On August 25, the Republican National Convention kicked off its second evening of endorsements for President Donald Trump with (debatably accurate) speeches from the current president’s colleagues, constituents and family members. This includes remarks from his third and current wife Melania Trump who gave a lengthy speech in the White House Rose Garden. While there was much debate online over the meaning behind the First Lady’s outfit, the sincerity of her words and whether or not she should have given a speech at all, one thing remained clear: the world loves to talk about the FLOTUS. Unfortunately, that includes talking about her body and what she chooses to do with it. While speaking with MSNBC on the morning of August 25, White House advisor Peter Navarro compared the current First Lady to *another* much-discussed FLOTUS: Jackie Kennedy. “Melania Trump will be introducing the new Rose Garden, I find her to be the Jackie Kennedy of her time—the beauty, the elegance, the soft-spokenness,” Navarro told MSNBC. “I think she’ll deliver a powerful message to the American people.”
It’s a comparison that—to put it mildly—didn’t sit well with many viewers. Twitter reactions were immediate with people tweeting that it was inaccurate for myriad reasons. Some pointed out the more apparent differences between the two women: Kennedy was a journalist, Trump was a model; Kennedy came a family that was like American royalty, Trump is an immigrant who came to the states in pursuit of the American dream; Kennedy’s husband was widely adored, Trump’s husband is…not. Others were quick to shame the current First Lady for her career as a model, and past participation in risqué photoshoots, with some online going so far as to say that Trump has starred in porn and hangs out with adult entertainers—claims that are, by all accounts, false. Writer Tomi T. Ahonen even called her a “Slovenian Hooker”.
One Twitter user shared side-by-side photos of Kennedy and Trump—in which Trump is wearing a very low-cut bodysuit (like below her naval low) and Kennedy is in a high-necked, gingham sundress—writing: “Peter Navarro just told Andrea Mitchell Melania Trumps is the Jackie Kennedy of our time…yeah I can totally see the similarities.”
Peter Navarro just told Andrea Mitchell Melania Trump is the Jackie Kennedy of our time…yeah I can totally see the similarities pic.twitter.com/cjekdUJ0x4
— Icculus The Brave (@FirenzeMike) August 25, 2020
The insinuation is pretty clear: some people are implying that the current First Lady is *nothing* like Kennedy because she dresses a certain way and has been overtly sexy in the past. And it’s pretty clear that the further insinuation is that a) Trump should be ashamed of having shown her body in this way and b) doing so somehow discredits her from being someone people should admire and take seriously.
And whether or not you’re a fan of Trump and her husband, that kind of mentality when it comes to women doesn’t fly. Here’s why.
Criticizing Melania Trump for what she does with her body is misogynistic
One of the main issues with the criticisms comparing Melania Trump to Jackie Kennedy is that not only does it pit two women against each other, but it places one as acceptable (Kennedy) and above the other (Trump). Implicit in these criticisms of Trump and subtle jabs at how she presents herself physically–whether that’s through the more revealing clothes she used to wear pre-White House or the degree to which she has chosen to show off her body in photo shoots—is the notion that it’s wrong; and more broadly, that her being sexual with her body is wrong.
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Which, to be clear, it’s not. Saying that a woman like Trump being sexy is wrong, thus diminishing Trump’s value down to her body—and trying to dictate how she, and by extension all women, *should* present their bodies, is misogynistic and controlling. (Misogyny has historically referred to both the individual and systemic hatred of women, but not also encompasses the control and punishment of women who challenge male dominance and the status quo.) As writer Franchesca Ramsay tweeted: “A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her body even if she’s a bigot.”
I hate shit like this mainly bc now I have to defend Melania. A woman has the right to do whatever she wants with her body even if she’s a bigot. There’s so many legit criticisms of Melania that have nothing to do with her body & stooping so low is misogynist https://t.co/nt2NtuZ7iS
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) August 26, 2020
Remember when people on the internet slut-shamed Kendall Jenner for having an active dating life, implying that she was being passed around by NBA players and completely erasing her autonomy and ability to choose her sexual partners? Yeah, same energy.
they act like i’m not in full control of where i throw this cooch https://t.co/DOCPKMdW6K
— Kendall (@KendallJenner) April 29, 2020
Both the jabs at Trump and Jenner are rooted in misogyny. Because heaven forbid a woman choose to be a sexual being. (See also: Ben Shapiro and the controversy around Cardi B and Meg Thee Stallion’s “WAP”.)
Not to mention kind of hypocritical
In addition to being misogynistic, criticisms of what Trump chooses to do with her body are actually hypocritical, especially if the critics are people who are also for a woman’s right to choose what she does with and to her body (which TBH, we should all be on board with). Access to reproductive healthcare and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to use contraception or continue with a pregnancy should not be up for discussion or debate—full stop. And in the same vein, what a woman chooses to do outside her body (like the clothes she puts on it), and with it (like whether she wants to pose for a sexy photo shoot) shouldn’t be up for debate in the same way. While there are obviously differences between a government restricting women’s reproductive rights and people on the internet shaming women for what they wear, both are related to a need to control women and their bodies. The through line is that it’s ultimately up to the individual to make the best decision for themselves—and anyone else’s opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t tell a woman what to do with her reproductive health, so why would we tell her what to do with the rest of her body?
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And ultimately, these criticisms are not productive—because there are legit things to criticize her for
Misogyny and hypocrisy aside, the real reason we shouldn’t be criticizing or shaming Trump for how she dresses or how sexy she used to be in photo shoots is because there are *many* more legitimate political things to hold her accountable for—you know, events and policy-related issues that actually affect U.S. citizens and can have a potentially dangerous effect.
Because there is a lot to unpack and be upset about. While Trump touched on racism in the country in her RNC speech, (obviously) omitted was the fact that not only has her husband spewed racially divisive rhetoric, but she herself has supported it. During President Barack Obama’s presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly publicly called for the former president to release and legitimize his Hawaiian birth certificate. The reasoning being that because Obama was Black (and the first Black president of the United States), his citizenship should be questioned because he must be from outside of the country. You know, because by this logic, only a white person can actually be an American citizen (despite the fact that Trump’s wife herself is white and was not born in the United States). It was an outrageous conspiracy theory and a claim rooted *deeply* in racism. And the First Lady supported it. In a 2011 interview on The Joy Behar Show, Trump called to see his birth certificate herself, telling the host: “It’s not only Donald who wants to see [Obama’s birth certificate], it’s the American people who voted for him and who didn’t vote for him. They want to see that.” When Trump was pressed on the subject, per Teen Vogue, with Behar telling the first lady that his birth certificate was on the internet, she said both she and her husband felt there was another birth certificate (a.k.a. the public one was fake).
Every story about Melania Trump's speech last night should include her public support for her husband's racist claims about Barack Obama's birth certificate. She has never apologized. Racism is not a passing fancy or rare misstep. It is the festering core of this presidency.
— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) August 26, 2020
In 2017, when this clip re-emerged on the internet, many people online used it as an example of why the “Free Melania” movement—a joke that the FLOTUS was trapped in her marriage to President Donald Trump—was toxic; because she is entirely complicit in his actions, as well as autonomous in making her own.
In addition to her support of birtherism, Trump has also made some questionable and problematic decisions during her time in the White House. In June 2018, in the middle of the family separation crisis championed by her husband’s administration, Trump boarded a plane to visit a Texas-based detainment camp centre wearing a jacket with the words: “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” emblazoned across the back. While the argument could be made that it was a poorly made fashion decision—maybe she grabbed the jacket on her way out the door?—first ladies are known for making statements with the clothing and designers they choose to wear. Nothing is accidental.
I don't give AF that Melania posed nude. I don't care that she married a mobster. I don't care that she stayed with a man who cheated on her with a porn star. I care that she is praised by news media bc she seemed nice when she lied about who Trump is.
This is who she is. 👇 pic.twitter.com/ufj6wmbK9Z
— Kimberley Johnson (@AuthorKimberley) August 26, 2020
Which means that her decision to wear a not-so-subtle “Fuck You” to the media on her jacket while on route to visit children separated from their parents and imprisoned in what have been called “mass concentration camps” is pretty reprehensible.
And if all of that isn’t enough to get you riled up, how about the fact that she has stood by a man who’s been accused of sexual misconduct and assault by at least 24 women?
So, when it comes to measuring her effectiveness as a first lady and critiquing Mrs. Trump, let’s think less about her body and sexuality and more about the policies she supports and what she’s actually accomplished during her time in the White House.
How about this. Instead of talking about the tone or the way Melania did her speech last night, name one meaningful thing she accomplished since 2016?
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) August 26, 2020