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Trump’s Mika tweets underscore a dark reality: For him, it’s always about gender

Women respond to President Trump's tweets attacking cable TV hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. (Video: Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

When it comes to how he talks about, addresses and tweets about women, President Trump is having a bad week.

But his overtly sexist remarks about and to two female journalists are part of a consistent pattern of behavior from him: When Trump feels threatened by a woman, he tries to undercut them by reducing them to stereotypes about their looks and a bag of emotions. Actually, he does that to some degree to men, too. For Trump, it's all about gender, always.

This week alone, he's done that a couple times. On Thursday, he tried to reduce one of the most well-known and powerful female journalist in all of media to a facelift.

On Tuesday at an Oval Office conference with reporters, he told an Irish journalist to come over to his desk and told Ireland's newly elected prime minister, who was on the phone, that “she has a nice smile on her face. So, I bet she treats you well.” The video is hard to watch:

President Trump called Ireland's newly elected Prime Minister from the Oval Office to congratulate him on June 27, which reporters were invited to witness. Trump told Irish journalist, Caitríona Perry of RTÉ News, to come over to his desk and informed the prime minister that “she has a nice smile on her face. So, I bet she treats you well." (Video: Reuters)

And on Sunday, in an Associated Press interview, he referred yet again to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as “Pocahontas” — a not overtly sexist but still complicated and demeaning attack on her identity.

Trump consistently tries to undercut his female opponents — of any party — by leveling her to a bag of emotions and attractiveness (or lack thereof), said Kelly Dittmar, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University at Camden, who just finished a study on the role of gender in the presidential campaign.

“One way he exercises his 'masculine power' is to talk to and about women on the basis of their appearance, instead of more substance,” she said.

“Look at that face!” Trump told Rolling Stone magazine of GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina shortly after the two got into the race in 2015.

Fox News TV anchor and GOP debate moderator Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” he said after Kelly asked him — ironically — about his treatment toward women.

Even Trump's own daughters are often reduced to their looks, Dittmar points out: “She does have a very nice figure,” Trump said of his daughter, Ivanka Trump, in 2006. “I've said that if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.”

As The Fix's Aaron Blake points out, Trump has been seeing -- and communicating  about -- women through the lens of their attractiveness for some time now.

So rarely do these gender-oriented attacks against women fall into such neat lines; normally it's much more a “Did he just say what I think he said?” kind of thing.

But the president has a tendency to reduce women to centuries-old stereotypes in a way that squarely fits the definition of sexism, Dittmar said.

“Trump has played the gender card all along and played into very stereotypical tropes,” Dittmar said, adding, "like characterizing women's values and intelligence by their appearance and also calling women things like 'crazy,' which has been done to women for centuries when they've spoken truth to power.”

As Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) pointed out in a tweet, this is the opposite of helpful for women aiming to be in the public sphere. It's 2017, and women still have a lot of other stereotypes to battle without reemphasizing centuries-old ones.

When Hillary Clinton says misogyny played a role in her loss, research suggests she might have a point. Research from Rutgers University and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has demonstrated that voters hold female politicians to a different standard (read: double) from their male counterparts.

The dos and don'ts for women who want to run for office are long: They need to demonstrate they are compassionate and competent, strong (but not tough) and above all, likable. They can be funny — sort of — and they have to be smart, but they can’t take all of the credit for their work. Also, they shouldn’t pose for headshots. (Headshots can make the woman come across as stuffy. Better to stick with candid shots of her in the community to portray she’s likable.)

Why can't women just be themselves when they run for office?

It's a lot to deal with, even before a president reduced some of 2016 and 2017's most visible women to their looks and their menstrual cycles.

Trump doesn't dis his male opponents for their looks or emotions. But Dittmar's study points out that he does lean toward insults meant to whack their masculinity: Trump called Ben Carson “super low energy,” Jeb Bush “really weak” and Marco Rubio a “frightened little puppy.”

We've been closely watching Trump for two years now. And whether he's attacking a Republican or Democrat, man or woman (but especially women), we know what he reinforces, as he did in two tweets Thursday: For Trump, it's about gender, always.