We Get Nowhere By Slut-Shaming Melania Trump

Ever since the dramatic and unexpected results of the 2016 election were announced, I and so many of my friends and family members have been reeling through different stages of grief—denial, anger, frustration, and pain. Pain at what Donald Trump’s election represents, fear of what we could lose as a result, and frustration with our fellow Americans for letting it get this far. This angry determination to resist has been productive for the most part—rallies across the country, increased donations to vital organizations like Planned Parenthood, dialogues on Facebook and social media platforms to name a few. There are active plans for a women’s march in Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day and a collective determination to resist complacency, aggression, and ignorance through these next two years—but there is one thing element of the resistance that is truly problematic—and that is our critique of Melania Trump.

There are a plethora of reasons why we can (and should) critique our incoming First Lady. We can critique her pledge to end cyber-bullying, despite the fact that her husband is one of the biggest bullies in the public eye. We can critique her education. We can even highlight the irony of the fact that one of her husband’s biggest platforms is Immigration reform and removing undocumented immigrants from the White House, when she herself is an immigrant.

But instead, much of the rhetoric surrounding Melania has to do with her appearance, her history as a model (and the nude photographs that circulate as a result). One New York Times article went so far as to take her clothing choices as representative the “true” difference between Melania and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Many of these images and conversations feel as though they are in defense of such first ladies as Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt—-all women who were staunch defenders of their own causes while their husbands were in office. They were highly educated, fiercely loyal to their husbands and their countries, and worked to enact change in their own way. In comparison, defenses of Melania seem to fall flat—the idea that she is a more “traditional” First Lady is unimpressive to a generation that watched their first, highly educated, female presidential candidate fall victim to an impenetrable glass ceiling.

While they seem like they are spoken in jest, they seem like they are harmless, but, after images of a “Rape Melania” poster floated around the internet from an Anti-Trump protest this past week, it becomes excruciatingly clear that this is not the case.

Now I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the majority of liberals, of Hillary supporters, and of the people in this world find that image problematic—but when we allow for these jokes that focus on her appearance and her sexual past to overshadow the true critique of her ability to uphold the legacy of the first ladies that came before her, we are giving into exactly the kind of misogyny we criticize Trump and his supporters for—and we make room for signs of hate  among peaceful, loving, dedicated protests.

Melania Trump has just as much of a right to autonomy over her body as the rest of us. We don’t have to agree with it, and hell, we don’t even have to like how she has chosen to do it up until this point. The point, however,  is that she got to do it. And now,  we get to hold her accountable for where she plans to go next.

We should challenge her to live up to the incredible legacies left by Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Eleanor Roosevelt. We should hold her accountable for who she is married to and all that he represents. We should demand more from her—just as we will continue demand more from Trump in the coming years. But we cannot slut-shame her, or think that her sexual history is indicative, in any way, of her ability to effectively promote and enact the role of First Lady. Because, if we’re honest, the role of the First Lady is a nebulous one, and while we will always champion the women who created and achieved wonders through this office, it has looked different for all of them.

For all we know, Melania Trump could be a ray of light in a dark and twisted administration. She could truly work hard to give support to women, children, minorities, and fellow immigrants like herself. She could prove herself a force to be reckoned with—and encourage positive legislation behind closed doors.

Is it likely? (Probably not in my opinion)

But these next four years are not going to be fun—there is going to be more open negativity hurled in our direction collectively as women and as minorities than we’ve experienced in decades. And slut-shaming Melania, or any woman for that matter, gets us nowhere.

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