I have been drawn to Melania Trump since the first mention of her in the press. In spite of myself, I paid attention to those early stories of languages she did or did not speak, degrees she had or had not earned, the childhood poverty, the modeling career, America, New York, Donald Trump.
I vividly recall the provocative black and white photographs of the teenage model. There was a spread of them somewhere, beautiful and unnerving. Even behind the strained bravado of a young girl trying hard to look sure of herself, to look older, one could see the heartbreaking vulnerability. I couldn’t look at them for long at a time.
The first time I ever ran across the term “slut-shaming” was in reference to the public comments–many by reputable journalists–that Melania dressed like a prostitute and had screwed her way out of her village, into fashionable Manhattan parties, and finally into Donald Trump’s bed and into the White House. We were about to have a whore as First Lady.
In our national language, the slut seems to come in two styles–stupid and crazy–and a great deal of ink has been devoted to illustrating Melania’s lack of intelligence. “Dumber than a bag of rocks,” seems to be the consensus. This has made it relatively easy not only to attack her perceived excess sexuality but also seemingly every project she has tried to launch as First Lady. I was horrified at the vicious ridicule heaped on her for the “Be Best” campaign.
The incurable provincialism of Americans is never more evident than in our apparent belief that anyone who speaks with an accent is stupid.
My usual sources of news, analysis, and opinion, The New York Times and The New Yorker, both of which I now read online, are full this week of the death of John McCain. One focus of all this coverage is yet another example of the petty, vindictive behavior of the President of the United States. It happens so often, in such appalling ways, that it hardly even deserves a comment.
Buried somewhere in one of the articles in the Times was a reference to Barbara Bush’s funeral and to the fact that Melania Trump attended without her husband (who was, several articles report, on the golf course). The reference was to an “iconic” photograph of four former presidents and their spouses posing with Melania Trump who was there representing the President. The media have thoroughly explored possible reasons for Mr. Trump’s absence, all to some extent believable, but the impression the photograph made on me has nothing at all to do with whether Trump’s absence was legitimate.
It has to do with the image of two beautiful women, only one of whom is alone, both of whom have been judged for their looks–Melania Trump for her whorishness, Michelle Obama for her blackness. There, too, is Hillary Clinton, criticized for not looking sexy enough. Is there such a thing as wonk-shaming?
Women in the public eye leave themselves open to the worst sort of intrusions into their lives, and even the compliments have an edge.
Janis Joplin, every man’s punching bag, died when she fell off a toilet with a needle in her arm.
Zelda Fitzgerald was committed to an “insane asylum” by her writer husband when she started to write and paint. She died in the fire that burned the asylum to the ground. Their degradation as women was paraded across every front page in the world. I actually read that Joplin had semen in her vagina, and that Zelda Fitzgerald was a drooling madwoman before she died. She took her clothes off in the corridors of the madhouse. There is no way of knowing if those things were true. But they were written down.
After many decades, I still occasionally try to watch a film clip, or even look at a photograph, of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to John Kennedy. Her breathy, little-girl’s voice is much like the President ‘s wife’s. I think about the expensive, tasteful clothes that are Mrs. Kennedy’s trademark. Marilyn Monroe wears an expensive, slutty, gold designer dress that reveals everything. She is singing for applause, or love, or kindness. Singing for her supper.
Joplin recorded a song with these lyrics, “Get it while you can. Don’t you turn your back on love. No, no, no.”
I only want to say that sometimes it just isn’t worth it.
Melania Trump has announced that, in the fall, she will travel to Africa to visit some of the places her husband called “shit-hole countries.”
The President will not accompany her.