There's a very important reason we shouldn't simply dismiss Newt Gingrich's sexist claim that no one will care about Melania Trump's speech being plagiarized because she's so "stunningly attractive." While this eye-roll-inducing comment, made live on CNN, is undeniably stupid, it's also endemic of a widespread viewpoint increasingly guiding and propping up antiwoman legislation and policies.
The Gingrich interview marked yet another moment in a long list of moments in which Trump and his political cohorts have reduced the value of a woman to her attractiveness or utility to men. After all, Trump himself has spent a lifetime evaluating women based on the size of their breasts and the state of their bikini bodies, both professionally, as the owner of the Miss Universe pageant, and personally, as several of his former co-workers and confidantes have repeatedly attested. Even when speaking about his daughter Ivanka, an accomplished businesswoman and mother, Trump has been known to overwhelmingly fixate on her physical assets. Just last year, while in the thick of his presidential campaign, he told a reporter for Rolling Stone: "Yeah, she's really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren't happily married and, ya know, her father . . . "
Even much of the seemingly liberal vitriol against Melania Trump follows the very same dismissive, misogynistic line of logic as Gingrich did on CNN. People who discount her out of hand as a former model — even those hesitant to hold her accountable for the words she spoke at the Republican National Convention given her appearance and demeanor — play into the idea that women only need to be considered in terms of their looks.
When we devalue the intellect, agency, and humanity of women, it makes it easier to defend antiwoman policies, many of which are at the heart of the hopelessly regressive Republican platform.
The bottom line is that when we devalue the intellect, agency, and humanity of women, it makes it easier to defend antiwoman policies, many of which are at the heart of the hopelessly regressive Republican platform being celebrated this week at the RNC. The New York Times editorial board calls it "the most extreme in memory," thanks to its anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, and antiwoman positions. The newly unveiled platform calls for women to be barred from combat and "family values" judges — code for anti-reproductive rights judges — to lead the courts. (If you watched Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gleefully note in his RNC speech that Trump would have rubber-stamped the Republican Congress's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, to wild applause, you'll see how widely accepted these notions have become.)
Language is important. It shapes our reality. It has been used for thousands of years to marginalize already marginalized people and eat away at the empathy we might feel for them as fellow humans. (Please see: using "thug" to describe black men.) Trump himself has been a master at using harmful, coded language throughout this campaign to appeal to the worst in people — their sexism, racism, and xenophobia — in a way that later allows him to distance himself from those ideals. So, while Trump and Gingrich's casual sexism might seem superficial or even harmless, it is insidious. We need to listen up.