Two female reporters, working on separate pieces for both the New York Times and The Guardian, point out that, for many women, the most disturbing aspect of the now infamous Trump/Billy Bush video is one that men aren’t likely to appreciate.
It’s not so much the crass lewdness, or even the casual banter about groping sexual assault that really captures the devastating import of this episode as seen through the eyes of other women. It’s the fact that the woman (in this case, Arianne Zucker) is made the object of an inside joke between Bush and Trump as they drastically alter their behavior to “accommodate” her when she actually appears on the video, after they’ve thoroughly dissected her with lascivious comments. She has no idea what has transpired in the preceding two minutes, but Trump and Billy Bush are very much aware of it:
After Access Hollywood host Billy Bush and Trump spend a few minutes making lascivious comments about actor Arianne Zucker, they meet the woman they were just objectifying. The woman that Trump – who has just taken some Tic Tacs “just in case I start kissing her” – called “it”.
“How about a little hug for the Donald?” Bush says, smiling. He then asks for his own embrace.
In that moment, Bush and Trump are in on a joke and Zucker is the punchline.
The reason many men aren’t likely to appreciate the significance of this is because, for men, the experience of being evaluated, commented upon in private, and judged based solely on their appearance is pretty much a foreign concept. Not so for women—it’s what they have to deal with throughout their entire lives. As Jessica Valenti, writing for The Guardian, explains it:
It’s painful to watch not just because Zucker doesn’t know what was said about her, but because this is what women are afraid of. That the men we know, the men we work with – or even love – say horrible things about us. That despite assurances that they respect us and consider us equals, men are secretly winking behind our back. That we are not really people to them, but things.
And what Trump does here is validate those assumptions, that whoever Zucker actually is is not even a relevant consideration to them.
When women watch that interaction between Trump, Bush and Zucker, they’ll think of the countless times they walked up to a group of jovial men in mid-conversation and felt something in the pit of their stomach. They’ll wonder if their sneaking suspicion was right all along – that they were on the outside, that they were the joke.
In the Times article (behind the paywall) Susan Dominus similarly comments on the knowing silence that Bush and Trump maintain as they continue with the charade of showing “appropriate” respect to Zucker. Ms Zucker is never “let in”on the “joke” that both Bush and Trump are aware of throughout the exchange:
[I]n some ways, the most disturbing moment of the recording transpires when Bush and Trump descend from the bus. Waiting for them is the actress Arianne Zucker of “Days of Our Lives.” On the bus, her hotness has inspired cackles, what sound like high-fives, expletives. Both men have talked about her legs. Trump has already thrown back some Tic Tacs, in case he decides to lunge for a kiss. But when he steps off the bus, Trump greets her with the courtesy of a Boy Scout: “Hello, how are you, hi!”
“Hi, Mr. Trump, how are you?” Zucker says. She is polite; she is professional.
It is a moment of deeply uncomfortable dramatic irony: We, the audience, know something she does not, which is that only moments earlier, Trump was coldly appraising her body parts. Bush, acting as a two-bit pimp, asks Zucker to hug Trump, and then asks for a hug himself. Her small laugh is as fake as Trump’s politeness; it is all excruciating to watch.
What the video does more than anything else is reinforce the notion, depressingly, that women cannot count on men to be decent or respectful, and by association even other men’s well-meaning overtures and gestures must be suspect. Of course, not all men are like this, or do this, and the video actually serves to stereotype men as well by putting the boorish behavior of these two on display. But beyond this single captured incident, this video and audio confirmation of women’s worst suspicions about how many men really view them makes a mockery of all the efforts women have made, in the workplace and in the home, to be respected and recognized as equals. Dominus sees the bus (from which the audio recording emanates) as a metaphor in itself:
Bush and Trump on that bus are, in so many ways, the apotheosis of what so many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters are ready to overturn: the musty sleaziness that went out of style in the 1970s; the old bosses who want their secretaries pretty; the cigar-chomping power brokers who think sexual harassment is the woman’s problem; the drooling dimwits who have gotten further than they should have on connections and male privilege. The bus is the old boys’ club that women rarely get to see inside — but it may also turn out to be the wrecking ball that takes down the club for good.
Two women writers working for disparate newspapers came to the same simple conclusion, one that seems to have eluded most of the corporate media thus far, as it certainly eludes Donald Trump: women really don’t appreciate being made to look like fools.
See also Mark Sumner’s Abbreviated Pundit Roundup, here.
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