Angela Merkel, Janet Yellen, Hillary Clinton, Danica Patrick, be warned. It’s open season on strong women.
Unfortunately, it’s not just Donald Trump who is behaving badly as he vies to be our offender-in-chief.
Over the past week, a congressman tells the banking industry that it needs to “neuter” one of its biggest critics, US Senator Elizabeth Warren.
A tennis tournament honcho declares that female players ride on the “coattails of men” and that they should get down on their “knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
These remarks risk making Trump look like a good guy, but it didn’t take long for the Republican presidential front-runner to be a creep. On Monday, after meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post, he casually told a female editor, apropos of nothing, that she’s “beautiful.”
If this is how some men really think of powerful women, what is being said about the rest of us?
Moments like this should make every woman take pause. We can debate all we want whether the women’s movement is dead, or whether feminists like Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright are out of touch, but the fact of the matter is that girls don’t get respect.
We see that in our paycheck, we see that in the board room, and we see that at home, where women continue to do the bulk of household chores.
So why is this happening? While women are far from being equal with men, we are making huge strides, and that’s scaring the bejesus out of some of the guys in charge. As power in this country shifts from men, expect them to keep acting out.
“We’re going to see more of it,” said Leanne Doherty, a political science professor at Simmons College who studies sports, politics, and power. “It’s a defensive mechanism.”
The big difference between now and then is that when a man lobs a blatantly sexist comment, boy do we give it back.
In an email blast titled “I won’t be neutered,” Warren let US Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer have it.
“Why would he go out of his way to say something so sexist and offensive?” the Massachusetts senator wrote. “Is he hostile to all women? Clueless? Afraid?”
Tennis superstar Serena Williams delivered an ace in responding to Raymond Moore, the now former chief executive of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in California, which is home to the BNP Paribas Open.
“Obviously, I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” Williams said in a post match interview at Indian Wells. “Last year, the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not.”
Similarly, Karen Attiah, a deputy opinions editor at the Washington Post, took Trump to task.
“He turned to me and said, ‘I really hope I answered your question,’ and added casually with a smile, ‘Beautiful,’ ” she wrote in an online piece. “I was stunned. I didn’t say thank you, and I don’t think I smiled … I stayed in the conference room for a few minutes as it sunk in that the potential GOP nominee for president thought it was okay to comment on my appearance. Did he just say that?”
Yes he did, but unfortunately the problem goes far beyond Trump. Maybe his campaign is giving license for men everywhere to be offensive.
Our only trump card is for women – and men – to return fire if we want a shot at changing the conversation around gender.Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @leung.