Alicia Watkins, left, during her on-the-spot interview with Trump. (Photo: AP/Alex Brandon)
Donald Trump is certainly no stranger to sexist comments, which he’s made liberally over the years — taking aim at everything from Carly Fiorina’s face to moms who pump breast milk. “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” Megyn Kelly famously reminded Trump at an August GOP debate, seriously rankling the candidate in the process.
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And even though Trump chalked such utterances up to “show business” on Monday, adding, “Nobody respects women more than I do,” his misogynistic insults continued — only this time, they were not-so-sneakily disguised as compliments.
To wit: At a press conference on Monday, Trump decided he’d like to hire, on the spot, Alicia Watkins — a political blogger and Army vet (and mysterious, Zelig-like former beauty queen, noted the Washington Post) — because, he said, “she looks like she’s got a great look.”
That same day, while meeting with the Washington Post editorial board for an in-depth interview about his policies, Trump was pressed on the issue of racial inclusion by journalist Karen Attiah. After answering, and after the entire meeting had ended, Attiah said Trump told her, “I really hope I answered your question. Then, he added, (“casually with a smile,” she said), “Beautiful.”
Karen Attiah (Photo: Instagram)
In an essay about the experience, Attiah wrote that she was “stunned,” and didn’t say “thank you.” “I stayed in the conference room for a few minutes as it sunk in that the potential GOP nominee for president thought it was okay to comment on my appearance,” she wrote. “Did he just say that?” She added, “In Trump’s world, commenting on a woman’s appearance in a professional setting is fair game, as is predicting riots if he doesn’t get the nomination, threatening the speaker of the House, vowing to ‘open up’ libel laws to go after ‘unfair’ media, and helping to stoke the flames of violence at his rallies.”
(It’s interesting to note, by the way, that the women in both of these scenarios were people of color — and also that the “beautiful” comment was similar to one Trump made to a female reporter in 2014: “I mean, we could say politically correct that the look doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters. Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.”)
And so, with one seemingly flattering word, Trump took that 2016 newsroom scene and threw it all the way back to one from 1971. That’s when, during a TV interview with two male reporters, Gloria Steinem was told, “I hope you forgive our masculine notion that you’re an absolutely stunning sex object,” to which she replied, “Well, I should comment on your appearance, but I don’t have the time.”
Sadly, since then, men from Trump to Joe Scarborough — who raised the hackles of feminists everywhere with his recent tweet at Hillary Clinton to smile — have found all the time in the world to focus on women’s appearances. And it’s this subtle, said-with-a-grin type of commentating that can sometimes cut the deepest, says Cristina Escobar, spokesperson for the Representation Project, which aims to break gender stereotypes through films such as Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In, as well as its social action campaigns including #AskHerMore.
“The media consistently sends the message that women are valued solely for their youth, beauty, and sexuality,” Escobar tells Yahoo Beauty. “Trump’s comment is the hammering home of that message, which undercuts any other contribution a woman may make.”
Adds Escobar, “Whether you are a reporter, politician, or actress, you are contributing in a lot of different ways. But those contributions get devalued with a message that undercuts women as leaders and as whole human beings.”
Attiah’s take on the matter was this: “Perhaps he thought that calling me beautiful would make me ignore the fact that he brazenly lied about his polling numbers among Hispanic voters. Or make me believe that he wasn’t really a racist. Who knows? At least now I know, firsthand, that the sexism that Trump puts on display against Megyn Kelly under the lights of national TV is not that much different from how he is in real life toward female journalists. Sad.”