The “wives and daughters” rhetoric has most recently emerged in response to Donald Trump’s admission to assaulting and harassing women. Some Trump-supporters condemned his words/confessions about disrespecting women’s bodies, claiming that it is unacceptable to demean “our wives and daughters.”
Ellen shared a powerful reflection on this “locker-room talk” a few weeks ago, in which she wrote, “[l]ots of Republicans that seemingly weren’t upset by all the shit he’s said and done before this, are suddenly pulling their endorsements. And talking about America’s “wives and daughters” as if we are only defined by our relationship to men. We’re just people. That don’t want to be assaulted.”
Yessssssss. That^^^^ needed to be said. Let’s talk more about this “wives and daughters” nonsense.
In reference to the condemnation of Trump’s remarks, I suppose I would prefer that conservatives (at the very least) denounce the assault of women, rather than wave it off as “locker-room talk,” even if it includes an arbitrary statement about protecting “our wives and daughters.” However, it’s important to consider why a woman must be a wife or a daughter in order to not deserve to be violated. And, what kinds of women are included in the “wives and daughters” rhetoric?
I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am not a wife, but I am a significant other and a friend. I am sure that my parents, siblings, partner, and friends would never deem it acceptable for someone to harass or assault me, just as I am devastated to hear of others’ experiences with assault. But my status as a daughter, sister, partner, or friend has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that assault is unacceptable. An individual’s roles a wife, daughter, sister, or mother is unrelated to the fact that they are a human being… a dignified human being capable of feeling pain. Because they are human, because they have dignity, it is unacceptable for someone to treat them as less. Claiming that “our wives and daughters” must be protected perpetuates the idea that it is more acceptable for some humans (who are NOT wives or daughters) to experience assault. It also perpetuates the idea that women are dependent on the “protection” offered by the men in their lives.
And let us not be mistaken. The phrase “wives and daughters” is inclusive of a specific type of woman. As in, only certain women are important to shield from harm.
Many lesbian and bisexual women are wives and daughters. And yet, the idea that their non-heterosexual identity is invalid muffles protests of their mistreatment. Because they may not be interested in men, does that mean any disrespect or violation they experience is acceptable?
Many immigrants and refugees happen to be wives and daughters. And yet, the same people claiming that “our wives and daughters” must be respected are not crying out when immigrant women experience violence and disrespect. Because they are not American, does that mean any disrespect or violation they experience is acceptable?
Many trans and non-binary women are wives and daughters. And yet, there is little uproar about the fact that trans women experience a disproportionate amount of violence and death by suicide. Because they do not fit into one of two gender boxes, does that mean any disrespect or violation they experience is acceptable?
Many women of color are wives and daughters. And yet, stereotypes of hyper-sexuality seemingly validate any sexual encounter they may have, whether consensual or not. Because media perpetuates women of color as hyper-sexual, does that mean that any disrespect or violation they experience is acceptable?
Many differently abled women are wives and daughters. And yet, the sexuality of differently-abled individuals is not always recognized or taken seriously. Because their sexuality is overlooked, does that mean that any disrespect or violation they experience is acceptable?
By saying that it is unacceptable for “our wives and daughters” to be devalued and disrespected, translates to, “we must protect the purity of white, heterosexual, American, able-bodied, cisgender women.” If “wives and daughters” were truly a more inclusive phrase, there would be heightened attention and condemnation to the mistreatment of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folk, and differently abled folk.
So let’s stop pretending that the only reason it is unacceptable to assault a woman is if she is wife or daughter with purity to protect. Let’s start talking about how assault is unacceptable. Period.