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Win or lose, Trump is bad for gender equality

Donald Trump and his campaign are damaging to women, and the effects are going to last longer than November 8.

By Stephania Varalli

Remember 2012? The most talked about gender equality issue to come up in that presidential election was Romney’s “Binders full of women.” Four years later, and we’ve lowered the bar down — way down, horrifically down — to “Grab ‘em by the pussy.”  

This is more than a shocking sound bite. It is a tagline to a campaign that has caused lasting damage to women’s equality, in the United States and beyond.

It’s important to remember that the release of the notorious hot mic recording was more of a culmination than a surprise. Trump’s misogyny is well documented — his own Twitter account is as damning as the “corrupt media” — from open insults, to objectification, to workplace discrimination. His supporters land somewhere on a spectrum between ignoring this behaviour, rationalizing it, or applauding and joining in.

The Trump Tape certainly lost him some votes, as did the dozen women who have come forward since to accuse him of the very sexual assault he described on it, but his polling numbers have recovered slightly and he still has a narrow path to victory. The #NextFakeTrumpVictim hashtag persists. Trump is threatening to sue his accusers, and there’s an army of surrogates that are doing all they can to justify his behaviour.

And while Trump’s dismissal and attack on his alleged victims is deplorable (yes, he has not been proven guilty, but “She would not be my first choice” is a defense strategy that only digs the pit deeper), it’s the work of his fellow Republicans that I find most disturbing. Many are borderline ridiculous, including conspiracy theories about immovable armrests on First Class flights, and claims of hypocrisy that are based on connecting Hillary with Beyonce and her “lewd” lyrics (and that’s just one of the hypocrisy angles). Unfortunately, most are exactly the kind of arguments that keep sexual assault victims quiet, that embolden perpetrators, that unfairly lump all men into one unenlightened category, and that set back the equality conversation for all women.

“Nobody has more respect for women than I do — nobody.”

             – Donald Trump, proving that he needs to look up the definition of respect

Newt Gingrich referred to Trump’s alleged assault of Jessica Leeds as a “bad airplane flight” and “thirty-year-old gossip.” Joe Scarborough said he was “skeptical about the timing” of the claims.  Ben Carson took the Locker Room Talk defense to a new level, suggesting that the problem is women don’t hear it often enough, which is what caused it to be shocking. Ivanka Trump tried to argue that he’s an equal opportunity offender, which she offers up as her father’s version of gender equality. (This is almost as cringeworthy as Donald Trump Jr. suggesting that women who can’t handle harassment “don’t belong in the workforce” and “should go maybe teach kindergarten.”)

Let’s look at the messages they are sending to women. Any reaction to sexual harassment is an overreaction. If you want to come forward, your motives will be questioned. Talk is harmless. Toughen up.

No matter who you are voting for (or rooting for), you can see it’s a step backwards for gender equality. And it’s an insult to all of the people that fought so hard to eradicate this kind of aggressive and demeaning behaviour from the locker room to the boardroom.

Win or lose, the damaging rhetoric has been repeated enough times that it has, at the very least, changed what is considered acceptable discourse, and at the worst, emboldened men who had only thought these things to speak or act. Trump has given unacceptable behaviour a voice. His team has worked every angle to justify it. And let’s not forget that this election is being watched worldwide.

I’m comforted by the fact that women are keeping Donald Trump from a sure path to victory. And that “nasty woman” was almost instantly appropriated as a feminist rallying cry. I will feel far better if Hillary Clinton is elected on Nov 8, not by a slim margin but by a definitive, message-sending landslide.