Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
As President Donald Trump pleaded for the support of suburban women at a Michigan rally Tuesday evening (amidst a pandemic and economic crisis that have caused a mass exodus of women from the workforce), he argued that he deserved their votes because “we’re getting your husbands back to work.” The implications here – that he believes all women have or should have husbands and that workplaces are the province of men – are so sexist and outmoded that they will likely alarm American women who have long become accustomed to inappropriate treatment from their commander in chief.
Before this rally, women were already fleeing from Trump – in CNN’s pre-election polls, Biden’s support among White women (the ones Trump is clearly angling for when he says “suburban”) is 18 points higher than that of Hillary Clinton when she ran against Trump four years ago. But, with these latest remarks, the President has probably put the final nail in his own reelection chances with many women voters.
Before Tuesday, it would have been hard to imagine how Trump could have offended women more than he already has. The president has, of course, been accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women (allegations he denies) and been caught on tape bragging that he can get away with sexual assault. He has regularly disparaged and demeaned women – including his own daughter – by talking about their appearances rather than their accomplishments and by calling them offensive names. But previously, I argued when he called prominent women “nasty,” for example, that he was a misogynist but not necessarily a sexist. On Tuesday evening, Trump made clear that he is both.
A man who is a misogynist, according to Cornell philosopher Kate Manne, punishes women who won’t do what he wants. Trump’s behavior has long made it evident that he fits this bill. Meanwhile, a sexist, Manne says, believes men are better than women at things like business or sports.
Before Tuesday’s comments, it wasn’t entirely clear that Trump was a sexist; he did put some women in powerful positions in his administration and in the Trump Organization. But by appealing to suburban women to support him because he’s helping their husbands, Trump suggested he believes the workplace is the proper domain of men. This is textbook sexism.
Of course, Trump’s assumption that all women have – or should have – husbands is also terribly retrograde and offensive and will almost certainly be off-putting to single women (among others). Unmarried women are more than a quarter of the country’s population, according to the Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund.
His sexism isn’t even the most jaw-dropping of the implications made by these offensive remarks – that’s reserved for how divorced they are from the reality of what American women are really going through. Trump says he’s looking out for the husbands, but it’s women themselves who need help getting back to work: over 800,000 of the 1.1 million people who left the workforce between August and September were women, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
This is unsurprising, since job losses have been especially concentrated in sectors where there are more women, according to the International Monetary Fund, while moms have also been disproportionately taking on the impossible burdens of trying to juggle work, childcare, and home schooling while their kids have been home during the pandemic. Of course, these resume gaps will be devastating to the careers of the women who have lost or left their jobs. According to a 2020 study, Americans with the most employment gaps earn salaries that are 40% lower later on.
But the exodus of this many women from the workplace will also be terrible for the country overall, because it will deprive many organizations of the well-established benefits of women’s leadership and influence. Companies with more women and cultural diversity have significantly better financial outcomes, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But it usually isn’t enough to have just one or two women. Studies consistently find that women must make up at least 20-30% of an institution before they actually shape outcomes. The mass departure of women could deprive organizations of this critical mass, which will make it even harder for our economy to recover. It’s astonishing that a president who claims to be a successful businessman doesn’t recognize this.
Yet while Trump may not understand that the way to help struggling women – and his floundering campaign – isn’t by focusing on men, his remarks do help women understand the president even better. They suggest that he thinks that it is men who belong in the workplace and that women all are or should be married. I suspect that women will respond on Tuesday by putting Trump in his own rightful place – and voting him out of office.