Courtesy Jessica Valenti, theguardian.com, September 22, 2016
Blues legend BB King once sang: “Never trust a woman, until she’s dead and buried.” Sadly, it’s a sentiment that sounds just at home in our current political discourse as it does an old song: while this week’s NBC/WSJ poll shows Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump in general support, voters consider Trump more “honest and straightforward” than Clinton by 10 points.
Let’s take a moment to consider this. A candidate whose first campaign ad was judged by one site to contain one lie every four seconds and who, according to Huffington Post, told over 70 lies in just one televised town hall; a man who one philosopher argues has “perfected the outrageous untruth as a campaign tool”, is considered more honest than his opponent.
This isn’t a new problem for Clinton – a CNN poll from July found that only 30% of people surveyed found Clinton trustworthy, while 43% thought Trump was. It’s also not a new issue for American women.
The notion that women are fundamentally untrustworthy snakes through almost every area of our lives. Managers distrust women who ask for flextime; women who show anger are less trusted than their male counterparts; and people think the more makeup a woman wears, the less trustworthy she is. (In fact, there is a trove of “don’t trust women” memes inspired by before-and-after pictures of women with makeup.)
Republican policies and conservative thought, too, rely on this belief. Legislators have tried to pass laws that would mandate women get written permission from men before obtaining abortions, or have suggested that rape and incest exceptions would give way to women lying about abuse. There is a reason that one of the phrases most often used by the pro-choice community is “trust women”.
When it comes to sexual assault or domestic violence, victims – the vast majority of whom are women – are still widely disbelieved. When Amber Heard brought charges against her then-husband Johnny Depp, she was accused of fabricating the allegations to extort him in their divorce settlement. Only when a video of Depp appearing to behave aggressively was released and Heard donated millions from the settlement to a charity did the scrutiny slow. There are literally dozens of women who have accused Bill Cosby of rape, and still there are people who believe every single one of them is making it up, something I find barely credible. The way that the police doubt sexual assault victims has even been shown to be part of the reason we have such a backlog of untested rape kits: officers treat women shoddily and they don’t want to come back to pursue charges.
When we don’t trust women, when we disbelieve them even in the face of thoroughly convincing evidence, everyone suffers.
Clinton has been deemed untrustworthy by the public long before Trump came into the political picture, it’s true. And like most politicians, she’s given the public reasons to question her. But it’s impossible to divorce the way that voters view her from the misogyny she’s faced over decades. She’s considered “guarded” – but how could she not be after years of sexist smears and slights? Trump, on the other hand, is lauded for “telling it like it is” even as so much of what he says is shown to be untrue.
The act of trusting women shouldn’t be a radical act, and women shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to be considered credible. No matter your politics, the double standard here is hard to ignore.