It’s difficult to remember that we’re living in the 21st century after enduring four hellish years of Donald J. Trump. And can you blame us? Between the insults flung, the tweets gone awry, and the nasty behavior we’ve witnessed, it’s crystal fucking clear that Trump is a card-carrying member of the white patriarchy. As he’s been waving his tiny hands around in the air making up lies for the masses to hear, he has also been normalizing and emboldening male chauvinism on a nationwide level.
Just a month ago, Trump stood before a largely mask-less crowd at one of his COVID-spreading campaign rallies and half-assed his way through a weak ploy to gain the support of (mostly white) female voters. And let’s just say, that ridiculous ploy fell flat on its old-school ass.
“I’m also getting your husbands — they want to get back to work, right?” he said. “They want to get back to work. We’re getting your husbands back to work, and everybody wants it.”
I honestly expected nothing less from our almost-finished president, as he’s also been known to spout misogynistic gems like “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing.” Then there was that time when a female interviewer asked him how he felt about second spouse Marla Maples having a job. And he blurted out this.
“I have days where I think it’s great,” Trump mansplained. “And then I have days where, if I come home — and I don’t want to sound too much like a chauvinist — but when I come home and dinner’s not ready, I go through the roof.”
You do sound too much like a chauvinist, Don. Because — newsflash! — you are one.
I wish I could say that the rest of America does not reflect Trump’s ass-backwards expectations of women. I know that there are certainly many of us out there who believe that everyone, no matter their gender identity, has an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And yet, one of the hottest topics around this year’s election is Dr. Jill Biden’s choice to continue teaching, just like she did as second lady, while her husband starts running the country in January. It doesn’t take a female rocket scientist to understand that the patriarchy is still alive and well when a woman deciding to work for any reason is fodder for news headlines.
During a brief Google search the other day, I was quickly shown that everyone and their mom is obsessing over Dr. Biden’s career. Whether she’s praised or criticized, the gist of all the hullabaloo is that she is making history simply for venturing into territory where — gasp! — no other woman has been allowed to go before. In other words, our FLOTUS-to-be is doing what a bunch of grown ass men have done for generations, and now our society is feeling the need to put a big old spotlight on her.
Perhaps the spotlight should have instead been more closely focused on the infuriating fact that first ladies have been taking on a voluntary, zero-income gig since 1789 and stepping into a role that was originally created — and continues to largely be defined — by a bunch of white men.
“She will really be bringing the role of first lady into the 21st century,” first-lady historian Katherine Jellison told USA Today. “Americans have historically wanted their first ladies to be in the White House and at the president’s side whenever possible. Maybe the time has come when Americans will be more accepting of the idea that a president’s wife can simultaneously be a first lady and a working professional.”
I don’t know about you, but I personally believe that we are long overdue for someone like Dr. Jill Biden. And yet, despite being a college English professor with four degrees and a doctorate who has years of teaching experience under her belt, the future first lady’s impending presence in the White House seems to be riding on some ridiculous expectation that she should immediately drop everything that she has worked so hard to accomplish, just because somebody created a gender-oppressive position for spouses of men in a white-centric, male-dominated arena.
Or, ya know, maybe we could question the long-standing political, societal, and governmental systems designed to force women to choose between a career and a family in the first place.
As I’m sure you’ve seen already, Doug Emhoff decided to quit his job in a gesture of husbandly support for his newly elected Madame Vice President. This choice really didn’t need to come with an overt amount of fanfare or praise. It’s exactly what the unpaid gig of presidential spouses has required. First ladies have been devoting their lives to their husbands’ presidential careers with nothing more than a glorified governmental role for two long centuries. While it’s absolutely awesome that Emhoff has modeled the exact kind of behavior that more men need to witness and emulate, and I’m fucking delighted that he’s doing it while much of the country cheers him on, it’s so damn annoying that his wife’s VP victory brings an unsurprising assumption that he would have — and could have — just kept chugging along at his law firm once Harris clocked in at the White House.
“I’m her husband, that’s it,” Emhoff told People Magazine when asked if he’d be advising his wife politically when she’s VP. “She’s got plenty of great people giving her political advice. I’m her partner, I’m her best friend and I’m her husband. And that’s what I’m here for. I’m here to have her back.”
Why does Doug Emhoff even need to answer questions like this in the first place? Considering the decades upon decades of women entering into the very same position he’ll have soon, it’s abundantly clear that he’d be expected, like every single first and second lady, to wholeheartedly rally around his wife’s political career. Perhaps instead of an endless stream of articles online dissecting the reasons why Dr. Biden is keeping her job or the shock and awe response of Emhoff quitting his, we should rather be diving deeply into why first ladies have been encouraged to accept a White House role that offers no income, and why they haven’t been encouraged to make a living outside of that position.
“The role of First Lady is loosely defined, extremely scrutinized, and severely underpaid— we’re talking a salary of $0 for four to eight years of nonstop public engagements, advocacy work, and event planning and hosting duties,” explains Andrea Park for Marie Claire. “Despite all this, presidential spouses throughout history have made their role incredibly impactful… If Joe Biden is declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Dr. Jill Biden will undoubtedly go even further in revolutionizing the job of First Lady, most prominently by continuing to work outside the White House as a full-time educator.”
The public responses to Dr. Biden’s groundbreaking decision, while largely respectful and celebratory, are also muddling a simple acknowledgement that shouldn’t be as shocking as it apparently still is in 2020. Both President-Elect Biden and his wife will work, and they will do it at the same damn time. Yes, Dr. Biden choosing to teach is a fabulous step towards gender equality because it’s happening in the White House. But if we keep making this development as big a deal as the media already has, it will just go to show that we still live in a nation where a woman of any kind holding down a job is still considered “a very dangerous thing” worth talking about.