The cult of female benevolence is a bipartisan one. Depending on whom you talk to, women are the keepers of the home; more motivated to succeed in business; guardians of sexual morality; more effective lawmakers; even better at foiling global pandemics. President Barack Obama once made the expansive argument that “if more women were put in charge, there would be less war, kids would be better taken care of and there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes.”
This praise is meant to be complimentary. But in advancing an image of female saintliness and efficacy, these sorts of paeans ignore the possibility of female venality, or even outright evil. Femininity gets exalted, and actual women get treated as a little less than human — and a little less dangerous than we’re capable of being.
Fortunately, the women of Trumpism are here to diffuse that soft-lit, idealistic image.
Take first lady Melania Trump, who on Monday stepped up to prove that a woman could be as self-absorbed as a man — in this case, her husband, whose sense of victimhood is so outsized as to be world-historical.
In a statement worth quoting at length, Trump declared: “I am disappointed and disheartened with what happened last week” — and no, she didn’t prioritize the assault on the U.S. Capitol. Rather, she continued, “I find it shameful that surrounding these tragic events there has been salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me — from people who are looking to be relevant and have an agenda. This time is solely about healing our country and its citizens. It should not be used for personal gain.”
Yes, this was the real tragedy: “false misleading accusations” against Trump, which she deplored before reassuring Americans that she “absolutely” condemned the violence of Jan. 6.
Trump was so consumed with the alleged damage to her own reputation that she took for granted that the public would know what “salacious gossip” and “unwarranted personal attacks” she was referring to. (She might have intended to hit back at her former close friend and assistant, who accused her of complicity in the debacle.)
Ivanka Trump, though, was one step ahead of her stepmother: Trump, or someone in her circle, took the time to plant an item in New York Post gossip column Page Six suggesting that the first daughter’s sister-in-law, Karlie Kloss, had tried to score political points by slamming her on Twitter.
This was the Trump women’s contribution to the story their family is selling to its followers: The Trumps are victims and must be avenged. Last week’s events showed the danger of that falsehood.
Self-absorption wasn’t the only ugly quality the Trumpistas put on display last week. Newly elected Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) tweeted, “Today is 1776” as the disastrous attempt to block certification of Joe Biden’s election went forward. Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-Ga.), one of the first QAnon supporters elected to Congress, put her conspiratorial credentials to work in declaring that “Antifa was involved” in the attacks on her new place of work. Together, they proved that women can be just as eager as male lawmakers like Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to attack democracy in the name of their own ambition.
The possibility of female callousness, heedlessness and outright craziness, especially linked to this administration, is nothing new. “Saturday Night Live” mockingly made Ivanka Trump, played in a skit by actress Scarlett Johansson, the face of “Complicit” perfume back in 2017. Melania Trump donned her infamous “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket the following year. Former senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway turned herself into a human shield for Trump, guarding the president against allegations of sexism and coolly lying on his behalf. Women such as conservative activist Candace Owens and Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Fox News personality-turned-Trump-adviser (and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr.), have seized upon the wreckage and bitterness of the past five years as a career opportunity.
It’s probably not what Ivanka Trump meant when she said at two successive Republican conventions that her father “would deliver for working women.” But why confine women to heroic roles? The sheer concentration of female bad behavior over the past week should make women’s capacity for villainy undeniable.