Two years ago I wrote a piece arguing that threatening women with rape or violence and using gendered slurs to smear them was not ok to do even when the woman in question is an awful person. Although this seems obvious to many of us, it has become the most controversial thing I have ever written, with detractors trying to come up with elaborate situations that might make it ok to threaten to rape a woman, such as situations involving, I kid you not, wizards with nuclear bombs.
In the past year as Trump and his cronies have gained power, it has brought us new women that have done hateful things deserving of intense criticism. Of course, criticisms of these women don’t stick to attacking them for the vile things they do, but veer into gendered slurs and attacks on their appearance. Even though most self-identified progressives say they are against sexism and misogyny, it appears that in practice many just do not believe this applies when their target is a conservative woman.
Since many of these women do have loathsome views and are gaining power in the United States due to their proximity to President-Elect Trump, they should be strongly condemned and called out by progressives, but no matter how reprehensible their views or actions may be, it’s still not ok to do so in a way that forefronts their gender.
I’ve created a handy guide on how to criticize conservative women without being a sexist asshole with help from our childhood’s bad boy and good boy Goofus & Gallant.
Kellyanne Conway was Trump’s campaign manager and likely played a big part in his winning the election. She is fair game for criticism of the role she has played in getting Trump elected to the presidency and for many of her vile views, such as her view that if women were stronger they would be able to easily fight off their attackers and therefore rape would not exist. However, the worst way to attempt to attack these comments is to call Kellyanne Conway a cunt. In fact, calling her a cunt in and of itself promotes rape culture.
Although using gendered slurs may not seem like that big of a deal, it really is because it perpetuates stereotypes about outspoken women. When you call Kellyanne Conway a bitch or cunt, you’re telling all women that we better shut our mouths and never do or say anything assertive. Instead of being like Goofus and using gendered slurs such as “cunt” or “bitch,” try instead to use a descriptive gender-neutral term to describe her and then explain what she did or said that makes that term applicable to her.
This particular comment by Goofus is a twofer, using ableist language and criticizing Kellyanne Conway’s appearance. I’ll get to the ableist language later, but for now let’s focus on the comments about her appearance. Kellyanne Conway is a 49 year old woman, which means that she shows signs of aging that are not considered to be conventionally attractive to some people. I’m not sure if you are aware of this, but it turns out that all women regardless of their ethical standards have bodies that age over time. In fact, the age or attractiveness of a person is not at all correlated with one’s morality.
When you criticize Kellyanne Conway’s appearance, you’re telling all women that we only have worth if we are conventionally attractive. Instead of talking about how unfuckable you happen to find Kellyanne Conway in your incredibly subjective opinion that literally nobody cares about but you, try being like Gallant and focusing on the things she does or says that deserve criticism and explaining why they are wrong.
In this comment, Goofus gets things half right by pointing out that criticizing Michelle Obama for wearing clothes that show off her shoulders or legs is sexist. However, he then goes on to make similar comments about Melania Trump. Presumably Goofus believes there is some percentage of a woman’s skin that she is allowed to show before she can be called a slut, seeming to not realize that just because he has moved the classy/slut line, it doesn’t make it any better than conservatives pooh poohing Michelle Obama for wearing a sleeveless dress.
Yes, Melania Trump has done nude photo shoots, but this has nothing to do with who she is as a person or the things she has done that should be criticized. When you call Melania Trump a slut, you’re telling all women that we must hide our sexuality in order to earn respect. Instead, follow Gallant’s example and use a gender neutral term to describe Melania along with an explanation as to what she has done that makes it fair to describe her using that term.
Unlike the other types of unfair criticisms I wrote about here, ableism is a narrative weapon that is often used against people of all genders, though this particular flavor of ableism, criticizing someone for their perceived lack of intelligence, does seem to get used a bit more often against women due to stereotypes that women, particularly conventionally beautiful women, lack the intellect of men.
A person’s intellect doesn’t actually correlate with how ethical a person’s ideas are or how right a person is. Very smart people can sometimes believe in things that are wrong and some people who may be considered to be of lower intelligence might still be incredibly thoughtful and have beliefs more in-line with reality than some of their smarter peers. When you call Kellyanne Conway a moron, you’re telling all people with intellectual or learning disabilities that they have no worth to society. Instead, be like Gallant and criticize Kellyanne Conway by explaining why the things she has said are wrong and damaging to society.
I actually have some good news on the “rape threat” front. I looked far and wide for an example of someone threatening to rape one of the many women known to be close to the PEOTUS and I couldn’t find any. I’m sure that some progressive somewhere has made a rape threat against Melania or Ivanka or Kellyanne Conway, but after spending some time doing various searches on twitter, I couldn’t find any to use as an example for this piece. So, nice job progressives for not threatening to rape someone today! This makes you just a tad better than the alt-right. Feel free to pick up your “I am doing the bare minimum” sticker on your way out.
There is a photo going around of someone at an anti-Trump protest holding up a sign reading “Rape Melania” though there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it is a photoshop. Although #RapeMelania on twitter has gotten traction, the hundreds of tweets with that hashtag appear to be all conservatives asking the media why they aren’t reporting on all the invisible progressives that supposedly made #RapeMelania trend. Even so, Goofus is kind of an asshole so if someone is going to use #RapeMelania in a serious manner, it would be him. This is the only example on this list that is not quoted from an actual tweet.
If you were thinking about making rape threats, even jokingly, about a conservative woman or literally any woman anywhere, please don’t. It’s never ok, not even if there is a wizard. When you threaten to rape Melania, you are telling all women that we better stay in our place or violence against us is our fault. Instead, like Gallant does, criticize Melania by explaining in detail what she has done that makes her such a vile person.
A woman’s right not to be the target of gendered harassment is not conditional on her words or actions. If Hitler had been a woman, it still wouldn’t be ok to slut shame her. When you attack a woman like Kellyanne Conway or Melania Trump with gendered harassment, all it does is drown out all the legitimate criticism against her and perpetuate rape culture by reinforcing negative gender stereotypes that punish all women who make themselves too visible in society. It also compels me to have to spend time defending vile people like Kellyanne Conway, which just makes me feel gross. Stop being a Goofus and start being a Gallant by spending the time you would otherwise use to call women cunts to write thoughtful and compelling criticisms of pro-Trump conservative women and men that will help us fight back against the Trump administration during the next four years.