The XX Factor

Obama to GOP: You Don’t Need Daughters to Object to Trump’s Misogyny

Barack Obama at a Hillary Clinton rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Tuesday.

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

At a 9,000-person rally for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina on Tuesday, Barack Obama threw significant shade at many Republicans who’ve disavowed Donald Trump’s misogyny in the days since a recording of the candidate boasting about sexual assault came to light.

The president expressed disbelief that a wide swath of Republican leaders—including Paul Ryan, Ben Carson, and the Texas congressman who would consider endorsing Trump even if he admitted to rape—could express such disgust at Trump’s remarks but still recommend him for the presidency. “Now you’ve got people saying, ‘Well, we strongly disapprove. We really disagree. We find those comments disgusting. But we’re still endorsing him. We still think he should be president.’ That doesn’t make sense to me,” Obama said. “You can’t have it both ways here. You can’t repeatedly denounce what is said by someone and then say, ‘but I’m still gonna endorse him to be the most powerful person on the planet and to put them in charge.’”

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He also condemned the line of thinking promoted by Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jason Chaffetz, who have said they won’t support Trump, but primarily because of concern for their female relatives. “You don’t have to be a husband or a father to hear what we heard just a few days ago and say, ‘That’s not right,’” Obama said on Tuesday. “You just have to be a decent human being to say, ‘That’s not right.’”

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This is a worthy disavowal of what I call the Daughter Clause: the invocation of blood relations to transform misogynist attacks into personal affronts to men. The Daughter Clause assesses a woman’s value by her proximity to a man. I’m not saying Obama prepared for his North Carolina address by poring over the piece I wrote about the Daughter Clause’s role in the public response to Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remarks, but I’m not not saying that, either.

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Obama’s “decent human being” statement is another bit of evidence that the president’s feminism is getting markedly more coherent as his tenure comes to a close. He’s made a few missteps: Earlier this year, he told Misty Copeland that Michelle “has some curves” and he finds those curves attractive, which has shored up his daughters’ positive body image—a discouraging and common narrative that perpetuates the idea that a woman’s self-confidence should wax and wane with the preferences of men, that women are beautiful if and because their partners say so. But, maybe because of the women who’ve amplified their way into top advisory positions, Obama is incorporating more nuanced feminist notions into his leadership. He published a pretty good essay about feminism in Glamour this August, emphasizing the important role men must play in dismantling patriarchal systems of power. Then again, he also credited two women in particular with helped him better understand the struggles women face: his daughters.

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