Are women Trumped by gender, still?

Agrippina the Younger, mother of Nero, first-century marble, National Museum of Warsaw.

Agrippina the Younger, mother of Nero, first-century marble, National Museum of Warsaw.

It’s intriguing – though infuriating might be the better word – that Our Principles PAC should have to release an ad with actresses mocking Donald Trump’s sexist comments on women at precisely the moment that a new study shows women’s presence in male-dominated professions being heralded by a decrease in salaries. 

The moral in each case is the same: To be a woman in the 21st century is still to be devalued.

And, by extension, so are so-called feminine qualities and professions, such as compassion and the arts. These are viewed as weak and decorative at best.

But why should this be, given wave after wave of feminism? Why aren’t more people – particularly more women like Trump’s wife, former wives, daughters and other female relations as well as his female supporters – speaking out against him calling women “fat pigs” and “bimbos”? Why aren’t other men outraged at him saying that no one would vote for former candidate Carly Fiorina, given her face? Why don’t women point out the obvious: Trump is not only no Apollo Belvedere, he’s not even Colin Kaepernick, Rafael Nadal or Nacho Figueras in the looks department?

Clearly, some people, regardless of their gender, are outraged, but perhaps they are not being heard or their message is too subtle or perhaps they think it best to shun rude behavior.

There’s a point, though, at which discretion is no longer the better part of valor and both politesse and silence become cowardice. If you saw someone making fun of a child for being black, would you – could you – just stand by? Or would you rise up, put a protective arm around that child and say, “Stop it”? What’s happening here to women – and to blacks, Muslims, Hispanics and immigrants – is just plain wrong. But sticking with the theme of this post, we must acknowledge that the roots of misogyny – whether voiced from the political stage or buried by a human resources department – are deep and varied.

Since prehistoric times, men have done the “important” stuff – slaying the mastodons, for instance. Women gathered the berries and took care of the kids. Trump likes kids. He just doesn’t want to take care of them, bringing to mind Fran Lebowitz’s comment that men never take anything personally, including their own children. But Trump would pay to have the children cared for – so at least there’s that. And this: He adheres to the model that has been in place from Cro-Magnon Man to “Mad Men.”

There’s nothing wrong with this model as long as everyone acknowledges that the complements are equal. Families needed Dad’s paycheck and so he couldn’t be as involved with the family as he labored to make that Chrysler or sell that Chrysler or close the deal in Chrysler’s board room. But without Mom taking care of the house and the kids – even if she were supervising a staff to do the physical work – the home and the family would fall apart. It has been a team effort, with kids and extended family playing their roles, too.

The problem is that women’s roles in and out of the home are not being acknowledged for their true worth still, half a century after the most recent feminist movement And that is the result of prejudices that are culturally and psychologically as well as historically ingrained. And not just by men. To compensate for their lack of political and financial power, women made a bargain with the devil that is perhaps the only deal they could’ve made then but that remains a bargain with the devil nonetheless: They traded on their looks and threw in their lot with their sons. To take two historical examples, both Olympia and Agrippina, alluring ladies, did whatever they could to ensure that their sons – Alexander the Great and Nero respectively – became king, including murder their own husbands.

But both dances with the devil prove to be traps. In order to wield power through your looks, you have to hold on to those looks forever. Any imperfection is subject to condemnation – not just for you but for other woman. That’s a game with time that no woman can win.

The other dance is equally lethal. To ride the coattails of your son to power is to puff him up into an egomaniac who in the end might turn on you. (Nero had his mother killed.) While many mothers and sons stop short of Agrippina and Nero, women often reinforce misogyny or at least patriarchy in an attempt to bolster their sons’ honor. For example, in countries with honor killings – in which the woman is murdered to atone for some alleged transgression that either she or a relative has committed – it is her mother or mother-in-law who instigates the heinous proceedings.

What is going on here? Whether you attribute it to hormones and/or history, women continue to think they or other women aren’t worth much. And that’s why they drive down salaries in formerly male-dominated professions like medicine. They don’t demand more, because they don’t think they deserve more.

Now a woman stands close to becoming the most powerful figure on earth. It will be intriguing – although enlightening might be the better word here – to see if Hillary Clinton will change the fortunes of women. I doubt it.

Still, the ironic prospect that a woman might succeed at the expense of a misogynist is richly irresistible.