IT IS, perhaps, surprising that first US presidential race to involve a woman candidate has not been more about gender. It is easy to detect criticisms of Hillary Clinton which would not have been levelled at a man: she is “bossy”, “hectoring”, smiles too much, smiles too little, has no stamina, prepares too much. But out-and-out misogyny has been largely absent, at least in media interviews.
Instead, misogyny has entered the electoral campaign by a different route. When a 2005 tape of remarks to a reporter was released a week ago, it appeared that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign could not have taken a more serious knock. But when he dismissed as just “locker-room talk” his boast that, as a celebrity, he was able to grope women, it caused, if anything, more outrage than the original remarks. Such a dismissive phrase, even when accompanied by an apology, was designed to suggest that such talk and behaviour was normative. It just proved that he was “one of us”, one Republican commented. “A man is a man, and they all say things like that.”
This view is not far from the truth. Part of Mr Trump’s appeal is to American men who believe that their freedom of speech has been curtailed by a new set of liberal standards. It can look very different to women. A US author, Kelly Oxford, posted on Twitter on Friday night: “Women: tweet me your first assaults”, expecting perhaps a handful. By Monday, her account had received 27 million tweets; a mixture of stories never told before and messages of support. At one point, 50 stories a minute were being posted, such as: “supermarket. old guy repeatedly tries to touch me I yelled ‘NO’ several times but no one cared. I was 9 #notokay”. In a related Facebook post, one woman wrote: “I’ve never really thought about these moments cumulatively before. . . In part, because they seem so ‘small’ compared to what many have experienced. . . All of us already live in Trump’s world, where these behaviors are commonplace.” When Mr Trump asserted during Sunday night’s acrimonious television debate “Nobody has more respect for women than I do,” many women agreed with him not for the right reason.
Attitudes to women have improved rapidly in recent decades, not least because women have spoken; but there is clearly still a long way to go. This week, the House of Lords took note of a report of the Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee, relating cases of rape inflicted by perpetrators who range from IS fighters in Syria to so-called peacekeepers in the Congo. Peers spoke of the difficulty of persuading politicians in the West to take the issue seriously enough to act. The many conservative Christians who support Mr Trump might ponder why that is.