Most of us had little doubt that Donald Trump sneers at men who marry for love instead to show off to other men the "young and beautiful piece of ass" (his words) that you snagged with money and fame. This week, he thankfully destroyed any need to pretend he's not the trophy wife guy with his ridiculous attacks on Ted Cruz's wife. Heidi Cruz has committed the apparent sin of being a perfectly normal woman who married someone her own age that she met through work. My goodness, she probably even lets Ted see her brush her teeth. Trump cannot even imagine the horror.
Retweeting a meme that suggests that a woman is worthless if she makes normal facial expressions is but the latest move Trump has made in an apparent bid to run off every female voter he can. But one of the most unforgivable aspects of this latest round of shenanigans is that Trump's "gross, your wife is normal!" act has given Cruz the space to front like he's somehow the defender of women in all of this.
Donald, real men don't attack women. Your wife is lovely, and Heidi is the love of my life. https://t.co/pprXhIMzUT
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 24, 2016
Trump being a pig is not news. He doesn't really hide his belief that women exist to conquer and humiliate, and have no other purpose in his eyes. But that shouldn't let Cruz off the hook. He is a wretched misogynist in his own right, one who has helped push the Republicans even further to the right than they already were on the issue of women's rights.
Cruz is a man who has pushed to pass laws that classify fertilized eggs as "persons" that have more rights than actual women. On top of banning abortion, laws like this would almost certainly be used as a pretense to ban most female-controlled forms of contraception, which anti-choicers falsely claim work by "killing" fertilized eggs. (In reality, they work by preventing egg from meeting sperm.) When called out for this, Cruz deflected by saying he is OK with women buying condoms at drug stores, but he notably did not deny hostility towards more effective forms that women themselves control.
These laws could also criminalize miscarriage. Showing up at the hospital with a miscarriage could, in some cases, trigger an investigation for something a woman did — drink a glass of wine, stay up too late, eat a soft cheese — to blame the miscarriage on, so that she can be charged with "child abuse" or even murder. It sounds implausible, but some states are already doing this to women who suffer stillbirth, even if her behavior was not the cause. Under Cruz's proposed laws, these penalties could extend to women who miscarry.
Cruz's hostility to women's rights is also evidenced by the way he eagerly pushes discredited lies about Planned Parenthood as cover to end funding the organization uses to make well woman visits and contraception affordable to low-income women. Cruz's hatred for the century-old women's health organization runs so deep that he promised to pardon activists who break the law trying to smear Planned Parenthood. When a Christian terrorist shot up a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Cruz pushed the lie that the crime was committed by a "transgender leftist".
Then there was the time in Princeton when Cruz allegedly argued that God should "give women a hymen that grows back every time she has intercourse with a different guy, because that will be a ‘visible sign’ of the breach of trust."
This entire tiff between Trump and Cruz has revealed an interesting schism for the Republicans. Not on whether or not to be the party of sexism — if there's one point of near-universal agreement on the right, it's opposition to feminist efforts to get full equality for women — but over what flavor of sexism to back.
As a general rule, the Republican establishment has long backed the paternalistic form of sexism over the leering ass-grabber sort. The religious right set the tone for how anti-woman attacks would generally be launched from the right. Women weren't treated as sex objects so much as domestic objects: People whose purpose in life is to make children and support men, and whose own ambitions and autonomy were to be squelched, mainly by attacks on abortion and contraception, tools women use to exert more control over their own careers and family lives.
This form of anti-feminism presents itself as more benevolent than the sort of sexism that Trump peddles. Women, religious right propaganda would have you believe, are being cherished by this worldview. They're being protected from that grubby male world of ambition, sexual freedom, and paychecks. Birth control and sex education are treated as an affront to women, and women who have sex are assumed to be doing it not for pleasure, but because society debases them by telling them they have to. Abortion bans are justified on the grounds that no woman really wants to say no to pregnancy and therefore must only be doing it because some man is exploiting her. Cruz himself is a big proponent of the protect-women-from-their-own-rights ideology.
This kind of sexism may present itself as pro-woman, but obviously it's based on a deeply misogynist view that women are too stupid to make their own decisions and that they are put here as a servant class for men more than as human beings in their own right. That, and the claim to love women collapses the second a woman says no thank you to compulsory motherhood, has unapproved sex, or, like Hillary Clinton, presents herself as the equal to her husband. But the pretense of benevolence, coupled with the strategic use of female leaders of the anti-feminist movement, made it legitimately harder to explain to the public why this kind of sexism is, well, sexist.
The Trump style of sexism, the kind that doesn't even pretend to see women as more than animated blow-up dolls, is a lot harder to play dumb about. Still, as a lot of research has shown, paternalistic sexism often goes hand-in-hand with the grosser kind. Paternalistic sexism idealizes women's chastity, but if a woman falls outside the narrow definition of a chaste women — having sex, using birth control, walking around outside unchaperoned by a man, being outspoken, wearing short skirts, questioning male authority — then this supposed benevolent sexism will often turn the other way and let men treat women they deem "sluts" however they want.
That's why, interspersed with claims to respect and protect women, conservative media sources like Fox News will also rationalize sexual harassment and minimize the seriousness of rape. The phony respect for women is backed up with an often unspoken threat: Follow our rules for proper female behavior, or you deserve to be treated the way men like Trump treat women. The supposed "respect" for women offered by benevolent sexists is conditional. Ask any woman who needs an abortion, but is being denied it by these supposed respecters of women. Then it becomes clear that they, like Trump, are only too happy to treat you like dirt because you didn't obey their strict rules for womanhood.