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Patriarchs and Politicians Weigh In on Women

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It's been a while since blatant misogyny on the scale we see today reared its ugly head so overtly in political circles. But thanks to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and others on the far right, we are reminded of just how base male attitudes towards women can be.

Donald Trump appears to be the frontrunner. He once told a female contestant on The Apprentice, "I bet you make a great wife." He has also said of women, "You have to treat 'em like sh*t." And of course he implied, when network journalist Megyn Kelly asked him a question during a presidential debate, that she must have been having what was once called "the monthlies."

Rabidly anti-choice, anti-pay equity Ted Cruz, who voted against the Violence Against Women Act, was a bit more subtle before he quit the race to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But he said things like this: "Putting women in combat ended up increasing casualties " it decreases military effectiveness." Never mind facts, which include that female Marines have been found to "demonstrate that they are capable of performing the physically demanding tasks" required of them. There are no findings that support Cruz's claim that having an integrated fighting force increases casualties although one study found that women suffer injuries more frequently.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and all the others like them who adhere to similar beliefs about half the world's population, abound. History is rife with misogynistic precedent, if not always in the political arena. An orthodox Jewish prayer uttered as a man's day begins gives thanks to God that he was not born a woman. In 1748, British Lord Chesterfield declared women to be "children of a larger growth," while 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer stated that "One need only look at a woman's shape to discover that she is not intended for either too much mental or too much physical work." A bit later Sigmund Freud saw women as innately hysterical and wondered "what women want."

Great male thinkers and writers like John Ruskin, the quintessential Victorian social critic, declared with Freudian aplomb that good writing required a "penetrative imagination," clearly to be found exclusively in the masculine domain, and Victorian poet Gerald Manley Hopkins made it clear that "the artist's essential quality [was] masterly execution, a kin of male gift." Even Nathaniel Hawthorne, who got his heroine Hester Prynne's strength so right in The Scarlet Letter, disparaged women writers, whom he judged to have no right to a literary life.

Closer to our own time and female literary aspirations aside, one of the great misogynists of all time, Norman Mailer, who like Pablo Picasso physically abused his wives and mistresses, famously said, "You don't know a woman till you've met her in court." Picasso, by the way, believed "there were "only two types of women -- goddesses and doormats."

Even relatively benign men have disparaged women in ways we may not have thought about. For example, when Ruth Bader Ginsberg attended the dean's dinner for women students at Harvard Law School the dean asked the women "to explain what [you] are doing in law school taking a place that could be held by a man."

Some time later, Harvard's president Larry Summers got into trouble when he declared in a keynote speech at a conference on diversity that the shortage of women in disciplines like math and science might be explained by innate differences in ability. Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at MIT was so outraged she walked out during Summers's remarks. "I just couldn't breathe," she recalled. "That kind of bias made me physically ill. Let's not forget that people used to say that women couldn't drive an automobile." (And men still do in Saudi Arabia.)

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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
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