Sophie Gilbert/The Atlantic
09 december 23
In a second Trump term, women would once again be targets.
Strange as this might be to say of the only American president found legally liable for sexual abuse, the only leader of the free world accused of dangling a TV gig in front of a porn performer seemingly as an enticement for sex, the only commander in chief to publicly denigrate the sexual attractiveness of both Heidi Klum (“no longer a 10”) and Angelina Jolie (“not a great beauty”), I don’t believe Donald Trump hates women. Not by default, anyway. “When it comes to the women who are not only dutifully but lovingly catering to his desires,” the philosopher Kate Manne wrote in her 2017 book, Down Girl, “what’s to hate?”
The misogyny that Trump embodies and champions is less about loathing than enforcement: underscoring his requirement that women look and behave a certain way, that we comply with his desires and submit to our required social function. The more than 25 women who have accused Trump of sexual assault or misconduct (which he has denied), and the countless more who have endured public vitriol and threats to their life after being targeted by him, have all been punished either for challenging him or for denying him what he fundamentally believed was his due.
At the micro level, Trump’s misogyny can be almost comical, in an absurdist sort of way, like the time in 1994 when he fretted over whether his new infant daughter would inherit her mother’s breasts, or when he tweeted to Cher in 2012, “I promise not to talk about your massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work.” On a larger scale, the legislative and cultural shifts he fostered during his four years in the White House are so drastic that they’re hard to fully parse. Until 2022, women and pregnant people had the constitutional right to an abortion; now, thanks to Trump’s remade Supreme Court, abortion is unavailable or effectively banned in about a third of states. The MAGA Republican Party is ever more of a boy’s club: All 14 representatives who announced bids to become House speaker after the ouster of Kevin McCarthy were men; the victor, Mike Johnson, has blamed Roe v. Wade in the past for depriving the country of “able-bodied workers” to prop up the American economy. Online and off, old-fashioned sexists and trollish provocateurs alike have been emboldened by Trump’s ability to say grotesque things without consequences.
Trump’s glee in smacking down women has filtered into every aspect of our culture. If, as the literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote, “ideology is not acquired by thought but by breathing the haunted air,” then Trump has helped radicalize swaths of a generation essentially through poisonous fumes. He didn’t create the manosphere, the fetid corner of the internet devoted to sending women back to the Stone Age. But he elevated some of its most noxious voices into the mainstream, and vindicated their worst prejudices. “I’m in a state of exuberance that we now have a President who rates women on a 1–10 scale in the same way that we do,” wrote the former self-described pickup artist Roosh V on his website shortly after the election.
By now, misogyny has bled into virtually every part of the internet. TikTok clips featuring Andrew Tate, the misogynist influencer and accused rapist and human trafficker who has said that women should bear some personal responsibility for their sexual assaults and frequently derides women as “hoes,” have been viewed billions of times. (Tate has denied the charges against him.) In 2021, before Elon Musk bought Twitter and oversaw a spike in misogynistic and abusive content—not to mention reinstating the accounts of both Trump and Tate—the Tesla entrepreneur and men’s-rights icon tweeted that he was going to inaugurate a new college called the Texas Institute of Technology & Science (TITS). Boys on social media are being inundated with messaging that the only qualities worth prizing in women are sexual desirability and submission—a worldview that aligns perfectly with Trump’s. Misogyny, as my colleague Franklin Foer wrote in Slate in 2016, is the one ideology Trump has never changed, his one unwavering credo. Seeking to dominate others with his supposed sexual prowess and loudly professing disgust at women he doesn’t desire has been his modus operandi for decades. Any woman who challenges him is “a big, fat pig,” “a dog,” a “horseface.”
What would four more years of Trump mean for women? It’s hard to conclude that Trump was moderated by the presence of his daughter in the West Wing, exactly—or, for that matter, by any of the advisers who thought they could temper his worst instincts before they ended up fleeing in droves. But what’s most chilling about a possible second Trump presidency is that he would certainly now be unchecked. The advisers who remain are the ones who bolster his darker impulses. It was Trump’s adviser Jason Miller, Axios’s Mike Allen reported, who psyched him up between segments of his 2023 CNN town hall as he became more and more aggressive toward the moderator, Kaitlan Collins. “Are you ready? Can I talk? Do you mind?” Trump jeered at her. Anyone who’s ever witnessed an abusive relationship could instantly recognize the tone