What War on Women? A Guide to Political and Religious Misogyny in Presidential Campaigns

The men who are the “front-runners”

I should create an app to go along with the text of Women’s Bodies as Battlefield. Then anyone could just type in a given statement from candidates in this extraordinary primary campaign season and get a brief theological, biblical and philosophical analysis to go with it.

Even in the absence of an app, let’s try anyway. In the book, I argue the supports in Western culture for the War on Women fall into approximately these categories: contempt for the body, hierarchy and desire for power.

Let’s see how the candidates line up in these categories in my ‘not-an-app’.

Contempt for the Body

 Donald Trump can express a startlingly negative, visceral attitudes toward women’s bodies and their natural functions. Trump had an “absolute meltdown” when a lawyer requested a break from a 2011 deposition to pump breast milk.” He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, ‘You’re disgusting, you’re disgusting,’ and he ran out of there,” attorney Elizabeth Beck has said.

It is not only lactating that gives Trump a problem; apparently menstruating does too. Trump had a extraordinary reaction to Megyn Kelly, one of the three Fox News panel running the primary debate, when she called him out on his history of disparaging remarks about women. Trump subsequently tweeted what most regarded as a reference to Kelly being on her period. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her — wherever.”

The chaotic, messy female body has a long history in the West of being regarded not only as disgusting, but also as a symbol of such a threat to (male) order and authority it is actual physical rebellion. Elaine Scarry, Harvard professor and author of “The Body in Pain,” emphasizes that the “bodies of women are often used as vehicles to convey the physical manifestation of contemptible physical rebellion and deserved bodily punishment.”

The deserved punishment is key. A huge number of tweets praising or defending Trump starting appearing immediately after the debate that used horribly sexualized rhetoric in attacks on Megyn Kelly . The tweets included words such as “cunt,” “whore,” “bitch,” or “slut” and many refer to the Donald’s putting her “in her place.” “Trump is the only one who understood the importance of putting her in her place.

How dare Megyn Kelly not only lactate and menstruate, but also question a powerful man about his misogyny?

It is Trump’s supporters on Twitter who reveal the deep and dangerous vein of misogyny in American culture. And make no mistake, this kind of “put her in her place” attitude can lead to domestic violence, and to marital rape, as I wrote in “Yes, Marital Rape Happens and it is Terrible.

 Hierarchy

Megyn Kelly is right when she defends her questions to Trump that she was not singling him out for difficult questions. She also asked, “Governor Walker, you’ve consistently said that you want to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. You recently signed an abortion law in Wisconsin that does have an exception for the mother’s life, but you’re on the record as having objected to it. Would you really let a mother die rather than have an abortion, and with 83 percent of the American public in favor of a life exception, are you too out of the mainstream on this issue to win the general election?”

Walker’s response was, “Well, I’m pro-life, I’ve always been pro-life” and claimed, contrary to Kelly’s research, that he was in the “mainstream.”

No, not quite, Governor. As I tweeted out, during the debate:

Mike Huckabee, who has actually pastored, retrieved the “personhood” argument and would apparently hire lawyers for the fetus, citing the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Marco Rubio seemed to need to chime in on the ‘women’s lives are not human lives’ theme when he said he had never supported any exceptions to an abortion ban — though his record shows otherwise.

Here’s where a biblical/philosophical/theological analysis can also come in handy. Women are not considered, in some strong Western traditions, to be as fully human as men. Aristotle’s misogyny is legendary; in regard to women’s individual nature, she is “defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition.. (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). These Aristotelian views are very influential on Christian theology in regard to women’s lesser humanity. For Aquinas, the soul is over the body (Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, Chapter 68), and “naturally,” men over women (Summa Theologiae, 37). Immediately following the gender hierarchy is the ruling hierarchy.

So one can conclude from these sources that women’s lives are certainly not as much in the image of God as male lives, and thus are less humanly valuable. The extreme anti-abortion position is revealed not as a pro-life position, but an anti-women’s lives position.

Desire for Power

This one may seem like a piece of cake when we are talking about misogyny and power. Expressing anti-women views has often been a way to acquire political power.

For example, Carly Fiorina.  Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard best known for firing many American workers, said following the debate, said she would oppose a government requirement to give workers in the private sector paid maternity or paternity leave. This stance was couched as an ‘anti-government interference with business’ position, but it is still an anti-woman and indeed, anti-parent position. It is a power position, and one Fiorina is apparently experienced in taking.

Women still earn only 77% of what men earn, and their economic vulnerability especially in time of pregnancy, can be particularly hard on them and their families. Women who are employed outside the home are less likely to experience abuse than women who are totally financially dependent on a husband or spouse.

Hand-in-hand with hierarchy in being, power and subordination are crucial to sustain the kind of inequality that puts women more at risk for violence. Submission itself is institutionalized violence — a structure of unequal power that puts women in a vulnerable position whether in the home or in the workplace.

How many women did Carly Fiorina fire, and how many women’s income and family stability will be hurt by her position opposing a paid maternity or paternity leave requirement? What is the going price in women’s suffering for political power?

Stay Tuned

I will update this ‘not-an-app’ periodically as other examples occur in our public, political discourse.

Such is the discourse, I may have to actually contact an app designer!

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