June 15, 2016
Go Ahead and Punish Me, Mr. Trump

By using the language of patriarchal protection on the issue of abortion, Trump is reinforcing the condescending attitudes that have kept women down for centuries.

by Trish Anderton
Issues // Politics and Society
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It’s a strange time to be a woman in America. On the one hand, the Democrats have just chosen Unbreakable Hillary Clinton as their first-ever female presidential nominee, so YAY, LADIES! On the other hand, the Republicans have nominated the orange-haired monster Donald Trump, a racist, sexist and xenophobic nightmare.
 
Trump likes to boast about being a brilliant businessman and a forceful negotiator. He even wrote a book called The Art of the Deal. But his campaign is all about The Art of Taking Both Sides of the Issue. Anytime he says something substantive — which is pretty rare in the first place — you can be pretty sure he’ll contradict it later.
 
Take, for example, his comments about punishing women for having abortions.
 
Trump says he wants to make abortion illegal. In March, Chris Matthews of MSNBC pressed him on what that would mean for women. If something is illegal, Matthews asked, shouldn't it be punished? After several efforts to dodge the question, Trump eventually admitted that there would have to be "some form of punishment.”
 
But later, Trump changed his tune. He wasn't saying he wanted to put women in prison for ending their pregnancies, he claimed; instead, he meant that "women punish themselves."
 



This abortion course-correction is the least believable plot twist since the final episode of Battlestar Galactica.
 
Clearly he wasn’t talking about self-punishment to Chris Matthews. I don't know of any court in the world that sentences people to feel bad about themselves. Maybe instead of putting women in prison, he meant his administration would sentence them to watch videos of his absurd, egomaniacal, wildly dishonest speeches, but he definitely meant there would be some kind of systematic punishment.
 
What Trump is trying to do by clumsily revising his remarks is to adopt the current messaging of the U.S. anti-abortion crowd: that women who have abortions are victims. They’re being exploited by ... I don't know, the National Organization for Women? their local feminist book club? the massive RU-486 industry? At any rate, according to anti-choicers, someone is horribly oppressing women and forcing them to have abortions that leave them emotionally wrecked.
 
There's just one teeny problem with this theory: it's total nonsense. There is no scientific evidence that abortion destroys women's emotional lives. In fact, a recent study by the University of California found 95 percent of the women did not regret their abortions.
 
Guess what: If you give women a choice, most of us make a choice we're OK with. (Not always when it comes to Ben and Jerry's Brownie Batter Core ice cream – but mostly.)
 
What's even worse than Trump's dishonesty, though, is his paternalism.
 
Look, if you seriously want to ban abortion, and you've got the votes to do it, and you can appoint a Supreme Court that will let you do it, then more power to you. You win. What else can I say? That's how the American political system works.
 
The minute you accomplish that, I will dedicate myself to helping build a vast underground network to provide safe abortions. And if you catch me, you can punish me. That's the law.
 
But smothering me with fake sympathy? Denying me my own choices because you claim I can't handle the consequences? That's not only wrong; it's insulting.
 
By using the language of patriarchal protection, Trump is reinforcing the condescending attitudes that have kept women down for centuries.
 
It's the same wrongheaded concern about women's delicacy that once banned us from competing in long-distance running. Women had to sneak into marathons – and finish them – to prove our uteruses wouldn't fall out after 20 miles. The same lack of trust in our judgment also fueled laws denying women the right to vote.
 
You can tell me abortion is bad. But don't tell me you're helping me by denying me my rights. Try and boss me if you want, Mr. Trump, but spare me the fake concern for my emotional health.
 
Trish Anderton writes stuff and posts stuff. When she's not writing or posting, she's tweeting. In a past life, she was an editor at various Indonesian publications including the Jakarta Globe, Jakarta Post, and High End Magazine. She lives in New York City.

Illustration by DonkeyHotey