There likely was a day in America when a leading presidential candidate could credibly defend as plain speaking his propensity for calling professional women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.” Or he could get away with attacking the female journalist who reminded him of that habit as “a lightweight … zippo,” and suggest that said journalist had “blood coming out of her whatever” when she questioned him.
Likewise, there was a day in Minnesota when a high-profile male executive caught behaving boorishly toward female co-workers could win forgiveness, or at least sympathy, claiming that too much alcohol caused a one-off departure from his true character.
We’d like to believe that those days are over. We’ll find out whether they are as reaction accumulates to the unsavory words of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and the deeds of former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague, who resigned Friday. The Trump and Teague episodes provide Minnesotans with a marker of both how far society has come in affording respect to women in the workplace, and how far it has yet to go.
Trump was dismissive and condescending in response to Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s question about his characterizations of women at last Thursday’s GOP top 10 presidential candidates’ debate. He argued that “the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” implying that displaying respect for women somehow weakens the nation. That was bad enough. What he said the next day about Kelly herself was worse, questioning her journalistic competence in terms laden with crude anti-female innuendo.
The second-day salvo finally crossed the decency line for a number of Trump’s GOP presidential rivals and the organizers of last weekend’s RedState Gathering, who revoked his invitation. But their criticism evidently did not seep deeply into the GOP grass roots. Trump remained in the lead in an NBC poll conducted in the days following the debate. In subsequent comments, Trump has been unrepentant. He seems hellbent on proving that America is still a place that’s politically safe for women-bashers. About that, we hope Trump is wrong.
Teague, by comparison, has already paid a professional price for his unwanted verbal and physical advances toward female employees at the U. That’s as it should be. Since his departure as athletic director, Star Tribune sports reporter Amelia Rayno wrote in a chilling account that she, too, had been Teague’s target.
Rayno’s story ought to shatter Teague’s attempt to characterize the initial revelation as an isolated incident and silence those inclined to defend him on that basis. It ought to call into question the vetting done before the former athletic director at Virginia Commonwealth University was hired to head the Gophers program. It ought to lead to redoubled assurances that the U will shield its female workforce from sexual harassment. Some of that has come. We’re watching for more.
While never deemed noble, the behavior Trump and Teague exhibited was all too common and too often condoned in an earlier day. Women who were the targets of verbal put-downs and unwanted advances in work-related situations were usually advised to keep quiet, lest they damage their own reputations and careers.
We’d like to think that changed as women in large numbers moved into more professional roles in the last quarter of the 20th century. It evidently has not changed enough. Trump and Teague have demonstrated that even at high levels, old-style misogyny persists in America. The response should make very clear that it’s no longer acceptable.