Dating back to early rumblings of Donald's candidacy, Melania Trump has been cast as everything from under-supportive wife to ambivalent bystander and ultimately unwilling victim of her husband's political aspirations. That last one stuck, and wound up on signage at last weekend's Women's March. Posters with phrases like, "Melania: blink twice if you need help" Sharpie'd across them, along with the newly ubiquitous #FreeMelania hashtag, dotted Saturday's crowds. The sentiment has even spilled into Inauguration Day observations: When Melania handed Michelle Obama a blue Tiffany's box that morning, the jokey speculation was that it didn't contain a gift but a "HELP ME" note. This liberal-slanted interpretation of Melania makes complete sense. There's weird comfort in the thought that the First Lady is as much a hostage to her husband's ambition as the rest of us — a textbook illustration of gallows humor if there ever was. But #FreeMelania is also a leftist alternative truth about our First Lady's leanings that says much more about the liberal lens than it does her actual politics. Melania might live on the top floor of a gilded tower, but she's no damsel in distress in need of a knight to defend her honor or come to her rescue. Anyone who even kiddingly suggests otherwise is just adding to the fiction.
The truth is that Melania has been showing us her cards for years. Take, for example, the video that surfaced this week, in which Melania shored up her husband's birtherism claims about Barack Obama way back in 2011. "Do you want to see President Obama's birth certificate or not?" she said in an interview with Joy Behar at the time.
The proof is right there: Melania was hocking alternative truth (and outright racism) even then — insisting Obama hadn't shared his birth certificate, even though, as Behar repeatedly pointed out, that just wasn't the case. During that same interview, Melania also planted seeds for Donald's campaign. "He's very passionate about the country doing well, and to be what it was once before," she said. "Can you imagine the next generation — the children, our children — how they will do? It's just going down, down, down." Sounds like an early iteration of Make America Great Again to me. That's far from the only instance of Melania showing us what she thinks and believes. After the now-infamous "grab her by the pussy” footage came to light, she dismissively referred to her husband's comments as "boy talk,” as though that’s a category of conversation to which normal rules of respect don’t apply. More than that, though: She clearly wasn't pretending, just to save face. Like many women who think so-called "locker room talk" is just boys being boys, Melania just doesn't believe her husband's remarks were a big deal. "I have two boys at home. I have my young son, and I have my husband," she told CNN last fall. "But I know how some men talk, and that's how I saw it.” Melania has also flat-out refused to entertain the idea that any of the women who claimed Donald Trump had sexually assaulted them were telling the truth. Just like her husband, she stuck to the party line that there was no factual basis for their claims — so we should just forget about them.
If you're still not convinced, then consider this: Melania appears on the latest cover of Vanity Fair Mexico, which positions her as the next Jackie Kennedy, as well as a partner in Donald's plan to lead the nation. In the photo, she is pretending to eat an actual bowl full of diamonds, which isn't likely help smooth over America's already troubled relationship with our neighbors to the south. If you want to understand Melania Trump, this image says it all: This is a woman who is so wealthy, so privileged, and so content in the lap of luxury that she didn't object to this photo concept when it was originally shot. (Prior to making its way to Vanity Fair Mexico, the picture, and adjoining interview, appeared in GQ magazine in spring of 2016. The image itself was sourced from Trunk Archive, shot for Philadelphia Style in December 2011.) Melania keeps showing us who she is. We keep trying to peg her as someone different. The question that remains is: Why?
The answer may source to the sexist perception that all women come pre-equipped with a softness of heart which makes them care about the same things, have a more finely tuned social conscience than male counterparts, and possess a moral compass where the greater-good-of-all is due North. In a post-Trump America, that's not just a dangerous belief, it has also proven to be a deeply inaccurate one. I cannot believe that I have to write this, but maybe it needs to be written: The whole of women don't think — or vote — as a unified block. Just ask the 53% of white women who voted Trump over Hillary Clinton. Not all women categorically care about the same things. #FreeMelania is rooted in this flawed characterization of women, and obviously of one woman in particular. Maybe because she's beautiful; maybe because she's an immigrant herself; maybe because she doesn't pipe up often — but definitely because she female — it's easy to cast Melania as the undercover liberal we would prefer her to be. But if we struggled to take Donald Trump seriously but not literally, we should refrain from making the same mistake with his wife. She is both literally — and seriously — a conservative ally. So if we're going to #FreeMelania from anything, it's our suspicion that she's secretly batting for the blue team. "I’m very strong. And people, they don’t really know me," she told CNN back in October. "People talk about me like, ‘Oh, Melania. Oh, poor Melania.’ Don’t feel sorry for me. I can handle everything.” Hear what she's saying. Believe her. Otherwise, we run the risk of making the same Trump mistake — not once, but twice. Note: An earlier version of this story stated that 53% of college-educated white women voted for Donald Trump. The accurate statistic is 53% of white women overall.