“Is Melania Trump the first sexy First Lady?” was the headline promoted on the Philly Inquirer's Twitter and website this week, serving as a depressing indication of what we might have to endure over the next four years. After a lot of criticism, the tweet was quickly deleted and the headline changed to “Melania Trump brings sultry elegance to the White House” with the Inquirer kind-of-sort-of-but-not-really apologizing in a Tweet. The news site’s official statement reads as follows:
"We’ve heard from many readers about this column, the original headline that topped it, our prominent positioning of the story online and its publication during the same weekend as the Women's March. The column was an assessment of Melania Trump’s clothing choices during the inaugural ceremonies – not her role as first lady -- as fashion journalism is the art of describing what people wear, why they wear it, and what message their choices communicate. Ms. Wellington has for the last eight years reported on Michelle Obama’s fashion choices as well. But we understand that many readers feel our handling of this subject missed the mark. We can do better."
The apology unfortunately hasn't taken into account the heavily gendered and objectifying language used in the article body to talk about Melania. Descriptions of Melania’s outfit, were not, as claimed, purely fashion-focused. Evocative imagery included, “That slit crept all the way up her thigh,” “Trump kicked off her first ladyship fully embracing her sexy," and “giving this body-skimming look a sumptuous, if not sultry, vibe,” while going to pains to point out that Melania was once a “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model”.
And despite the Philly Inquirer’s best attempt to rectify the situation, the fact of the matter is that no less than three days into Trump’s presidency and we’re already seeing major news publications talk about women with the same “Grab her by the pussy”-language championed by our dear President. Here's the kicker: just because Not My President Trump thinks its okay to address women in such a way, it doesn't make it right--for anyone, on either side of the political spectrum--to treat women the same way. It doesn't make it okay to sexualize Melania for her choice of attire. It doesn't make it okay to create memes slut-shaming her. It certainly doesn't make it okay to hold up a violent sign that say "Rape Melania" (which, incidentally, was planted by pro-Trump factions, furthering the point that it's the regressive way the right treats women).
Assessing a First Lady on her “sexiness” is a horrific anachronism which should have been laid to rest by decades of First Ladies who, you know, were fully autonomous beings with brains and identities and personalities who worked hard and got shit done despite oppressive public scrutiny and institutionalized sexism. Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, after all, just became the first woman nominated by a major party to run for President. Michelle Obama left just as rich of a legacy of political activism and hard work. Aren’t we past treating First Ladies--and women generally--like accessories existing solely to be scrutinized and fetishized by the lacivious male gaze?
Granted, Melania has not exactly earned the right to be lauded as an activist, a champion for women, or anything anywhere near as impressive as Michelle or Hillary yet. Like it or not, however, she is the First Lady, and we can’t stoop to normalizing disparaging language against her - or any woman - in the spotlight.
What we know about Trump is that he’s more than comfortable using offensive, crude language to belittle and sexualize women, and it seems that the toll of casual normalization is already being paid by the media. At a time when we should be raising the bar for women and the way we talk about them, their public movements, and their bodies, it seems like we might be finding out how many garbage ways there are to describe half the world’s population.
[Photo: Getty Images]