TL;DR: racism and sexism with a fat side dish of authoritarianism, that’s why.
I seem like a jerk, I guess, when I comment on memes about Melania Trump. I see many of these meme-posts on Facebook. Some are just about how beautiful she is, like this one:
And sure, she’s objectively hot. She was a model. Her hotness directly led to her jumping to the front of the immigration line when a really rich guy noticed her. It’s like a Disney movie (with some illegal immigration and anchor babies thrown in). In fact, though I won’t go searching for the pics (which I’m assured exist), Melania’s physical beauty has been appreciated by many people around the world. Some non-Trump people have tried to use this fact to shame conservatives for violating two values at once:
Yeah, it’s sort of funny but come on, guys: female modesty (and modesty-shaming of women) is a conservative thing. For hundreds of years, conservatives have used “slut-shaming” (even if they had to make up the supposed offending sexual behavior) to criticize women in power. I lived through the Clinton years, and the nasty anti-Hillary content was pretty much everywhere. This has been a standard attack on females in any position of authority since pretty much forever. It’s only applied to women (has Trump been shamed out of office for his disgusting sexual behavior? That’s what I thought), and it’s only done by right-wing people, usually with strong Evangelical Christian overtones. Most non-conservatives don’t think whether someone has appeared naked for millions of viewers has much to do with their value as a politician. Even if she were a full-on porn star, I don’t think that would change my view of her politics.
A larger frustration for me is that conservative slut-shaming was front and center for the former First Lady, on the flimsiest of pretenses (there’s no evidence of any kind of actual sexual scandal with Michelle Obama, to my knowledge), with no apparent sense of irony or hypocrisy from many conservatives. Praise of Melania’s physical beauty has appeared side-by-side with condemnations of Hillary Clinton’s alleged sexual immorality.
And then, with that very recent historical context, we get these memes (I’ve seen this one at least three times on Facebook this year; it’s popular):
That phrase, “Most beautiful,” is not accidental. It’s loaded, and it’s all about context. Some of the context is the ridiculous insistence that everything about Trump–including his most recent wife–is the most amazing version ever. There’s a much uglier context, as well, though:
Creating ugly images of politicians you dislike is an old and honored tradition: make the rich guy fat, make the miser look wrinkly and mean, give everyone big noses and ears, etc. But this is something else. First, it’s applied to a woman, and physical attractiveness always has a whole different set of cultural connections when applied to women. Second, there’s the racism. So. Much. Racism.
You can find hundreds of images and memes of ape comparisons between Michelle (and/or Barack) Obama and apes, if you have the stomach to type in the search terms, which I don’t think I will, again. These images were shared widely on Facebook and other social media, and a few public comments to this effect were reported on by major news outlets. None of this was a secret or unknown to the conservative world. It was part of their world. It was almost a standard response to the entire concept of a black First Lady. That’s why people occasionally tripped up and said it publicly, then got on the news in unpleasant ways.
I’m pretty sure nobody I personally know created any memes like this or even said these things. The conservatives I know are good people and would not actively participate in such disgusting behavior. However, as with so many other issues, it’s also the case that no conservative I know, in any forum visible to me, has ever condemned these explicitly racist comparisons when they popped up. Nobody even disagreed with them, at least in my field of (online) vision. I never saw any person I know even say, “That’s a bit much; let’s tone it down.” None of them seems to have had any problem with the slut-shaming of Michelle Obama for showing arms, either, FWIW.
So now we get “Melania is the most beautiful First Lady in history.” The people sharing these memes, either ignorantly (I prefer to believe this in some cases) or maliciously, now want to strip the historical context away. In other words, they’d really like it if we could all just forget the horrible things they said about the former First Lady and not make any awkward comparisons with what they’re saying right now. They would love to have it both ways.
So, in case you have missed why I think these posts are awful:
- The right spends several decades slut-shaming non-Republican women in positions of authority
- The right spends 8+ years dismissing Michelle Obama’s qualifications as First Lady by tying her physical attractiveness to fairly horrifying racist caricatures
- As soon as Michelle is gone, conservatives begin to praise the new white lady as “the most beautiful” First Lady ever
My reaction to these memes is also based on other issues, such as the fact that I find immoral, selfish, psychopathic behavior unattractive; Melania’s apparent endorsement of the trauma her husband’s policies are causing to thousands of children makes her pretty ugly to me. So does her continuing refusal to comment on the multiple accusations of sexual assault made by other women against her husband (including one accusation of brutal rape by a former wife). Blatant corruption also isn’t a look I admire.
But mostly it’s the racism.