BY HARRIET FRAAD | DECEMBER 7, 2016
There was a crucial socio-political message in the radically different gender agendas evident in the 2016 presidential election. This message remained under the radar until it was brought to the fore by a video from 2005 in which Trump boasted about sexually assaulting women. That video went viral, inspiring millions of women to confront their own histories of sexual assault. Its magnitude was illustrated by the fact that when Kelly Oxford, a well known blogger inspired by the Trump Video, shared her first experience with sexual assault and invited others to share their experiences. She expected 50-75 responses and received 27 million. The video indirectly placed gender attitudes and attitudes towards women and women’s sexuality as a focus of the 2016 presidential election.
There were stark differences between all three of the main actors who were serious final contenders on the presidential stage. I will only discuss the three central contenders within the two parties that our media covers: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Bill and Hillary Clinton
Bill and Hillary Clinton presented a partnership between political operatives who shared personal ambition and a corporate neoliberal political and economic agenda. They had a bond of mutual cooperation for political and personal economic gain—in other words, power and money. They were a literal “power couple.”
Hillary addressed gender by announcing herself as the candidate for all women despite the fact that she is very far removed from the mass of American women. From 2013 to 2015, Hillary Clinton brought in 15 million dollars a year. Less than 2% of US women make more than $150,000 a year, which is what it takes for a middle class living for a family or a prosperous living for an individual. Hillary Clinton is a corporate feminist. She uses whatever she can to get ahead for herself within our increasingly unequal capitalist system. She does not challenge the hold of US corporate institutions on our nation, in which poverty is primarily an issue for women and children Two thirds of minimum waged and poor US workers are women, many with children, which is why US children are the poorest Americans of all. Minimum waged workers need to raise their wages to at least $15.00 per hour to survive. Until Bernie Sanders championed the $15.00 an hour federal minimum wage, Hillary consistently advocated for $12 an hour instead of $15. She never endorsed a federal minimum wage of $15, even though that would have boosted the lives of 2/3 of US women.
Hillary often stated her deep concern for women and children. However, she enthusiastically endorsed the bombing of Middle Eastern cities in which thousands of children died. Clinton was the US Secretary of State while US bombs ravaged Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yeman, and Somalia. And who is home when their homes are bombed? Is it the male soldiers in the Taliban and ISIS? Of course not. It’s old people, women and children. For Hillary, they were collateral damage. In her unqualified support for Israel, she condoned the arrest and incarceration of Palestinian children. Hillary also welcomed millions of dollars from Saudi Arabia, an active bomber of Syrian civilians and one of the most draconian nations in oppressing women. There was no trace of a feminist concern for the refugee women and children driven from their homes.
Hillary also tolerated sexual assault. Despite her faux feminist rhetoric, she never publically espoused stopping sexual assault in the military, college campuses, or anywhere else. However, Hillary’s toleration of sexual assault was not restricted to her politics. It was right there in her intimate life with Bill. In the latest revelation of Bill’s sexual predation, which has thus far been largely silenced in the US, Bill was reported to have taken between 10 and 26 flights on the Lolita Express. The Lolita Express was run by convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. On the Lolita Express, rich men paid large sums to fly on a jet where they raped underage girls. Bill also attended Epstein’s Sex Slave Island, also called “Orgy Island”, another location for raping underage girls.
Although the Internet accuses Bill of even more sexual assaults, he has been credibly accused of sexual assault or harassment by at least 7 women. Hillary has shown no sympathy for Bill’s victims. Instead, she dismissively belittled and vilified them.
Hillary ignored sexual assault when it came to advancing her career and her husband’s. She and Bill presented an intimate neoliberal alliance in which Bill can rape women and they both can join the corporate elite amongst whom they have amassed $111,000,000. In a parallel movement, they have a united front in the US having its macho way with whomever and whatever nation they choose to invade. After all, the US has the power and the money. That arrogant appropriation of power and money is redolent of the heartless stereotype of macho manhood. Corporate feminists do not necessarily reject male stereotyped behaviors. Instead, they may aspire to those same heartlessly ambitious behaviors. Hillary and Bill are a modern couple with seeming gender equality in professional and economic ambitions on which they work as a team of equals.
Hillary, the feminist, does not share the populist appeal of her husband or Barack Obama. She is, after all, in her position through her man and with tremendous help from another man, Barack Obama. Obama now prevents Hillary from being indicted on her e-mails and her fraudulent thefts under the cloak of the Clinton Foundation. She is a hard fit for the title of a feminist champion for the majority of women or for women’s independent achievement.
Donald and Melania Trump
Trump is a man whose popular appeal is to make American white men “great again”. The good old days he wants to recreate were not so great for minorities, women, the poor, or LBGT communities who constitute a significant portion of the US population. On an intimate level, his money has bought Trump a young, glamorous sex object. The old-fashioned gender tradition of getting sexual access to nubile women in exchange for economic support is clearly demonstrated in Trump’s marriage. Melania met Donald when she was 28 and aging out of her modeling career. At 28, Melania's growing opportunities as a model, i.e. a sex object for selling products, were limited to cigarette and alcohol ads, which cannot employ minors. She said in her GQ interview that her marriage is based on a strict division of roles. “Donald never changed a diaper…he’s never heard her fart or make doodie.” Donald does not know that she is actually a person who does not always emanate perfume. Melania is the quintessential silent, beautiful young sex object who stays in her husband’s inflated shadow.
Trump’s anti-woman attitudes followed him to the campaign trail. When Ted Cruz’s campaign posted a photo that appeared in GQ Magazine of Melania naked on a bear rug, Trump and his followers posted a photo of Heidi Cruz looking angry instead of sexy. Donald and his fans made it clear that, to them, Donald had the superior wife. In Donald’s tweeted words, “My wife is hotter.” After all, we ask, what’s a wife for? In Donald’s famous video of 2005 mentioned above, he exults in his ability to sexually assault women because of his celebrity and money. “When you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says in the recording, which was obtained by the Washington Post.“ You can do anything.” In that same video, he says that when he meets beautiful women he feels able to “grab them by the pussy”.
But Trump is more than a macho bully: like Bill Clinton, Trump has been embroiled in sexual assault and rape allegations since the early 90s. During Trump’s divorce from his first wife, Ivana, courts granted the divorce settlements due to Trump’s “cruel and inhuman treatment” of his wife, which included in marital relations in which Ivana said she “felt violated.” Since then, countless stories have emerged detailing Trump’s numerous unwanted sexual advances towards several young women. And in 2016, a woman using the alias Katie Johnson sued Trump for “engaging in perverse acts” with her while she was 12 years old. After receiving death threats against her family, she dropped the case in November 2016. Trump too visited his avowedly good friend’s Sex Slave Island. It takes a callous disregard for the humanity of a young woman to forcibly rape her and then threaten her and her family. A person you can treat that way is not a human being in your eyes. Trump’s gender philosophy seems similar to his views on on the subject of climate change and ecology: rape mother earth. You may assault any woman you want to; they do not count as human. You are the power. You have the money!
Melania, like Hillary, knows on what side her bread is buttered. She enjoys her lavish life style and looks the other way on Donald’s trips on the Lolita Express. Melania dismisses Trumps boasting about groping and raping women as “boy talk” and compares her husband to her 11-year-old son. She says that the famous tape with Billy Bush where he bragged about sexually assaulting women was not really Donald’s voice. He was egged on to falsely boast by his friend, Billy Bush. Melania has no interest in his business dealings at Trump University where he cheated young people who needed and paid for skills they did not get. In any case, neither her lavish life nor his gender behavior should be questioned.
Bernie and Jane
Bernie and Jane stood in sharp contrast to the relationships that the Clintons and Trumps presented. Jane makes her own independent living. Bernie and she are are partners, equals, vulnerable human beings together emotionally, intellectually, and politically. Their photos show them in a total human connection. Jane is not a sex object. She looks her age. She has been there as an equal and a partner throughout Bernie’s campaign while keeping her own job and her own life, a life that Bernie respects. She is benefiting from this marriage as an emotional, intellectual partner in a mutually loving relationship. She has not received financial or political perks for tolerating rape. Sanders is neither a rapist nor a sexual predator of any kind.
Unlike Trump or Clinton, Bernie was not beholden to Wall Street or other corporations. He and Jane together earn $214,000 a year, less than Hillary made in one year of her lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs. Unlike Melania, Jane is not living in a gilt mansion that looks like Napoleon’s tomb, a mansion she alone could not afford. Unlike Trump and Melania or Bill and Hillary, Bernie and Jane exemplify a gender arrangement of equals sharing in their political, economic, intimate and emotional lives. Bernie’s honesty and his genuine concern for the underdog qualified him for being driven from the primary for the benefit of Hillary Clinton and the 1%. We only know this now because we have an honest news source in Wikileaks.
I believe that this election’s gender dynamics should be explicitly discussed. Gender is hotly contested in America. People are concerned about gender. Trump’s rape and groping boasts went viral as a token of the gender outrage of US women and the immense relevance of gender outrage.
About half of our labor force is female. The majority of US woman are single. The traditional marriage of the dependent wife and children exemplified by Trump and Melania is over. Mothers are the sole or primary providers in four-in-ten households with children. Traditional marriages like the Trumps are a luxury only the rich can afford. White working class jobs have been massively outsourced, computerized, or mechanized with the support of both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. With that, blue-collar men have lost the dominance that their family wages purchased. Women are unable and unwilling to be full time domestic workers, childcare workers, emotional laborers and sex workers for men who cannot provide for them. Trump’s voters are overwhelmingly those men who are abandoned by our changing service economy. Their rejection of education leaves them even further behind. They are abandoned as candidates for marriages in which they demand services, but need their wives’ wages too. They are besieged by the gender changes that our economy requires. Female Trump supporters are enraged that they have to work outside of the home when they want to be supported. Their lack of education serves them up for the poorly paid jobs from which they, as white women, used to be protected.
Men now need to be able to be, at minimum, dedicated participants, if not equals in emotional labor, domestic labor, childcare, and sex. Male and female gender definitions have changed, leaving many Americans frightened. The recent hysteria over transsexuals using bathrooms of their choice is a displacement of that fear of gender change. Rage against abortion is a similar displacement of fear about the gender changes precipitated by capitalist corporations outsourcing, computerizing and mechanizing American jobs. Women no longer need to be or can be defined by dependent childbearing roles.
Capitalists now have the whole world’s labor to exploit. Former family wages included two wage supplements, one for whiteness and another for maleness in a scarce labor force. That is over. The fury over men’s lost positions is part of a larger fury. American white families have lost the family wages for men that enabled the white majority to make comfortable middle class lives of wage earning men and dependent wives and children. The small family businesses have been wiped out by giant corporations. The local family’s hardware store is now Home Depot. The family restaurant is now a McDonalds, Burger king, Wendy’s, Friendly’s, etc. The family farm is a mega agribusiness. The local family’s stationary store is now a Staples. The family grocery is now Walmart.
Those losses might have precipitated a joint movement for universal quality childcare, and maternity and paternity leaves, as well as paid vacations like other wealthy nations provide. These might have helped us change rigid and crippling sexist gender roles into human roles. Had Sanders succeeded in winning the Democratic nomination, a united movement of the 99% together could have demanded the end of tax havens for the rich, severe restrictions on outsourcing, and minimum and maximum wage laws. That would have provided the economic support for families and children and decent lives that all Americans could enjoy. Men and women could have shared the fulfillments and burdens of working in and outside of the home. Such a movement might have united all 99% of Americans: male, female, all races, all colors, all sexual preferences. Class has been a repressed discourse in America. A movement of men and women united for class transformation did not happen for the last 50 years. It could happen now. Bernie and Jane present the progressive movement for equality and partnership in gender as well as class justice. They, as a couple, represent love between equals. Recognition of that gender agenda is a crucial part of the movement to come.
Dr. Harriet Fraad is a licensed mental health counselor and hypnotherapist in private practice in New York City. She is a founding member of the feminist movement and the journal Rethinking Marxism. For 40 years, she has been a radical committed to transforming US personal and political life.