This month, a political action committee released a video featuring women reading aloud the comments that Donald Trump has made about women. The ad is straightforward, putting Trump’s own words (which are startlingly demeaning and sexist) at the forefront. It is an incredibly effective way of showing how harmful these misogynistic statements can be — and yet our organization has made an active decision not to share this ad. Why? The problem, for us, comes at the end of the video, when one of the women states, “This is how Donald Trump talks about our mothers, our sisters, our daughters…”. It is the way that the issue is framed that is problematic; that sexism is wrong because women are our mothers, sisters and daughters, and not simply because women are people. We strongly believe that using this type of language to describe women is unacceptable because all human beings deserve respect — and not because of the role women play in the lives of men.
This problem with framing women’s issues in terms of men is not limited to one political party. This month, President Obama met with Misty Copeland, the first African American principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater. In a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from race to affirmative action to body image, President Obama made a comment that drew applause from most — but raised our eyebrows. According to President Obama, women face incredible pressure when it comes to body image, which is something that he and the First Lady work hard to insulate their daughters from: “And so Michelle and I are always guarding against that. And the fact that they’ve got a tall, gorgeous mom who has some curves, and that their father appreciates, I think is helpful.” While we appreciate the President’s awareness of body image issues, we question why he is linking it to a man’s view of a woman’s body — instead of teaching his daughters to have a positive self-image that is not connected to what a man may think of their bodies. This is not the first time that President Obama has connected a women’s issue to their relationship with men; during the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama stated, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence.” This language — talking about “our” wives, mothers and daughters — makes it appear that the President is talking TO men ABOUT women, rather than to both men and women. And once again, it defines women in the context of how they relate to men. This is troubling, as this sort of framing makes it seem like men should only care about these problems if they could happen to their loved ones — not simply because living free of violence and discrimination is a basic human rights issue.
We should care about issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, workplace discrimination and misogyny not because we have mothers, sisters, wives or daughters. We should care about these issues because women are people, and they deserve respect. It does not matter if the speaker is Donald Trump, President Obama, a religious leader, an athlete, an actor or any other person. We need to speak out against Donald Trump’s misogyny because it is wrong — not because we have a sister or a mother. We need to care about sexual assault not because it could happen to a woman that we know — but because it is wrong. We need to stand up against domestic violence not because it may affect our daughters some day — but because no person should be abused. Let’s change the way we talk about these issues, and how we talk about women. Together, we can make a difference!