The Myth of Women’s Sacredness

We don’t want special treatment, just equality and justice.

On October 19th, 2017, Chief of Staff John Kelly gave a fiercely personal defense of President Trump’s failed attempt at a sympathetic call to the grieving widow of one of the four soldiers recently killed in the Niger ambush. Having lost his own son to combat, Kelly explained with contained emotion, “There’s nothing you can do to lighten the burden on these families.” And then, while rueing the politicization of Gold Star families, he recalled a bygone era when certain things were considered sacred and off-limits:

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.

The sentiment is honorable: women shouldn’t be sexually harassed or assaulted. No one can argue with that. But his statement belies the historical reality of the systemic oppression and abuse of women since this country’s inception. Just look at this chart of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

Pretending — or at least wishfully thinking — that there was a previous golden era of respect towards women mimics the flawed thinking behind the “Make America Great Again” tagline. Not only does it sugar-coat the past, but it pines for a day when:

  • women weren’t granted access to safe and legal abortions
  • birth control was inaccessible or even illegal
  • people, companies and institutions could legally discriminate on the basis of sex
  • husbands could legally rape their wives

The other problem with Kelly’s well-intentioned but nevertheless irksome statement is its benevolent chauvinism, a patronizing form of the casual sexism that is alive and well in this country (as I’ve recently written). Similarly, Joe Scarborough let a sliver of his own benevolent sexism show this past week on Morning Joe (watch the clip at minute 7:00) when he lauded the South’s emphasis on politesse while criticizing Trump’s lack of sensitivity and decorum:

My parents at times would say, “That is not how a Southern gentleman treats a lady! Open the door, walk behind, do this, carry that….”

Let’s put aside the facts that the South does not have a lower rate of reported rapes than the rest of the country and it does have the highest rates of domestic homicide.  What Kelly and Scarborough have done here with their seemingly respectful statements is to put women on a pedestal and imbue them with divine qualities. Unfortunately, this paints women as something “other,” a separate species from men requiring special (read: condescending) treatment.

But women don’t need special treatment, we need true equality. And we won’t get it until the Men-Are-From-Mars… crowd stops obsessing over the minor differences between the sexes and starts acknowledging their vastly overlapping common humanity.

The insidious effects of casual sexism:
The Weinsteins of the World Get Permission in a Million Little Ways Every Day


  1. Bravo indeed. When men criticize some sexual insult by saying “I feel horrified for my wife/daughter that a thing like that could happen” it infuriates me. Such things are evil no matter who you are. Good smart writing.

  2. Good! For! You! Lo!

    Things that are held “sacred” often wind up not on pedestals but sacrificed upon alters. It does not occur to Kelly and Scarborough that women are not things.

    Who better than a sex educator and blogger to remind them of the dark underside of the transaction that would render “sacred” all women as a class? As commodities?

    We’d be better off if everyone could have been expected to say it. But someone had to go first. Who better than you? Thank you!

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