This is a guest post for Reel Girl by Melissa Duge Spiers
To all women who loathe Trump but don’t like Hillary:
In the past week or so we have heard and seen an avalanche of (even more) unspeakable things come out of Donald Trump. Most of us are justly outraged by his attitude and actions toward women: Trump has proven he views us purely as sexual objects, reduced to—and rated ruthlessly on—how we look and our sexuality. Every day hundreds of women give myriad reasons they will not vote for him, and this is one of them.
Many of these same women also give reasons for disliking Hillary, however: she’s nauseatingly smug, she’s cold, she dresses like crap, she must be secretly lesbian. I have heard everything from “I hate those dorky headbands she used to wear” to “why can’t she stop making that awful grin-grimace?” And the number one reason I hear, time and again: I can’t vote for Hillary because she stood by her cheating husband.
At best the above statements would be right at home when judging a beauty pageant; they are all based on rating her appearance or sexuality. At worst, they’re the feminine equivalent of the oldest, most patronizing and paralyzing harassment we’ve each been exposed to forever: why don’t you give me a smile? Why don’t you dress like a girl? You think you can make [X] sexual choice? You asked for it! You’re a cold bitch, you’re a lesbian!
My fellow women: we have a chance to elect a female to the biggest power position in the world, and yet we are picking at her clothing, her smile, her sexual choices. We are basing our votes and the future of our country on our reaction to how she maintains her looks, her facial expressions, and her marriage.
Why do we do it? The simplistic answer is that sexual competition and judging – tearing down or eliminating other women – was traditionally our only source of power in most societies. Two-hundred and fifty years ago Laclos’ “Dangerous Liaisons” villainess, the Marquise de Merteuil, perfectly captured this primal female urge in her personal motto: “win or die.” For the few who have not read the book (or seen one of the film adaptations), the story can be summed up simply: women viciously destroy each other and the man wins. “When one woman strikes at the heart of another she seldom misses,” the Marquise flatly informs the Vicomte de Valmont, “and the wound is invariably fatal.” Indeed, all of the women lose big in Laclos’ tale, in particularly sexually-damning ways—Cecile, defiled, returns in shame to a convent; the Marquise is disfigured and humiliated into never showing her face or using her body again; and Madame de Tourvel is so shame-stricken and humiliated she simply dies (the ultimate sexual give-up) — while the man walks away, smirking, with all of the power in the palm of his hand.
Earlier in the 2016 election season, already disgusted with the playground taunts passing for politics, I tweeted a personal vow (which now seems hopelessly dated and innocent, given how things have circled the drain since): I will not talk about how women look for the rest of the season. I will not join in comparing Heidi Cruz to Melania Trump, I will not weigh in on Megyn Kelly, I will not critique the Trump surrogates’ clothing and makeup choices, I will not discuss Hillary’s wardrobe or everyone’s possible plastic surgery or the attire or looks of any of the reporters who are covering them. (Just to be fair, I am also not going to discuss Donald Trump’s hair, skin color, or hand size either, although I did relish that whole ridiculous defend-my-manhood exchange with Marco Rubio.) I confess: I fell off the wagon once and gleefully tweeted about Melania’s choice of the Pussy Bow blouse after her husband’s big sexual assault bomb dropped—but I have otherwise found the self-enforced ban to be very illuminating. I constantly have to censor myself: we are so conditioned to comment on and tear down other women it leaves one often speechless in finding another topic.
Once Trump paraded Bill Clinton’s accusers through the second debate and we were all newly reminded of Hillary’s marital issues I added an even more important personal ban to my list: I will not weigh in on another woman’s sexuality. Period. Does Hillary love Bill, or is it a marriage of convenience? Did she stay with him because she forgave him, because she secretly likes women better, or because she saw him as a stepping stone for her ambition? I personally hope Hillary has a rotating stable of pool boys at the local Country Club, but I will never say another word about it. I will not pass judgement on any woman’s marriage, I will not speculate on who or what gender she sleeps with, I will not entertain reports of her fidelity or lack thereof. Unless she (not her husband, her aide’s husband, her ex-husband, or any other man in her life) has broken a law with her own sexual behavior I will not form or voice an opinion. Women are not the keepers of morality, we cannot hold them responsible for any man’s sexual actions, attitudes, or behaviors. Furthermore, we cannot assume to know what goes on in their relationships. Most of us would never judge another woman for electing to divorce a cheater; why do we all feel we can condemn one for electing not to? How dare we judge any woman on who or how they choose to love, to divorce, to stay, to marry.
Which brings me back to “Dangerous Liaisons.” I do not think all women should automatically vote for Hillary because she’s a woman; that’s reductive and ridiculous. But every one of us needs to carefully examine our reasons if we choose not to vote for her: is our decision intellectually defensible, or are we allowing our Neanderthal brain, our vestigial sexual competitiveness to drag us into knee-jerk bitchiness? Do we disapprove of her policies or doubt her experience…or do we just dislike her marital situation, her sartorial choices, her personal presentation? And can we live with ourselves and our country if we let this particular man walk away, smirking, with all of the power in his tiny, little…ahem, with all of the power in his hands?