gender, language, politics

Sexing Up 2016



In the February 1 issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza compares-and-contrasts Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in a story as enlightening as it is disturbing. One paragraph describes a Trump rally in Mississippi, noting some of the accouterments sported by Trump’s fan base:


Popular buttons and stickers included ones that say, “If she can’t please her husband, she can’t please the country,” “Bomb the hell out of ISIS,” “Up Yours Hillary,” and “Trump That Bitch.”


We know that Trump’s followers, like their idol, are a loutish lot; that we are engaged in a presidential election campaign; and that in election campaigns, tempers flare, etiquette goes by the boards, and opponents are demonized. From that perspective, the anti-Hillary slogans were hardly worthy of remark. But there was something about them that is different from the usual slams against opponents, and unlike the usual tenor of negative campaign rhetoric: the strikingly sexual nature of the attacks. Cruz may be “disgusting,” Bush “low energy,” and Cruz (gasp) “not nice.” But neither Trump nor anyone else has had anything to say about his male opponents’ sexual prowess or proclivities in bed. Since Clinton is not running for a position in which the victor is expected to perform sexually, why do candidates and voters opposed to Clinton choose to attack her in sexualized rhetoric? Certainly men, even male politicians, are sexual creatures. But politics is public, and sexuality – so we like to believe – is private. Usually prying into a candidate’s intimate life would be considered invasive and inappropriate. Why is the private allowed to invade the public only when a candidate is female? Continue reading