On Monday, actress and model Emily Ratajkowski took to Twitter to defend First Lady Melania Trump after a New York Times journalist allegedly called Trump a “hooker” off the record.
“Whatever your politics, it’s crucial to call this out for what it is: slut-shaming,” Ratajkowski tweeted. “I don’t care about her nudes or sexual history. Gender specific attacks are … sexist bullsh-t.”
Ratajkowski, a vocal feminist and victim of endless gender-based attacks herself, raises a crucial point that was often throughout the campaign trail by supporters and opponents of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton alike: Whether or not you agree with an individual, attacks on the basis of identity are never appropriate. They serve as attacks on whole communities of people rather than one single individual. In this sense, weaponizing female sexuality to degrade the first lady isn’t an attack on her, but on all women.
In the same vein, despite how conservative commentator Ann Coulter has literally called for reversal on women’s suffrage and is open about her disdain for Mexican immigrants, African Americans and essentially all marginalized groups, calling her a “b-tch” or “c-nt” — as some of her liberal critics often do — only serves to stoop to Coulter’s level and steal attention from legitimate criticism of her backwards and offensive stances.
This doesn’t exclusively relate to gender: For example, throughout the 2016 primaries, I wondered why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was being dragged by progressives for his weight and appearance, when it would be exponentially more productive to criticize his problematic policies.
That being said, Melania Trump’s gender hardly excuses her from valid criticisms, such as her refusal to recognize and advocate for the many women who lack her privilege. This is a deeply pervasive issue worth considering in an America where 53 percent of white women voted into the presidency a man who has attacked with his rhetoric and policies virtually every marginalized community.
Sexism isn’t just overt, self-avowed hatred of women, and sexism isn’t exclusively perpetuated by men. As the women of President Donald Trump’s administration — from his wife, who seems to turn a blind eye to Trump’s bigotry so she can continue to enjoy vast economic privilege, to adviser Kellyanne Conway, who tells blatant lies to defend the president’s attacks on people who lack her privilege — demonstrate so clearly, sexism is also perpetuated by women who throw poor women, LGBTQ women and women of color under the bus to advance their own narrow interests.
An individual’s gender, race or sexual orientation doesn’t excuse complicity in attacks on those who lack their privilege. At a time when one’s right to exist in this country is being increasingly challenged on the basis of nationality and religion, when one’s access to bodily autonomy is becoming increasingly contingent on economic status, those who fail to utilize their privilege to help those who lack it can no longer be held above criticism — whatever their gender.
As Conway deflects valid criticisms (after breaking the law by promoting Ivanka Trump’s business) by portraying these criticisms as sexist, and Ivanka Trump identifies as a feminist while offering deafening silence on her father’s stances on poor women, immigrant women facing deportation, indigenous women disproportionately harmed by climate change and, of course, women seeking healthcare and reproductive rights, it is crucial that media call out this underhandedness. To criticize a woman is not inherently sexist. That being said, being a woman can render one more susceptible to petty, seemingly gender-neutral derision.
At the end of the day, the list of Melania Trump’s acts entirely unrelated to her sultry past as a model that warrant criticism is endless. On top of doing nothing with her privilege to help those being persecuted by her husband’s administration and refusing to educate herself, Melania Trump is also costing Americans millions in tax dollars every day to live in New York while refusing to do her technical job as first lady and oversee White House tours.
Anyone who takes issue with Trump’s nude photos and allegations that she was once an escort — none of which hurt marginalized people — but not the aforementioned behaviors ought to reevaluate their priorities. To equate the “sin” of revealing photos and allegations of sex work with the actual sin of condoning bigotry is pure sexism.
When former First Lady Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high,” she didn’t mean that people in positions of power, regardless of any facet of their identity, should not be held accountable. She didn’t mean that we should hold our tongues and never say a word against bullies, oppressors and those complicit in bullying and oppression. It seems more likely she meant our criticisms of them must be identity-neutral, that to “go high” ought to include fostering a climate in which those with privilege are encouraged to advocate on behalf of those who lack it and those who do not are called out for their harmful silence and apathy.
Kylie Cheung is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You do Uterus,” runs every Thursday.