While thinking about writing about Donald Trump’s opinion of Carly Fiorina’s face, I stopped and realized I’ve considered this sort of mess too many times before. Or have I?
Let me be specific. We have dissected and ridiculed the faces, hairdos and clothes of hordes of female politicians, from Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin to Geraldine Ferraro and Margaret Thatcher. To be slightly fair, we’ve also criticized the attractiveness of a few male politicians, including Chris Christie’s girth and John Edwards and his poufy hair (made famous in a particularly poufing YouTube video). But with the Trump-Fiorina situation, I think something beyond a mere beauty critique is going on — something that merits a bit more concern. Or at least observation.
With this latest case of Castigate the Looks of a Prominent Female Candidate, I believe we are witnessing something that surpasses Trump’s taste for the drive-by insult and conventionally beautiful, much younger women silenced by perfect lip gloss. I’m going to say this something different is a mixture of jealousy and fear, traits often found within playground bullies as well as trumped-up presidential candidates.
Think about it. While Fiorina is nowhere near as wealthy as Trump, she has less aerodynamic hair, is eight years younger and is the second richest person seeking a major party nomination. She’s earned more through her own efforts and Hewlett-Packard severance than any of Trump’s wives and vastly more than the average American woman. She made her money as a chief in the Fortune 500 corporate world Trump believes he rules without peer. And now she has been deemed the winner of the most recent debate by most of the important pundits and a lot of voters. She’s running just behind Trump in most polls and is starting to attract almost as much media attention.
Jealousy and fear
But more than polls and interviews lurk behind the jealousy and fear I am convinced Trump feels about Fiorina. These feelings are being fueled by Trump being weighed, measured and found rather lacking by someone who seems capable of being just about as much of a bully as he, albeit a bully who frames her jabs with more determination, extensive vocabulary, and mentions of military might, along with fewer references to stupid people and really great people. Someone who is probably not the sort of woman he would “cherish.” Someone he would lash out at in a manner he’s used on other women he considers adversaries or enemies.
Instead of calling Fiorina a pig or a dog, he just let everyone imagine the worst about her face. Though he clearly did not think she’d respond to his insult in the take-no-prisoners, I’m-a-former-CEO-who-fired-thousands manner she employed during the last debate. You could almost see the jealousy and fear spread like sticky molasses around Trump’s face when Fiorina told him every woman in America knew what he meant about her face. Talk about a FACE!
What makes Trump’s feelings notable and possibly even historic is that they were drawn out by a woman presidential candidate. All of this is remarkable because we in the United States have not yet seen a woman rise to the highest levels in American politics while operating in the same brutal fashion as many successful as well as loser male politicians have operated in through the years.
Contrast with Clinton
We’ve heard that Hillary Clinton’s past and present advisers have worked feverishly to present her softer, more “real person” side, believing that the moderately tough-talking Clinton we’ve sometimes seen over the course of more than 20 years didn’t wash winningly in Iowa or anywhere else in 2008 and might not do the trick this time around either. With Fiorina, we may have someone who isn’t reluctant to discuss her wrinkles or wear flowery dresses. But she also doesn’t seem to want to appear in a stereotypically “feminine” style by acting soft, caring and kind. She isn’t afraid to use language that would have been considered highly unladylike and even unsuitable for the Congress not that long ago. I suppose none of this should shock us, given the stories that abound regarding the allegedly nasty campaign she ran against Barbara Boxer in the 2010 California U.S. Senate race, a race Fiorina lost big time.
So while I don’t think we’ve seen the end of men and women who may or may not be particularly jealous or fearful criticizing the looks of women in politics, I do think we perhaps are seeing in Fiorina the first woman presidential candidate who (thus far) is reaping great success by behaving in the same rough, coarse way male politicians have for centuries. With Fiorina, Donald Trump may have just met his match. At least in a presidential-candidate sense.
The question that remains is whether we really want to see any candidates of any gender exhibit this sort of behavior. No matter how beautiful or ugly anyone considers their faces.
Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”
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