Last night, after an impressive five-state sweep, Donald Trump said, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card.”
This is bad on so many levels.
It’s bad because it’s so sexist and misogynist. It’s not exactly shocking coming from Donald Trump but it is pretty shocking to think that the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party is so blatantly disrespectful to such an accomplished person that he tries to belittle her accomplishments by saying they’re all due to her gender. It’s actually reminiscent of things Kanye West says about Taylor Swift, but at least Kanye isn’t running for president (yet).
It’s bad because it’s against the great weight of evidence. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has any awareness of American history, but political candidates don’t do better because they are women, which might help explain the lack of a female president or vice president and the large gender imbalance in Congress and the Supreme Court, both historically and currently. Polls show that significant percentages of the population believe that the U.S. is still not ready for a female president and that significant percentages of voters, particularly Republicans, wouldn’t vote for a female candidate and/or know people who wouldn’t vote for a female candidate. Any female candidate. Let that sink in. That’s not saying that a female candidate would have to work harder to earn votes; it’s saying that it’s impossible for a female candidate to earn certain votes because of their sexist and misogynist views. Yet Trump thinks Hillary is only as popular as she is because she’s a woman? No. And if being a woman was so helpful in presidential politics then Carly Fiorina would have done much better.
It’s bad because we have a similar scenario to evaluate the claim. If Hillary Clinton were a man … she would have been an ambitious man who graduated from Yale Law School in 1973, worked in politics while being a law professor in Arkansas and advocating for children and education, and was known as a future political star. If only there were a man like that … oh wait. There is. He was the 42nd president of the United States. Obviously, Bill and Hillary are different people. But it’s not unreasonable to think that Hillary made many decisions to put Bill’s career first because he is a man and she is a woman and if she were a man she’d be even more accomplished than she is, which is pretty incredible given that she’s a former senator and secretary of state.
It’s bad because it continues a disgusting trend of downplaying people’s accomplishments and attributing it to demographic factors rather than hard work and talent. There were the disturbing claims that people only voted for President Obama because he’s black–some went so far as to say blacks were racist because they voted for him only because he was black. Unfortunately, claims like this are not uncommon, as anyone with an internet connection knows. Whenever someone who is not a white man achieves something there are snide comments about that achievement only being because of demographic factors. Trump brags about going to the best schools and claims he’s a smart person, and there aren’t conversations about him only being able to attend those schools because he’s a white man. Yet many have argued that President Obama only was admitted to Harvard Law School due to his race, and that he shouldn’t have been admitted, regardless of the fact that he graduated magna cum laude and was editor of the Harvard Law Review, which are incredible accomplishments by any measure.
It’s bad because it’s another example for girls and young women that if they try to accomplish something great they will be critiqued and criticized throughout the process, including due to their gender. It’s hard to ask them to lean in when they have to put up with so much more than guys do. Be strong but not masculine. Work hard but don’t be too ambitious. Be a leader but not bossy. Make your voice heard but don’t shout or be shrill. Be a team player but don’t be a wallflower. Look pretty but don’t dress suggestively. Be intelligent but not obnoxious about it. Know it all but don’t be a know-it-all. Work hard but don’t look like you’re trying too hard. Be compassionate but not too emotional. And do it all in heels. The standards for female leaders are ridiculous and we do ourselves and our future no favors if we discourage women, who now earn more college degrees than men, from taking leadership positions, especially in politics. This election shows that if you’re a man you can be old and racist (Trump), old and disheveled (Bernie), inexperienced and robotic (Rubio), an obese bully (Christie), unpopular everywhere but your home state (Kasich), and historically unpopular among your peers (Cruz) and still have a chance at winning a presidential nomination. If you’re a woman you have to be incredibly accomplished, smart, polished, and hard working with a life devoted to public service. And you’ll still be told that you’re only getting votes because you’re a woman.
It’s bad because it’s a stupid statement from a candidate who should be trying to pivot to the general election and appealing to more people, not fewer. Trump’s numbers with women are already horrible and this is only going to hurt them. Romney beat Obama 56-42 among white women in 2012 and still lost in a race that wasn’t particularly close. If Trump is going to have any chance of winning in November he is going to have to do even better with white women, not worse. Statements like this won’t help. Maybe Trump is just trying to solidify his base, many of whom are poorly educated and don’t have enlightened views on race or gender, but, thankfully, his base won’t be nearly enough if he actually hopes to become president.
Donald Trump has said a lot of stupid things, a lot of harmful things, a lot of hateful things. Each new bad quote isn’t particularly surprising. But each is disappointing.