Noble: The truth about name-calling
Of my four great-grandmothers, two died in childbirth. My mother is my first female ancestor to work outside the home. My family’s story illustrates that in the past, women’s limited life options came with a high mortality rate. Not only were women’s career prospects limited — as recently as 1906 only about 6% of American women worked outside the home — but there were also strict dictates regarding their behavior.
Shakespeare’s comedy “The Taming of the Shrew” features Petruchio taming Katherine by turning her into an obedient, acceptable bride. Deeply ingrained cultural expectations of how women should behave doggedly persist four hundred years since that play was written. To be clear, this expectation did not originate in Shakespearian England. For most of human history, the primary ambition of most women was to marry well if they hoped for a decent life.
Unlike Katherine, they did so by cultivating traits appealing to potential husbands and future in-laws — chastity, modesty, and submissiveness, along with an array of domestic skills. A woman’s future depended upon her conforming to specified behaviors and boundaries.
In the intervening century, American women have greatly expanded their horizons. They won the right to vote after decades of struggle, achieved greater access to higher education that has resulted in more women (34%) than men (26%) with bachelor’s degrees, comprise nearly half of all U.S. workers, and own 10 million businesses. As of 2020 more than 60% of women participate in the labor force. There are still women who identify as housewives, the difference is that today it is a choice, rather than a fait accompli.
Someone needs to tell the president who recently tweeted, “The “suburban housewife” will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker (sic) in charge!”
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The president’s tweet serves to perpetuate his reputation as a sexist. However, “housewife” though outdated, really does pale in comparison to the other ways he describes women — “slob, bimbo, Pocahontas, Miss Piggy, who would vote for that face?” and many others.
The president also makes a colossal assumption with his tweet that white suburban women are as racist as he is. “Karens” notwithstanding, displeasure with the president extends to more women than just his ex-wives, assault accusers and Omarosa. The day after his meagerly-attended inauguration, the women’s march drew a massive crowd, and women did more than march.
They also voted. Women make up a larger share of the electorate than men, and they vote in greater numbers. This is especially significant in the wake of the 2018 mid-terms when the Democrats took control of the house and a woman, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, became the new House Speaker.
Cue the backlash from white men who view political power as zero sum. Concurrent with the passage of the 19th Amendment extending suffrage to women, the use of the term “bitch” to describe women greatly increased in America. This July, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida used the term to describe his colleague in the House of Representatives, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. In the age of Trump, civility is dead.
Speaking of the president, a man as fond of name-calling as any prepubescent boy, his preferred slur for women who threaten him is “nasty.” He has used it against Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi.
The invective directed at Harris is not limited to sexism, but predictably includes racism, with questions arising about her citizenship, not unlike the birther movement against President Obama. The president feebly feigned uncertainty with regards to Harris’ eligibility, but against Obama he was the chief crusader.
Harris is so formidable an opponent that sexism and racism are not enough to take her down, and the right must now dust off a favorite weapon against women who get out of their lane — slut-shaming. Turns out as a consenting-adult Harris may have had relationships with other consenting adults. The right clutches its pearls at Harris’ behavior, hoping no one brings up their philandering, sexual-harassing, Jeffrey Epstein-friending president.
Ultimately, the kind of person who resorts to name-calling reveals more about themselves than the target of their attack. As Maya Angelou once cautioned, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”