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Posted in: Woman's Inhumanity to Woman, World Events

Published on Oct 09, 2016 by Janell Ross

Published by The Washington Post

Why would Trump take the risk of raising someone else’s marital problems?

Well, he's gone there.

A few minutes into the second presidential debate, Donald Trump went ahead and said it: His caught on tape comments about women was just talk, "locker room talk," he said, but Bill Clinton engaged in the most scandalous, criminal and outrageous sexual behavior in the history of American politics.

Trump had already spent the last 48 hours indicating in every way possible that everything from Bill Clinton's infidelity to unproven allegations of sexual assault, to Hillary Clinton's unclear involvement in efforts to politically defend her husband from all of the aforementioned issues was on the table. He spent some of his final moments during the debate luring reporters into what they were told was a debate prep session but turned out to be a group of women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misdeeds and crimes.

Still, reasonable people, and certainly anyone aware of the contents of said tape, Trump's own books, and a recent Associated Press story about conditions Trump created on "The Apprentice Set," are likely wondering the same thing. Why would Trump, of all people, dare to raise marital infidelity, boorish or potentially criminal behavior with women? The answer lies in a a whole series of things that some people are loath to admit but that many of us think, believe or harbor somewhere deep inside our culturally-shaped minds.

Around the world, this isn't a strategy that would work with most voters, said Chris Ryan, a psychologist and co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships. In fact, it's worth noting right now that during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal Hillary Clinton's public approval ratings rose. So not even every American is inclined to view Bill Clinton's behavior or even what Hillary Clinton said or did in his defense the same way. But some American voters are.

"I don't think that it's true that women are universally blamed for their husband's infidelities," Ryan said. "I never heard anyone criticizing [former French President François] Mitterrand's wife, for example. He had a mistress for decades who was also at his [state] funeral.

"I think that the instinct to blame Hillary Clinton for Bill Clinton's behavior is part of a particularly American, puritanical, sex-negative way of thinking," Ryan continued. "I think the most vehement conservative voices in politics insist that more flexible or varied relationships and roles for men and women are un-American. For them, it's unimaginable and un-Christian."

Phyllis Chesler is a psychotherapist and author of a number of books exploring gender issues. Among them, her 2002 book, "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman," became one of the first to document the types of indirect supposedly more lady-like competition that women often engage in with one another. This is the mean-girl stuff grown up. And, for some, perhaps many women, this feeds a tendency to hold other women to higher standards than they do men, to hone in on the ways in which their life differs from that of other women and focus their critiques of other women on the specific ways in which they differ.

To some degree, Chesler agrees with Ryan. Those who are most invested traditional gender roles are the most likely to be receptive to any effort Trump makes to dirty Hillary Clinton up with Bill Clinton's behavior, alleged misconduct and Clinton's role in helping him survive politically.

"This [line of attack against Clinton] IS already effective among conservatives and among many religious people," said Chesler. "...[B]oth traditional men and women who may understand that women’s roles have progressed but who may still have an implicit and unconscious bias against women leaders, towards non-traditional women, women in positions of great and greatly symbolic authority.

However, Chesler also thinks Trump's decision to weaponize adultery and other activities could speak directly to women who labor under an irresistible impulse to compete with other women. And this group may be larger than people think. According to Chesler, women who consider themselves strong, career-driven feminists are in some cases mystified by the existence of the Clinton's ongoing marriage and in other cases irritated by it. And some of these women hold both Bill Clinton's affairs and Hillary Clinton's decision to remain married to him as evidence that they are, indeed superior to Clinton. For these women, Trump's reminders may trigger the parts of their mind that need to believe that they are smarter, stronger, bolder, better respected or more deeply cherished by their husbands than Hillary Clinton.

"Women compare themselves constantly to other women," says Chesler.

None of this is to say that some Americans -- men and women who rest at different spots along the political spectrum and organize their lives in traditional and transgressive ways -- will not find this entire line of debate or discussion repugnant, hypocritical or good reason to vote against Trump.

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