In a scintillating piece written for The New York Times, best-selling author Jennifer Weiner tackled the changing significance of nude images and sex tapes in the realms of politics and pop culture. Arguing that while these videos and photos were once the source of a public female’s fall from grace, Weiner says that they are now losing their destructive force, so long as the woman is in charge of not only the camera but the release of such images.
However, Weiner also claims that such uses of the sexualized female are infiltrating the current presidential race, citing the recent showdown between Republican hopefuls Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (R-TX), which began with the release of a video from a super PAC called “Make America Awesome” that shared images of a nude Melania Trump posed for GQ with the words “Meet Melania Trump. Your Next First Lady.” emblazoned across the screen. Thinking that Cruz’s team created the ads, Trump fired back, taking aim at Cruz’s wife, Heidi, even sharing a side-by-side image of Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump, with the image of the former model Melania clearly serving to diminish Heidi.
Although Cruz jumped to the defense of his wife, Weiner argues that not only have both women been reduced to mere “things” through the exchange, but also that other women — like FOX New’s Megyn Kelly who was called a “bimbo” in a tweet shared by Trump — have been downgraded to objects throughout the entire presidential campaign season. She writes:
“In this strangest of primary seasons, women exist primarily in terms of their relationships to the men they marry or question or critique. They can either be beauties or beasts or ‘the love of my life.’ They can be ‘crazy’ or ‘losers,’ ‘fat pigs’ or ‘dogs.’ They can be mothers and daughters. They can be the currency with which you buy voters’ belief in your machismo and alpha-maleness, or they can be the sand you kick in the face of a ‘New York bully.’ In every case, whether they are assets or liabilities, they are objects. In no case are they people.”
Wrapping up her argument by saying the super PAC’s ad not only brought on “the predictable calls to leave candidates’ families out of the fray,” she says that it was also accompanied by “charges of slut-shaming, and the insistence that a grown woman can pose as she wishes; that as long as it’s her choice, it’s empowering.” And while Melania Trump may have opted to pose for GQ, the way in which her photos were used to slut-shame her portrayed her “modeling portfolio as revenge porn.”
What, then, could change such perspectives on women on this side of the aisle? Perhaps the answer exists in a strong female who, as Weiner argues through the person of former Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, is “a candidate, not just a wife and a mother, or a face and a figure — a person, instead of a thing.”
Consider, for a moment, what such a figure could do; maybe an assertive female would voice objections to the treatment and portrayal of women thus far in the campaigns. Maybe she wouldn’t even need to vocally oppose such images of women; maybe her presence alone would prove that women are not objects to be talked about, ammunition to feed virulent campaigns or voiceless, helpless things to be defended by the more emphatic presence of a man. Maybe her presence would prove that women are capable of defending themselves, being leaders and being more than just a pretty thing to be talked about — maybe she could prove that women are people, too.
As Weiner points out, both Melania Trump and Heidi Cruz are accomplished in their own rights: “Melania Trump speaks multiple languages and is a successful businesswoman,” while “Heidi Cruz has an M.B.A. from Harvard and had made a name for herself in the worlds of both politics and finance.”
But what we, the general public, knows of either of them is that they were recently pitted against each other not in a face-off that would crown its winner the most successful or the most intelligent, but in one that would only compare superficialities — as if we were deciding between one brand of car and another, merely comparing one’s features to its rival’s.
While the media will surely be tracking the Trump/Cruz feud in the coming week(s), one thing is for sure: women are not being treated as women. What is worrisome, then, is how such candidates may — or may not — address hot-button issues that directly impact women; from reproductive rights to equal pay, there are a host of issues concerning women that will need to be addressed by each candidate sooner or later. But if the candidates’ wives are being outrightly discussed as objects, as Weiner so eloquently pointed out, then how will they tackle issues that concern all American women?
Sifting through the excess to get to the heart of each candidate’s platforms and beliefs can be difficult, but Weiner’s article certainly shed some light on a concerning aspect of the current presidential race, and her argument is something we should not take lightly as we enter into the homestretch of campaign season.