Creepiness in action: Women need to call out this behaviour

Women should call out Donald Trump-type behaviour in their workplaces, writes Una Mullally

US president Donald Trump, while holding a telephone conversation with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, calls forward RTÉ's Washington correspondent Caitriona Perry. Video: Reuters

 

At no point has Donald Trump been reprimanded with any great consequence for his objectionable behaviour towards women. We know the American president bragged about serially sexually assaulting women, and we know multiple women and witnesses came forward during his campaign to talk about their experiences with his lewd comments, groping, harassment and assault. And we know he has been rewarded greatly.

We saw his creepiness in action when he beckoned RTÉ Washington correspondent Caitríona Perry to his desk in what she rightly labelled a “bizarre” interaction while he was on the phone with Leo Varadkar. “And where are you from? Go ahead, come here. Where are you from? We have all of this beautiful Irish press. Where are you from?” Trump said, commenting on the “beautiful smile on her face,” as if Perry was a beauty queen in a lineup and not a seasoned professional.

“I bet she treats you well,” Trump joshed on the phone, a weird statement that somehow managed to encapsulate Trump’s petulance about the American press as well as patronise Perry’s work.

Perry is just doing her job, and working extremely hard in order to do it. But where we see a hardworking professional, Trump sees a target for his own brand of awkward sleaze.

Women everywhere are familiar with being put on the spot, objectified, and trivialised by men in professional settings. Perry dealt with it in the only way she could, that delicate balance women automatically have to strike in these situations - half humouring someone and half asserting oneself in an impossibly awkward moment.

When the balance of power is so heavily weighted towards one side, what are you meant to do? Women know what this feels like, and it’s often impossible to think quickly enough, or “cause a scene”. We know how to deal with these kinds of situations. We smile and get the hell out of there. But the feeling of objectification and being patronised lingers.

One can’t imagine Perry’s predecessor as RTÉ’s US correspondent, Richard Downes, having his appearance and smile being commented on by a female politician in full view of the world’s press. Can you imagine if a female leader did what Trump did to a male journalist? Or a gay male leader did what Trump did to a male journalist? Unfortunately, our standards are so low for Trump, his bar of acceptable behaviour so mashed into the ground, we sigh and continue. It is a tragedy for women in America, particularly, that misogyny has become so embedded in his reign, because it has ramifications far beyond the Oval Office.

The Republican’s working group on their health bill comprises of 13 men and no women, despite the obvious implications for women’s healthcare in that bill. The bill involves, amongst other things, blocking millions of women on Medicaid from getting care from Planned Parenthood - including birth control, STI tests and cancer screenings - and removing requirements for insurance companies to cover things such as birth control and maternity care.

Calling out Trump’s misogyny is often countered with “but women voted for him too”. And they did. Of the 53 per cent of white women who voted for Trump, you’d have to assume that many were adjacent to male power who did the same. Women everywhere know what that feels like, too.

Perhaps they were more focussed on protecting their interests in the home, in their own environment, as opposed to in the White House. Perhaps they were more interested in their race than their gender. Women frequently align themselves with men’s interests to the detriment of their own. It takes a lot to unpick centuries of oppression. Being complicit in one’s oppression is not new. Misogyny is not solely a male pursuit, and it’s hardly news that people frequently vote against their own interests based on warped logic, from British towns in receipt of EU funding voting for Brexit, to working class people voting for Tories and Republicans.

Women are of course also leading the resistance against Trump. Yet that also has its tone policed, the metaphorical “beautiful smile” of acceptable protest. For those who thought Perry handled herself with grace under pressure, you should be angry that a woman was once again subjected to Trump’s creepiness. And if you’re willing to call out that kind of behaviour when it goes viral, try calling it out in your own workplaces too.

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