Late in June, a butt-hurt President Trump unleashed a string of vicious tweets directed at Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinksi. If the insult isn’t burned on your brain the way it is mine, here’s a refresher: He called her stupid (“low I.Q”) and hysterical (“Crazy Mika”) before also intimating that she was old and ugly (“bleeding badly from a facelift”). Charming, right?
Setting aside for a moment that we have never in the history of the United States had a president so publicly speculative about all the places women bleed from, what is mainly notable about his Twitter tantrums is how predictable they’ve become. It’s a weird week when POTUS doesn’t have some lowbrow clap back for a woman he perceives to have threatened his machismo: That’s just America in 2017. Sad!
But there's also a backlash trend emerging from the president’s verbal abuse that could be considered a befitting comeuppance for his crimes against common decency. The slander Trump has levied against his targets has, often enough, wound up having an opposite effect than intended: He winds up looking like the outmoded ogre, while many of his high-profile targets have spun the insults into professional boons.
Just look at “Crazy Mika”, who — mere weeks after being bullied on Twitter by POTUS — inked a three-book deal with Weinstein Books, reportedly for a high six-figure sum. Coincidence? Maybe. But it’s naive to think the recent sparring with the president, in which Brzezinksi came off as unfazed (not to mention more skillful at Twitter shade) in comparison to Trump’s jagoff routine, didn’t grease the wheels. And she's far from the only person for whom the Trump treatment has been followed by a boost to her public profile for the right reasons.
The fact that he is so brassy with his bigotry has pushed the issue centerstage, in a way that might actually make it easier to tackle: Because there’s no nuance to his misogyny, because it’s boldfaced and easily recognized, Trump is a constant example of how not to behave as a modern man. So while yes, he won the presidency itself (although notably not the popular vote), he’s losing the petty fights he picks with women. When he lashes out, they wind up not only being victors in the court of public opinion (even among Republicans), but also becoming more influential in the aftermath of all the squabbling.
Take Megyn Kelly, for instance, the Fox News host turned NBC anchor who Trump referred to as a “lightweight” back in August of 2015, following her moderation of a Republican presidential debate. After calling Kelly “ridiculous” and “off-base” for her line of questioning on negative (read: blatantly sexist) comments he’s made about women in the past, Trump said that “you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes… blood out of her wherever”. (Fake news! I was watching, closely, and no one was bleeding from anywhere at any point during the debate!)
More to the point, though: During that broadcast, and in the aftermath the followed, Kelly came out ahead, professionally. The incident bolstered her reputation as a hard line journalist and shot up her star at Fox News. Ultimately, moderating the debate was a step toward Kelly’s overall mainstreaming; she intentionally took a pay cut to move from Fox to NBC, a new gig that got her out of a toxic workplace plagued by sexual harassment scandals, which also queued her up for more work-life balance — a goal she later said she’d been working towards for a long time. The move to NBC also re-conceived Kelly’s public profile in a new light, casting her as a centrist who could lean left and right rather than a one-trick partisan pony. I’m calling it: Kelly won that round, bigly.
Then there’s NBC News reporter Katy Tur, who Trump started going after in the early days of his campaign trail; oddly (or maybe not so oddly, given his propensity to zero in on young, objectively attractive women in his sight line) he called her out, by name, during an early press briefing while she was tweeting his statements. The negative attention didn’t let up for months. Trump said Tur was “incompetent” and “dishonest”, and frequently belittled her, referring to her as “Little Katy” and a “3rd rate reporter.”
Since then, Tur — who, prior to the 2016 elections, had little experience reporting on political news — has broken into a new echelon of media. During the presidential campaign, she became one of the network’s most visible reporters, appearing near-daily on MSNBC, on the Today show, Meet the Press, and NBC Nightly News, and also wound up in an afternoon slot on MSNBC covering Trump’s first 100 days in office. Before the election came to a close, Tur signed a book contract with HarperCollins: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, is slated to hit bookshelves in September. It’s not a season win on The Apprentice, but I'd say she's doing alright for herself.
Of course, it’s not only Trump spewing bile at women who “cross” him. His supporters and members of his administration have taken cues from the president that coarseness is acceptable, even encouraged. But the playback loop, in which the targets of insults win the round, has been similar. When Sean Spicer, for example, admonished April Ryan during a press briefing, as though she was a misbehaving school girl instead of a highly-respected veteran journalist, her colleagues (not to mention the internet) got angry. (This gross incident on top of the time that Trump pulled the “all black people know each other” card when he asked Ryan if she wanted to set up his meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.) But Ryan got even, in the cosmic sense: In the aftermath of Spicer’s comments, she wound up with a gig as a CNN political analyst — another entry in her already impressive bona fides that no doubt added to her personal coffers, too.
Then there was that deplorable incident when Trump pal Bill O’Reilly made fun of Congresswoman Maxine Water’s appearance, specifically saying that her hair looked like a “James Brown Wig.” Waters, who has long had a dedicated following among women, rode in a new wave of political celebrity, one that affirmed her anew as a leader on women’s issues — and women’s dignity — in the legislature. Not that she couldn’t have done it on her own, of course. But stepping on O’Reilly’s racially-tinged snideness was a helpful leg up.
Neither last nor least, consider Lauren Duca, the New York-based writer who has enjoyed no small amount of media celebrity following the Teen Vogue analysis she wrote about Trump’s gaslighting of America, which went viral when Dan Rather shared it on his personal Facebook page. In the aftermath of that incisive piece, Duca wound up on air with Fox talking head Tucker Carlson, where she held her own as he baited her with demeaning, disrespectful repartee, and ultimately told her that she should “stick to the thigh-high boots.” Duca, whose Twitter following has climbed to 261,000 as of this writing, parlayed that insult into a weekly column on TeenVogue.com. Its title? Thigh High Politics.
Surely, it’s not #TeamTrump’s intention to somehow use bigoted rhetoric as a springboard for confronting … bigoted rhetoric. So snuff out even the smallest spark of that thought from your mind because, first off, we know he’s not smart enough to be that strategic. And, second, the theory that Trump is somehow fighting sexism by being sexist is as ridiculous as cofveve.
But while there is no world in which I would saying that his blatant misogyny is “good” for America — or for American women — props must be doled out where they are due. That slimy moment in summer 2016 when Trump called Hillary Clinton a nasty woman was an ugly entry to the record of U.S. history. But it also spurred women to take on the insult and reclaim it as their own rally cry — and raise more than $100,000 for Planned Parenthood at the same time.
Point being? Pussy bites back. So bring it on. In the end, women are still coming out as the winners.