Anne Enright: Never has male anatomy been so waved about in politics
Never in a million years could you imagine a female politician behaving like Trump
For so long, it was impossible to describe a woman doing a job without putting the word “female” in front of it, in case people got a fright when she walked into the room: aircraft pilot, doctor, writer, president of the United States. We need to change this around, right now. Not because a woman just lost the American presidential election, but because Donald Trump won.
On her last campaign night in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton was introduced as “mother, grandmother” by Barack Obama, but the person who got up on stage looked like a politician to me. This was, perhaps, part of her image problem. It may also be the reason for the early success of Bernie Sanders. People don’t like politicians. Clinton made a speech and it stayed a speech – unlike Obama, who, when he makes a speech, turns it into history.
Despite the overt misogyny of the campaign against her, it is possible to think of Hillary Clinton as a politician first and a woman second – at least it is for me – but Trump gave us no option but to think of him in gendered terms. This is because he likes to talk about his penis, reassuring the electorate of its unproblematic nature: “I guarantee there’s no problem. I guarantee you.” He did not say for whom. In fairness, this was in response to a slur from Marco Rubio about the size of the man’s hands.
It is possible think of a male politicians behaving more or less like Hillary Clinton: getting the money in, managing accusations, wearing out the shoe leather on the campaign trail. But you could never – not in a million years – imagine a female politician behaving like Trump. So he is now the special case, he is the one who needs his gender assigned in every sentence, he is “the male president of the United States”.
All about men
Despite the fact that one of the candidates was a woman, this election managed to be all about men (and not in a good way). Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Anthony Weiner, Julian Assange: the traps set for Hillary Clinton hinged not on her behaviour as a woman so much as on the sexual behaviour of these men. Trump – of those notably small, notably grabby, hands – brought four of Bill’s sexual accusers to the first presidential debate. The email scandal broken by Wikileaks involves a man who sits in a room talking to Russia because he refuses to face charges involving sexual consent. Hillary Clinton’s late downturn in the polls owed much to the idea of Anthony Weiner’s laptop, and what else might be on it. We got right down to basics here. We even got the visuals.
Never has male anatomy been so waved about in American politics. A woman walks into the nominations and the guys check their own, and also, weirdly, each other’s, pants. And they say the US has a problem with guns.
Yesterday a man said to me: “I don’t know which would be worse, Trump or a woman.” Then he said it was a joke. Well, he is not laughing now.
Men have to live with this result, as well as women. Whoever said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce, got it the wrong way around. This election played as farce and ended in tragedy. It is, for all of us, an opportunity to look at our own stupidities: for men to look at their jokes, and for women to look at their choices, especially when it comes to men. (Yes, Huma Abedin, we are all looking, sorrowfully, at you.)
People regress, especially under stress. For men, this regression may involve concerns about the size of their hands, the contents of their laptops, the way power may secretly be about getting laid. The anatomical anxiety on display during this election campaign is the kind that most occupies males when they are two years old. Then they grow out of it. Apart from the ones who don’t, who sometimes get to run a country.
Those of us already wrung out, post-Brexit, by anxiety about the rise of this new right-wing politics, with its cast of cartoon characters, wretched demagoguery and indifference to fact, might pause to consider the infantile nature of Trump’s behaviour. At least it is all out in the open now. There is no ambiguity, no room for confusion. It would be nice to find this satisfying or funny, but, on days like this, funny is hard to find.