No more lowered bar for sexism

Expecting chuckles, I was quite surprised to hear startled gasps. That was when I knew I’d crossed a line.

As part of the Pints & Politics panel March 24 at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, I was listening to ongoing discussion of the 1st and 2nd District Congressional races, musing on the possibility of the incumbents being chosen for another term. The conversation drifted to Democrat Monica Vernon, who is challenging Republican incumbent Rod Blum.

The consensus was that if Donald Trump takes the GOP presidential nomination, his supporters would most likely benefit Blum in the general election. Someone noted that Vernon is probably the type of candidate Trump/Blum supporters would be motivated to vote against, and a short list began of the attributes those voters would highlight as negatives against Vernon — an outsider, from a larger city.

A slideshow quickly began in my head of all the sexist comments Trump has made, and how many of his supporters laughed them off. The short list of attributes under development at Pints & Politics was skirting (pun intended) the most obvious attribute of all: Vernon is a woman.

Republican 2016 presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump answers a question at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015.
Republican 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump answers a question at the first official Republican debate in Cleveland, Ohio, August 6, 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

“Wearing her skirts,” I said, adding a feminine attribute to the list. And, remembering Trump’s response to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s questioning during the first GOP debate, I added, “Blood coming out of her — wherever.”

The gasps from the audience were so loud and immediate that I paused and felt compelled to make clear that “it wasn’t me, it was Trump.”

The event, of course, moved on, partly thanks to the pints. But I didn’t.

I keep rehashing that moment, wishing I hadn’t “gone there,” or, at the very least, wishing I would have been more clear about the point.

Going into this presidential election season — for Iowans, that would be the fall and winter of 2014 — I was prepared for another cycle of sexism. Hillary Clinton was once again seeking the nomination, and I’d seen enough “Iron My Shirt” and “Get Me a Sandwich” signs during 2008. There would be the typical anti-women rhetoric, especially among those seeking support from Iowa’s evangelicals, but I honestly thought the bulk of ugly would be strewn at Clinton’s feet.

Like so many others, I underestimated Trump and the limitless bounds of his misogynistic glory; his ability to produce multiple cringes on the back of boorish remarks.

Working in the media, especially as a female opinion writer, has opened the door to unsolicited comments. I receive a wealth gender-based put-downs, some well intentioned and others blatant. As a result my shock threshold is high, my skin leather.

I’ve been desensitized, which isn’t always a good thing — especially when I repeat and give tacit credence to what should always be shocking and unacceptable, especially during this political season filled with “small hands” and other sexual innuendos.

Trump saying such a sexist thing should be offensive; likewise when I willingly parrot it in jest. The flavor du jour might be political incorrectness, straight talk or speaking your mind, but sexism still is discrimination.

Even if Trump can’t be trusted to remember that, I should.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on April 2, 2016. Photo credit: Brian Snyder/Reuters