Hillary Clinton’s candidacy has sparked endless commentary about her gender, and rightly so.
She is increasingly likely to be the first female president of the United States. That’s a big deal — even if the thought of it makes you curl up into the fetal position, you poor thing.
Two other women have become increasingly visible in this presidential race: Michelle Obama and Melania Trump. In word and deed, the contrast in their recent public appearances in response to the video revealing Donald Trump’s admission that he has engaged in sexual predator behavior illustrates how far women have come — and how desperately some want to cling to our oppressive past.
Anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention to this race knows by now what Trump said about women on the decade-old video first revealed by The Washington Post. The quickest of summaries: He believes he is entitled to touch, kiss and grope any woman he finds attractive, without her consent.
The public backlash has been swift and enduring. Trump’s dismissal of the recorded conversation as “locker room talk” and his repeated mocking of the growing number of his female accusers are further eroding his impossible dream of living in the White House.
What’s a campaign to do?
On Oct. 17, his wife, Melania, agreed to talk to CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
This is the politics of old. When all else fails, summon the wife.
I hesitate to lay claim to anything exceptional about me as a journalist, but this is a fact of my life and requires full disclosure: I am married to Sen. Sherrod Brown. I know a little bit about the prevailing low and constricting expectations for women married to politicians. Not because of my husband. He knew what he was getting into when he proposed to a newspaper columnist, and it wasn’t blind compliance. This is an archaic notion of political spousedom cherished by politicos and too many of my colleagues in the media who continue to regard candidates’ wives as either a prop or a problem.
Melania Trump broke with her usual practice as the mute go-along to blame another man for egging on her husband and to double down on the “locker room” defense.
Anderson Cooper: “He described it as locker room talk. … You’ve sort of alluded to that, as well. Is that what it is to you, just locker room talk?”
Melania Trump: “Yeah, it’s kind of two teenage boys. Actually, they should behave better, right?”
Cooper: “He was 59.”
Trump: “Correct. And sometimes I said I have two boys at home. I have my young son and my husband, so, but I know how some men talk, and that’s how I saw it, yes.”
As Cooper stressed, Donald Trump was 59. That’s my age right now. I keep thinking about that and all that I am expected to know by this age.
And let’s be clear: A teenager admitting to the behavior that Donald Trump was bragging about would be just as predatory — and the behavior would be just as illegal.
Fortunately, first lady Michelle Obama knew that the only response to Trump’s behavior was to condemn it.
Last week, she took the stage in New Hampshire. With a tremor in her voice, she opened her heart and delivered a speech as breathtakingly real as it gets.
“I have to tell you that I can’t stop thinking about this,” she said. “It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted. … This wasn’t just locker room banter. This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior. … And I have to tell you that I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally — and I’m sure that many of you do, too, particularly the women — the shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our ambitions and intellect, the belief that you can do anything you want to a woman.”
This is the face — and the voice — of the new political spouse. She is using all of her power to help other women lay claim to their own, and she is going to help elect the first woman to be president of the United States.
After watching the first lady’s speech, I couldn’t help but think it’s probably a good thing her successor will not be a woman. We’re going to need some time to get over how much we’re going to miss Michelle Obama.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama hosts Broadway Shines A Light on Girls’ Education at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly