By now, you all know I consider almost everything an opportunity to talk with our kids about sex and sexuality and WOWSER! this week is chock full of opportunities. Let’s start here:
“Trump gives spotlight to Irish reporter (dressed in notice me Helen Thomas red) to Irish leader and liberals have meltdown. C’mon.”
Such is the takeaway from a conservative activist and writer on Twitter (apparently now our country’s preferred mechanism for dialogue) from this event:
“President Donald Trump interrupted a telephone conversation with Ireland’s prime minister to compliment an Irish journalist on her “nice smile.”…Trump was congratulating Leo Varadkar on becoming prime minister, and mentioned that Irish reporters were among those listening…Trump then pointed to Perry, called her over to his desk and asked where she was from…Perry identified herself, and then Trump told Varadkar: “She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well.” (https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2017/06/28/us/politics/ap-us-trump-irish-reporter.html )
The video of the events described above (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2017/jun/28/trump-on-the-phone-to-irish-pm-tells-reporter-she-has-a-nice-smile-on-her-face-video) is even more telling than the transcript as you see the reporter cautiously approach the desk when summoned. After the exchange, Perry looks discomfited as she backs away, still responding with a smile (as did a second woman lower in the frame), and you can hear (nervous?) laughter in the background.
I am trying to teach my daughters to speak up, speak out. When they are attacked, when they see injustice, when they know something is wrong, use their voices. But I am not blaming or shaming the reporter. Speaking up in the best of circumstances is difficult; imagine being in the oval office with the President of the United States and your peers and cameras everywhere?
Women are taught: keep yourself safe; smile and nod. Many are taught (and many more simply extrapolate): somehow you brought this on yourself. As the originally tweeter said, she “was dressed in notice me Helen Thomas red.”
I can’t help but imagine what if her face had shown a different emotion? Even a peek of the anger or disdain I imagine she felt instead of just a conditioned response likely borne out of self-preservation, shock and embarrassment? In my daydreams I imagine Perry saying in a loud, clear voice, “I am a professional. Do not sexualize me.”
But one sexist comment in a week is not enough for a man whose entire identity is wrapped up in (to quote his most recent target, Mika Brzezinski) his “fragile, childlike ego.” In regards to the president’s tweet about Brzezinski:
A spokeswoman for the president, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, urged the news media to move on, arguing during the daily White House briefing that Mr. Trump was “fighting fire with fire” by attacking a longtime critic.
Typical bully tactic. But DON’T WORRY! Our first lady is on the job to help change some of this culture! Right? right? no?
Melania Trump, the president’s wife — who has said that, as first lady, she will embark on a campaign against cyberbullying — also rejected claims that her husband had done what she is charged with undoing…“As the first lady has stated publicly in the past, when her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder,” Mrs. Trump’s spokeswoman wrote in a statement, referring to the first lady’s remarks during the campaign. (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/29/business/media/trump-mika-brzezinski-facelift.html )
Brzezinski spoke out, spoke up. But the first lady could only respond with what I hear in my head as “I told you so.”
These recent episodes are opportunities for you to talk with your kids about any of the following topics: power differentials, bullying, conditioned responses, privilege, sexism, gender roles/expectations. Perhaps watch the video with your kids and follow up with some questions:
Let’s imagine that the reporter was male. Can you envision the president telling the newly elected Irish prime minister that the reporter “has a nice smile so I bet he treats you well”? Can you imagine a female president calling out a male reporter for being “beautiful”? How about if he was wearing a “notice me” red tie?
Do you think she was ‘given the spotlight’? Do you think she was dressing in a way that was intended to get attention? (Leading question: What do you think she would have preferred to be noticed for: her nice smile or her exceptional reporting?)
How do you think that reporter felt about being singled out? What do you see about her body language? How do you think the other people in the room felt? (Leading question: Could she have spoken up given the fact that she was in the presence of “the most powerful man in the world”?)
In what situations would telling someone they have a nice smile be a welcome compliment? Do you think that is what happened here? (Leading question: Do you think there are times that people comment on people’s bodies inappropriately?)
Have you experienced situations where you know what is happening is wrong or uncomfortable but didn’t know how to respond? Let’s talk about some things you think you could say.
Elona Landau is a sexuality educator based in Portland, Oregon. She can be reached at ElonaLandau.com