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Porn or Pawn: the objectification and manipulation of women in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

Written by Sophie Clark

The 2016 Presidential Election has been arguably the most dramatic and astonishing US election in history. From Donald Trump’s insistence that the Mexican government would pay for his ludicrous wall, to Melania Trump plagiarising Michelle Obama’s speech, it seems that every day a news article appears that reasserts the idea that this election is actually a very bad joke that none of the population is in on.

However, the sad fact is that Hillary Clinton doing some awful dancing on The Ellen Show should be the least of our concerns when it comes to the problems that have plagued this election. Instead, the rhetoric surrounding women and the grim, far-reaching misogyny of America that it demonstrates is the real issue at hand.

It is hardly news that America has a serious issue with women and the way its media handles them

It is hardly news, or particularly shocking, to state that America, like most of the world, has a serious issue with women and the way its media handles them. But the fact that women have been treated so poorly throughout an event as huge and crucial as the election is appalling, and it is beyond disappointing that the levels of misogyny in politics have appeared to rise during the election campaign of the first female presidential candidate.

While Clinton no doubt has her flaws, and her fair share of anti-feminist skeletons in the closet, many hoped that this would be an election during which the power of women was wonderfully exemplified. Unfortunately, those hopes have been shattered by the conversation that has prevailed.

During the election so far, women have served one of two purposes: either to be regarded as an object and nothing more, or to be used for someone else’s gain.

For years, Donald Trump’s objectification of women has been clear. The man who once co-owned Miss Universe is hardly likely to be heralded as a feminist hero, and The Apprentice U.S. has been littered full of his remarks about female contestants’ appearances for years.

However, over the past few months, Trump and his comments, as well as those from the past that have emerged, have taken an even more sickening turn. From degrading insults about women’s appearances such as “slob”, “ugly” and “fat”, to creepy perverted statements such as “joking” about dating his daughter, describing a 12-year-old Paris Hilton as “beautiful”, and, of course, that now infamous, “grabbing [women] by the p—-” comment: Trump’s campaign has been one seeping with misogyny and blatant disrespect for women from its conception.

The most concerning part, however, is not his individual views, but the fact that he still has a realistic chance of winning.

Yes, his comments flare up in the media and outrage floods social media but then what? Most of the people expressing their disgust were never Trump supporters anyway. Have comments about dating his daughter and fondling pageant queens been the final straw for any previous supporters?

The concern is that Trump and his sexism is fanning the flame of the anti-female sentiment that has always existed in America.

The concern is that Trump and his sexism is fanning the flame of the anti-female sentiment that has always existed in America. The fear is not of the individual saying such things but the number of people voting for him because these comments and values reflect what they believe in.

One person expressing views against women (as well as a lot of other things) is bad, but millions of people agreeing with them is downright terrifying, especially in an age where women’s rights have come so far.

One would think that a person running to hold one of the most powerful positions in the world would be above such degradation but, it turns out, if that candidate happens to be a woman, they are just as easy a target of objectification as the next lady.

It is a bad state of affairs when people know more about Hillary Clinton’s array of pant suits than her policies

Rigorous analysis of their appearance has plagued any woman who has delved into politics for decades. What shoes they wear, how their make-up looks, the extent to which they’ve aged. The way a woman looks is under constant scrutiny within politics, because heaven forbid a woman leads a country while wearing bad shoes, however good her political acumen may be.

Hillary Clinton is no exception to this – it is a bad state of affairs when people know more about her array of pant suits than her policies.

When women are not being objectified during the election, they are being manipulated in other ways. Would Trump be so quick to demonise Clinton if she were a man?

We will never know for certain, but his apparent outlook towards women suggests not. The ultimate demonstration of female exploitation within this election comes from Trump, unsurprisingly.

His complete disregard for women as humans and his willingness to stretch to any length for his own gain was exemplified by his sickening parade of Bill Clinton’s accusers at the second presidential debate.

After hosting a press conference with them, Trump invited Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathy Shelton to the debate, all of whom have sexual assault cases relating to the Clintons.

They were sitting in the audience as an audacious reminder of the Clintons’ past, a move that not only was unnecessary but completely insensitive.

Given his past comments, and the numerous allegations of sexual assault against Trump himself, it is safe to suggest that he does not care about what the women have been through, but instead what he can gain from pretending to be their ally.

Recently, Trump declared that “nobody has more respect for women than I do”.

Of course, social media erupted with amusement at the statement and – as funny as it initially is – on reflection, it is more terrifying than funny. Does this man genuinely believe that he treats women as they should be treated? Does he honestly think that women in America would be respected if he came into power? More worryingly, are there people who believe this statement?

The cynicism that grows as this election progresses suggests yes. After that notorious comment about where exactly to grab women, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan condemned what was said by Trump: “I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.”

The election that unfolded was anything but feminist. Manipulation and objectification have prevailed

While this may be lovely to hear, Ryan still endorses Trump – demonstrating how Trump can say the most disgusting, dehumanising things, and he will still have support, even from people who should know much better. Ryan’s comments also shed some light on how women are seen by many male politicians: they know that it is socially unacceptable to publicly objectify and disrespect women, but it does not stop them from doing so behind closed doors.

When Hillary Clinton was announced as the Democratic presidential candidate, many people were quick to herald the era of feminism that we were about to enter.

However, it is clear that the election that unfolded was anything but feminist. Manipulation and objectification has prevailed – arguably more than in any presidential election in decades – and women have been relegated to either objects of pornography, or pawns for male use.

For women’s sake, one can hope that Clinton comes into power, not for what she brings to the table, but to protect females, and other marginalised groups, against the misogyny and tyranny of Trump.

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Sophie Clark

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