It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there is something very bothersome about the victory of the recently inaugurated 45th President of the United States Donald Trump. A man of controversies, he ran for the Republican presidential candidacy without any shed of political leadership experience. The Apprentice, a reality TV hit about a bunch of ambitious people willing to do pretty much anything in order to win a lucrative position in Trump’s business empire, was probably the closest thing in his resume that puts him in the public eye outside of his millionaire profile. And even that can’t possibly be an indication that he was at least an okay candidate for the job running the world’s most powerful nation.
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about in this article. It’s his third wife, Melania. Not just that the former model is perceived to be too young to be married to a 70-year old wealthy businessman, which some have used as a ground to accuse her of being a gold digger, and was born in a foreign land, Melania has also been the subject of public scrutiny for a number of instances that might have suggested she is just as unfit to be the First Lady of the United States as her husband is to be the POTUS.
There is something very bothersome, to say the least, about the things that people have been saying about her. I know, politics can get very nasty. Nothing is off limits. Being the spouse of a presidential candidate comes with a lot of perks and tranquility is almost never one of them, unless your name is Michelle and your husband’s name is Barack. This doesn’t go to say that Michelle Obama never had nasty attacks on her person during the eight years her husband served as president―not at all, because that would be extremely ignorant. In fact, she and her family were targets of many racial slurs and derogatory remarks. Rather, the difference is that people gave Michelle the benefit of the doubt. In general, her identity and skin color didn’t prevent people from making her a national sweetheart and even potential future president.
Melania, so far, has had none of that, because she is now being described in all kinds of ways, none of which appears to have any room for such benefit of the doubt. But this isn’t about the politics. This is a series of concerned thoughts intended for those who call themselves a lot of things: liberal, supporter of democracy and freedom, and obviously, feminists.
When Trump made a remark of Hillary Clinton, calling her a “nasty woman”, many people immediately came to her defense. It actually ended up becoming more than just an internet meme. Many started identifying themselves with the adjective “nasty women” as a sarcastic response to insinuate that if being a woman with strong opinions and conviction makes you nasty, then so be it.
And it’s not like Melania has been completely innocent herself. That speech during the Republican National Convention in July 2016 was disastrous. Even she has to agree that she should’ve hired a better and more trustworthy speech writer. One that doesn’t plagiarize the then incumbent FLOTUS’ speech transcript almost word per word. The criticism she received for the speech was more than fair, though some did go overboard at times.
That leads well to what we need to talk about. We Need to Talk about Kevin―I mean, Melania. (But let’s admit, Tilda Swinton is a gorgeous actor and she did that movie justice)
Melania has been subjected to various other criticisms, many of which should send every single individual who identifies as a feminist to her defense. Unfortunately, that was not the case for the most part. Instead, I personally saw a lot of friends and complete strangers, whether in person or on the internet condoning the attacks directed against her person. Many of these remarks were made in bad faith and were, to put it in a delicate way, incredibly tasteless.
Now let’s talk about her former model status. She started traveling the world as a model during her mid-20s and made a modest name of herself in the industry. It is a fact that the modeling industry is heavily infected by gender stereotypes and many other similar problems. Feminists and proponents of equality have tried to address many different issues concerning the industry: pay gap between male and female models, the ubiquitous sexual harassment allegations and accusations, negative body image messages in a lot of fashion products, and the list goes on.
Fashion as an art is also a highly subjective and delicate subject. Posing nude, for example, can be seen high fashion when done correctly, but otherwise it can come off as a cheap pornographic work instead. Melania, much like her fellow models, had done a number of topless or nude shoots herself. It is unfortunate – to say the least – that many Trump’s opponents found it acceptable to shame Melania for these sorts of things. Saying that a former model who had done daring shots is unfit to be the First Lady implies that we still have so much work to do. Women are still constantly subjected to an extreme bias when it comes to embracing their sexuality and taking full authority of their body.
And then there’s the thing about Melania being a foreign born American. She was born in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, a European country not so many Americans will probably be able to pin on a map. With Trump being rather harsh with his campaign platform on immigrants, people apparently thought it was a good idea as well to poke fun at Melania’s foreign-born status. Some others went for the extreme―it is unthinkable that a Slovenian was going to be their First Lady; not knowing that such remark contradicts the very same ideal of embracing every American citizen regardless of where they came from originally. An ideal that Hillary and her Democratic Party reiterate every chance they get. Truth be told, Melania is just as American as everybody else. I mean, we all know that the so-called Americans – by that I mean the English-speaking white people –are descendants of immigrants, don’t we?
I believe that as much as it pains many of us to accept the fact that a man with a foul mouth and horrible political views won the election and has now assumed office, at the end of the day we have to give him the benefit of the doubt, even if at a minimal simply because life goes on. Yes, he set the standard so low, but that’s democracy for you. It’s not always going to go your way.
Imagine if it was the other way around: Hillary won and Trump’s supporters marched in protests that ended in violent riots. What would you say and feel about it? What if Hillary had won, and instead of supporting her as the democratically elected president, people geared up their criticisms against her person – that a woman is incapable to lead; that a woman’s achievements are determined by the man she’s with; that a woman with make-ups can’t be taken seriously; that a woman is simply a secondary citizen.
And it also reflects badly on all of us who identify as liberal, supporters of freedom and equality, feminists. It isn’t enough just to be on the front row to defend women and/or anyone being subjected to injustice and unfairness when they’re our friends. We also have to stand up for those who may not exactly be our ally. Of course, there have been attempts to defend Melania from the overwhelming demonization against her, but real feminists should not cherry pick who should be defended and who should not be.
If this makes sense to you, then probably the next time you’re thinking of throwing criticisms at any women – not just Melania – ask yourself if you’re being fair first. Base your criticisms of women figures on fair grounds: actions, ideas, and policies, not their person.
If you find it appalling when someone calls Hillary derogatory names for being a woman with opinions, why are you doing just the same thing to Melania? There’s something inherently wrong in being a supporter of women and immigrants and the minorities and having the audacity to criticize a woman for being born in foreign land and having authority over her body.
Imagine having to follow on the trail of the Michelle Obama with everyone having already decided that you’re terrible at a job you haven’t even started doing yet.
That sure doesn’t sound like the American dream spirit to me.
Ravio Patra used to write almost exclusively about politics until he sneaked his way into its inner circle and realized even the politicians don’t take their own policies that seriously. And he writes encrypted love letters on his Instagram at @raviopatra.