We are now writing our next book; the working title: What Women Want to Hear, and Why Men Won’t Say It. The premise is that men frequently disappoint and frustrate women, and we want to tell them why. For example, a woman wants to talk to her husband about his angry outbursts at their son who’s gotten in trouble at school again. Her husband says, “Let’s just ground him for a couple months,” turns his back on her, and goes downstairs to watch the Steelers’ game. So, even as I write this, we’re finishing a chapter on misogyny, and Wow! here’s a presidential candidate who confirms that misogyny is not so much alive and well as it is alive and deadly to women.
When Donald Trump calls women “fat pigs,” “dogs,” “slobs,” and “disgusting animals,” and says he sees blood coming out of Fox debate moderator, Megyn Kelly’s eyes and her “whatever,” it seems like maybe our title ought to be, what women don’t want to hear, and why men keep saying it.
The problem with Trump, the huckster, is not simply that he makes insulting remarks about women to get attention; it’s that the attention, the enthusiasm permitting the GOP frontrunner to not only get away with these comments, but to be celebrated for them, speaks to a deep and dangerous tension in our society.
The simple fact is that there is a toxic kind of power attached to these statements, one with deep roots in mascupathy. In comments such as these, some men find support for their anger at women and permission to act out in emotional and physical abuse as well as sexual assault. This is because uttering slurs like Trump’s is a way of strengthening relationships in what we refer to as “the man pack,” where men connect to each other in the superficial (but all too real) setting of naming and policing what they are not – which usually amounts to ‘weak’ and effeminate.
It’s through this type of relating, which is really non-relating, that so much violence is codified and accepted in the ‘boys will be boys’ approach to male culture. When this kind of language moves from the bar stool (where it is still dangerous) to the world stage and becomes a dialect in which we think about the most powerful position in the country, then we have a real problem on our hands.
In her New Yorker piece of August 11, Margaret Talbot points out that, in their exchange during the Fox news debate, Kelly asked Trump if his abusive language toward her “called to mind ‘the temperament of a man we should elect as President.’ It was a legitimate question, but Trump offered no real answer, let alone regret; the problem, he said, was ‘political correctness.’”
What’s really discouraging, Talbot concludes, is that none of the other nine candidates onstage confronted Trump on his women-bashing comments. What’s perhaps most frightening about the situation is that it’s impossible for men in this position – running for the “highest office in the land” – not to know that comments like these are offensive and dangerous to a great many people. Which means that our candidates know that misogyny is so alive in their political base that to speak against it would be deadly to their campaigns. Instead, they perpetuate it with their silence.
In our upcoming book, we lament the absence of outrage over misogyny and the fact that it continues to be viewed as a series of unrelated behaviors instead of a societal malaise, too often dismissed as “just the way guys are.”
The story of Trump’s malicious comments was “trumped” by national outrage at trophy hunting after the murder of Cecil the Lion. Certainly this is concerning, but let’s see if we can summon up some of that unifying indignation at the malevolent comments of this self-aggrandizing and enormously careless man. Especially as men who care about women and men who care about each other, let’s make creating a new standard for “the way guys are” a priority.