With this week’s flurry of Trump campaign/Fox news speculations that Hillary Clinton is sick or sleepy, and Donald Trump’s tweet that MSNBC morning co-host Mika Brzezinski is neurotic (right after his campaign manager said he was done with personal attacks, too!) Donald Trump has nearly completed filling out a metaphorical bingo card of every malicious trope about women that has cropped up since the beginning of time, especially when men are insecure or scared of women.
I have to admit there a few negative female archetypes I can think of that haven’t yet made their way onto the Hannity show or Trump’s Twitter feed. So he can’t say “Bingo” quite yet. Each of these demeaning or frightening images of women has a long history in mythology, literature, art, and in the thinking of people across time. There are still 76 days left in the campaign, so maybe he or his minions will be able to fill the whole card.
Here’s the list of negative female stereotypes Trump has called forward so far:
The Old Crone (somewhat magical and scary) and…
The Physically and Mentally Weak Woman
Both of these frightening and dismissive visions of scary women are evoked in the current conspiracy theory that Hillary is sick. She allegedly had a seizure at a donut shop. She is absent, sleeping all the time. She couldn’t walk up a couple of stairs. You look at her on the campaign trail day after day, vibrant and healthy and with unbending energy, unfailing attention. How in the world could a fantasy of her as sick or weak take hold? Because these are mental constructs that people carry around in their unconscious, and they rise to the surface in times of threat.
The Undesirable Outcast (not worthy of a man’s sexual attention)
Megan Kelly famously summed it up when she questioned Trump in the first Republican primary debate: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Trump: “What I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry, I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that to you.”
The Hysteric Neurotic Mess
Mika Brzezinski apparently upset Mr. Trump and he deploys two other “bad woman”cliches to attack her. She’s clearly beautiful, so he can’t put her in the undesirable category. First, she must be neurotic, a label (interchanged with hysteric) that has been used against women when they are not pleasing for ages:
Trying to undermine Brzezinski’s stature further, Trump calls her “Joe’s girlfriend” in a follow up tweet, reducing her to another man’s possession rather than a force in her own right.
The beautiful object, or as Trump puts it, “a beautiful piece of ass”
Just a few sample quotes from Mr. Trump, all of which are now painfully familiar.
“You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” — from an interview with Esquire, 1991
“I mean, we could say politically correct that look doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters,” Trump said to a female reporter in a clip featured on “Last Week Tonight.” “Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful.” (John Oliver on Miss America Pageant September 2014)
And most cringe-worthy of all, on The View (March 2006) Trump, speculates about his daughter, “Although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps, I would be dating her.”
This is pretty much every woman who manages to make him look bad.
The Overwhelming Terrifying Biological mystery
Trump’s infamous Megyn Kelly Tweet combines elements of the bitch and the terrible biological mystery:
The Roots of Mysogyny- Fear of Women’s Strength and Power
I’ve written elsewhere that you can’t understand Hillary’s Clinton’s difficulties with “popularity” or the common negative reactions to women in positions of power without understanding a fundamental psychoanalytic concept-a phenomenon called transference, and particularly, the mother transference.
Let me explain the two parts of the concept, “mother transference”. Transference refers to the very strong fears, desires and fantasies we originally feel towards the important people in our early lives. It’s a universal feature of human psychology that we carry these forward into adulthood and at times lay them down, like a transparency, onto present day relationships, both personal and public. So our vision of the person in the present day is partly who they really are and partly shaped by these transference overlays created by our emotional experiences of figures in our past.
So, what’s special about the mother transference? For the sake of brevity, I’m going to use the typical family constellation, where the mother is the predominant figure in early child rearing. Think about what power this gives her. The mother of our infancy is about as an omnipotent figure as one could construct. She determines when and what we eat, when we rest, when we get what we want and when we are thwarted. She allows others into our world or has the power to keep them out. Her responses to us carve deep and lasting mental circuits —if she is erratic we may fear inconstancy for the rest of our lives; if she shames us in our infant helplessness, our sense of self may be permanently injured. If her face lights up when she sees us we are on our way to developing a permanent feeling that the world is fundamentally a good place and and we have a good foundation in it. Depending on your temperament and how your early life goes, your “maternal transference” may be predominantly negative or predominantly positive. If it is mainly negative, then you are inclined to see powerful women as threatening or dangerous. If it is mainly positive, a powerful woman is a beacon of hope (think Lady Liberty).
Tyrant or benevolent caregiver, the mother of our childhood is omnipotent, and that creates a permanent uneasiness. Then, later in life, when we encounter a powerful woman, these early fantasies and fears related to omnipotent women can be aroused. And that’s the root of misogyny and all sorts of hostile and demeaning images of women.
I’ve always felt that the old idea of women as the “weaker sex’ is pure wishful thinking. Guess what—I discovered that Donald Trump agrees with me! In The Art of the Comeback, he wrote
“Women have one of the great acts of all time. The smart ones act very feminine and needy, but inside they are real killers. The person who came up with the expression ‘the weaker sex’ was either very naive or had to be kidding. I have seen women manipulate men with just a twitch of their eye — or perhaps another body part.”
Many of the memes of misogyny are responses to the underlying unconscious fear that powerful women induce. The common underlying fear is that she will once again make me feel small and helpless. I will once again be subject to her power.
Women in positions of leadership—in business, politics or any other sphere— need to understand the negative maternal transference, learn to tolerate the hostility it often gives birth to, and strategize how to tap into a positive maternal transference. Evoke the unconscious image of the strong woman who sacrificed everything, understood me and knew how to meet my needs. This is a topic for another time. Today, I’m in the land of witches and bitches.
Here are three classic negative female archetypes Trump has, to my knowledge yet to invoke. Let’s see if he manages to cover the entire field of misogynistic mythology by election day.
The Child Stealing Witch—(e.g. Adam’s first wife, Lilith)
Women who Shun Men—(e.g. Amazons)
The Woman who Manipulates Men by Withholding Sex—(e.g. Lysistrata)