Days after footage of Donald Trump bragging about his unsolicited sexual advances was released, women gathered in front of Trump Tower, rallying against his inappropriate behavior and vulgarity. They weren’t going down without a fight: They were going to “grab back.”
In light of Trump’s impending presidency, our responsibility as women — and all those who find his attitude toward women offensive — is not to respond to his lewd speech with vulgarity of our own. If we are to argue against his derogatory perception of women, we must approach the conversation with a more sophisticated vocabulary.
The day following Inauguration Day, more than 100,000 protesters plan to join the Women’s March on Washington. They won’t accomplish much if the best they can manage is this level of discourse.
It’s clear that the future commander-in-chief respects women as well as you’d expect from a former reality TV star who marries and remarries models and actresses.
Trump implied in August 2015 that Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle diminished her performance as a moderator during the first GOP presidential debate, and before that, he retweeted a post calling Kelly a “bimbo.” In 2006 Donald Trump said Condoleezza Rice may have been a “lovely woman,” but not an effective secretary of state.
But Trump is not the only one to employ crude language to press a point.
Last March, Indiana resident Laura Shanley was so infuriated with Governor Mike Pence that she incited a slew of mass prank calls to the future vice president-elect’s office.
After Pence signed a bill that placed restrictions on abortions, Shanley launched a Facebook page called Periods for Pence, which encouraged women to call the governor’s office and spell out the details of their menstrual cycles to protest the law. His phone lines were so beleaguered that they shut down, which Shanley announced triumphantly on the page.
During the vice presidential debate, the trend resurrected, with women tweeting him messages like, “Watching #VPDebate & thought you’d want to know that my menstrual cramps are rather severe tonight.”
The Periods for Pence page, now expanded to Periods for Politicians (so not to limit its vitriol to the vice president-elect), has more than 91,000 likes on Facebook.
But pranking politicians isn’t exactly a win for women, or any group for that matter. Policy opinions aside, this sort of protest amounts to nothing more than raising a feeble middle finger. The offending politicians might hear the voice of the people, but will they listen? Repeating vulgarity or discussing menstruation for the sake of the ick factor will make a point, but neither will change a point of view, and rather than presenting an alternative, it merely reinforces defining women in merely sexual terms.
When we resort to shock factor to make our case, our argument relies less on the strength of reason and more on the pungent force of a cheap shot. That’s good news for the opponent: It’s easier to fixate on an ill-mannered method than to debate an argument.
Instead of embracing this type of language, we should call out his language for what it is — base, offensive, and lazy — and demonstrate a higher form of rhetoric.
We may never engage in important discussions — such as abortion policy and punishments for rape or workplace harassment — unless we can openly discuss these subjects rather than attacking our opponents and wallowing in slime.
As we face Trump’s upcoming presidency, let’s not adopt reactionary language that sinks to his level. Let’s elevate our speech.
Ms. Fry is a junior studying French and journalism.