated act of misogyny – blatant or subtle or in between – voters see him in sharper relief. His angry white male base may see in him a hero standing up to the harpies and harridans whom they resent as nagging or emasculating or see as threatening to take their jobs.
But the many, many women who make up more than half of the US electorate don’t see a hero. They see a man who hates us. Every new sexist outburst seeds a little more clarity, both in women and the men who actually like us. And each voter who sees Trump for who he is becomes a voter who cannot cast a ballot for him in 2020.