A few months ago, when all we had to worry about was Brexit and what we wanted to put on our Christmas list, Michelle Obama took to the stage in New Hampshire and confidently gave the speech which many thought would deliver Hillary to the White House.
Fast forward to now – bleak, depressing now. Trump has been elected, despite his sexism, racism and playing fast and loose with the truth-ism, and in January he’ll ensconce himself in Washington DC with his wife, Melania, and youngest son, Barron.
Much has been said about the awfulness of Trump, but few words have been uttered about his model-turned-First Lady wife. I can see why: it won’t be Melania building the Mexican wall, or defunding Planned Parenthood, or deporting immigrants left, right, and centre. But because she’s the First Lady elect, talk about her we must.
In her eight years as First Lady, Michelle Obama has, as well as touring cancer wards and offering comfort to victims of terrorist attacks, started four initiatives: Reach Higher, to promote higher education, Let Girls Learn, to encourage the international education of girls, Joining Forces, encouraging Americans to rally around veterans, and Let’s Move, to address the challenge of childhood obesity.
Many first ladies before her – Hillary Clinton included – used their position to promote similarly charitable causes and start initiatives, raise the profile of minorities and campaign passionately for those who needed their help.
Who can imagine Melania Trump following in their footsteps? And if she does, will she champion minorities, the most vulnerable, the very people her husband demonised throughout his campaign? I’m not holding my breath.
Right now, the very idea of Melania taking over from Michelle as First Lady is bewildering. That phrase – First Lady – let it percolate for a minute. It connotes a female figurehead, someone who will represent the interests of women everywhere. It shouldn’t apply to someone who defends her husband saying he likes to grab women by their genitals.
Of #pussygate, Melania had this to say: “I wonder if they even knew the mic was on… [it was] kind of boy talk”. Her dismissal of Trump’s comments as “boy talk” is nothing short of horrifying. It’s not only terribly insulting to millions of boys who don’t talk that way, but it’s these sorts of comments which make rape culture so ingrained in society. She went on to say: “it was many, many years ago”, as if victims of sexual assault don’t have to live with the emotional effects for the duration of their lives. And oh, they didn’t know the mic was on? Excuse me while I tear out my hair.
Then there’s the fact that Melania has defended things Donald has said and done before she even knew him. How could she know whether or not Jessica Leeds’ accusations of unwanted sexual touching are true, when she was a 10-year-old living in Slovenia at the time of the alleged crime? Her default position seems to be that each woman is telling “lies”. How awful, how utterly heinous, that the First Lady elect could so flippantly dismiss the alleged sexual assault of other women. Can we really call someone who can so easily disregard crimes against women our First Lady? Can you even imagine a world in which Michelle Obama would deny the validity of claims by sexual assault victims, or denigrate the insidiousness of rape culture? I can almost hear her answer: over my dead body.
Indeed, all this would feel far less bleak if we hadn’t just had the most galvanising, inspiring, and downright awesome First Lady in history. When she spoke on stage in New Hampshire, it was the culmination of eight years of campaigning for girls’ education rights, supporting the armed forces and being a force for good in the world. Her impassioned plea for American citizens to reject hate and xenophobia was a crowning moment for a truly first rate First Lady.
In a world where Twitter trolls call alleged rape victims ‘sluts’ and public figures say that women shouldn’t wear short skirts for fear of being sexually assaulted, we need women with profiles to be unafraid to stand up to misogyny, not marry it. We need them to call out sexism when they see it, to fight for the rights of girls and women everywhere. In short, we need Michelles, not Melanias.
But now what? Can we trust the judgment of a woman who married a man who is so vehemently anti treating women as human beings (he’s called them dogs, pigs, and slobs) let alone equals? And what does her decision to marry Mr Trump say about how she views women’s place in society? Melania has already said that she’ll be a traditional First Lady – let’s hope that, despite all the evidence to the contrary – she uses her time in the White House productively and her voice as a force for good. After all, as Hillary said in her concession speech, we owe Donald Trump an “open mind and the chance to lead”. The same must be said of his wife. While these words are difficult to swallow, they are true. Let’s hope the privilege of being First Lady isn’t lost on Melania Trump.