GOP politicians are scrambling to condemn Trump after the release of footage in which he brags about his attempts to force himself on women. While the disavowal is welcome, there’s an unfortunate thread linking many of the public statements from male leaders. Many have suggested that they find Trump’s behavior indefensible because of their own status as husbands and fathers. Such language implies that women are worthy of respect primarily because they are members of men’s families—not because they are human beings who deserve to move through the world safely.
Perhaps the most prominent example comes from Trump’s running mate, Indiana governor Mike Pence, who released a short statement this morning (Oct. 8) noting that he was offended by Trump’s comments “as a husband and father.”
But Pence was hardly alone. Other politicians emphasizing the fact that they, personally, know several women they like a lot include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (“as the father of three daughters“), former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Texas senator John Cornyn, North Carolina senator Thom Tillis, New Jersey House representative Scott Garrett, and Florida representative Carlos Curbelo.
Texas senator and former Trump opponent Ted Cruz also played the wives and daughters card, although he noted that women generally should also probably get to avoid being harassed and assaulted.
The impulse to think of Trump’s behavior in terms of how it might affect female members of one’s own family is problematic for several reasons. First, it suggests a limited capacity for empathy—as if men are only capable of feeling outraged on behalf of women who belong to their specific tribe. It also implicitly suggests that assuming roles associated with male maturity has taught these men about the importance of treating women with respect. But understanding that women have sovereignty over their own bodies should be the baseline we expect from all people, regardless of their age or gender.
I don’t doubt that these men get upset when they imagine Trump’s words and actions being directed at the women they care about. But they shouldn’t need to imagine that to get angry. Trump has shown the world the depths of his sexism and misogyny—not to mention his racism and xenophobia—throughout his campaign. The fact that so many members of the GOP need to make his hatred personal in order to condemn it is indicative of just how low the party has sunk.