Variations on the #MeToo Movement
|by Sue Gillis|
In this issue of Vermont Woman, Cindy Bittinger’s feature spotlights several of America’s remarkable first ladies. A few suffered personal agonies because of their unfaithful husbands. What if the #MeToo movement existed then? Would it have made a difference? And what about now? Maybe. Maybe not.
Eleanor, Jackie, Hillary, and Melania, our modern first ladies, share, in common, unfaithful husbands and public humiliation. Each responded by conveying calm, carrying on and standing by their men. Though Eleanor and Jackie were somewhat protected by a compliantly quiet press, Hillary and Melania have never had that luxury, thanks to the mobilizing speed of social media and the almost daily exposure—Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and a 24/7 cable newsfeed.
And what of the other women, Lucy, Marilyn, Monica, Stormy, and many others who consensually engaged sexually with these presidents? Lucy Mercer went on to marry and have two children but continued her affair with Franklin Roosevelt, surreptiously, until his death in 1945. Marilyn Monroe died a controversial death from overdose at 36, and Monica Lewinsky, 45, occasionally writes and appears on television talk shows—the topic always about her affair. Stormy Daniels, who stated in her recent 60 Minutes interview that she is not a victim, is CEO of her own successful porn businesss, launching a new nationwide show called … Make America Horny Again.
Eleanor, Jackie, and Hillary continued on during and long after their husbands’ presidencies to serve our country. Eleanor was an internationally tireless fighter for racial and gender equality. Jackie through her dedication to the arts and her elegance and grace lifted our spirits and nourished our souls. Hillary as a US senator and then presidential candidate for 2008 and nominee for 2016 paved the way and inspired millions of girls and women to believe they, too, could one day be president of the United States.
But what to say about Melania. Stuck with a husband who seems dangerously unstable (mouthing policy changes at political rallies or by reckless Twitter outbursts), who is a proven pathological liar, obsessive media hound dog, insatiable womanizer, and woman basher, and who is suspected of obstruction of justice, perhaps even treason—all the while making a mockery of American decency.
Melania, who is 48, is the second foreign-born immigrant to unwillingly find herself in the position of first lady, joining Louisa Adams in 1820. Louisa, recognizing the honor and platform of first lady, eventually found her voice and became respected for her work as a fierce abolitionist. Congress adjourned to mourn her death.
There are plenty of signs that Melania is unhappy as first lady and as Mrs. Trump. It seems she made a deal with the devil. We can speculate as to why, but it’s likely we will probably never know. It appears we have a couple in the White House who are ill equipped to cope with their responsibilities and probably are not having much fun. Marital bliss? Hardly.
But the time has come for Melania to be more than a pretty blank face. She owes the American people, who have given her this coveted position. She needs to show American girls and boys that she is more than her looks, her shoes, hair, and body. Even as we publish, the smarmy messes continue every day—the ongoing sagas of Stormy Daniels, of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who allegedly had a 10-month affair with Trump (2006–2007), and of Jessica Denson, a Trump campaign staffer who claims she worked in a toxic sexually abusive environment. All are trying to get their nondisclosure agreements rescinded so they can tell their stories.
So there is little expectation Melania will be willing or have the physical or mental stamina able to redefine her role as first lady as much more than shut up and show up. To be continued.
The 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches seeded the #MeToo movement and the March for Our Lives and teens against gun violence movement following the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida. In addition, climate change activists and teachers’ unions have found their voices. These groups, particularly the teenagers, are all savvy social media users—loud, passionate, and unrelenting.
We should all hope (and support) these kids to stay vocal and active with their convictions all the way to voting age and election day. They (we) have a chance to alter the social environment of sexual abuse and gun violence that is terrifying our children, their parents, and most Americans, to save, revive, and resurrect climate change legislation, and to support Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration and save the country from becoming a right-wing white, nationalist autocracy and theocracy. Inspired by the Parkland teenagers, some states, including Vermont, are passing gun regulation.
They are already making a difference.
Sue Gillis is the publisher of Vermont Woman.