A record number of female legislators just took power in Congress ― led, of course, by the newly anointed Speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
And President Donald Trump may find that his playbook for dealing with women — a classic sexist mixture of paternalism, leering and straight-up name-calling and misogyny, sprinkled with the occasional nondisclosure agreement — isn’t going to work against this unprecedented female offense.
The female forces aligned against Trump involve more than Pelosi, who on Thursday officially became the most powerful female politician in the country (again).
He’ll have to contend with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) the new chair of the House Financial Services Committee. She said that looking at Trump’s finances will be on the to-do list. There’s also savvy and vocal opposition coming from freshmen like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
And then there’s a clutch of women in the Senate, all gearing up for a presidential run. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was first out of the gate this week; but expect Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to provide a steady stream of criticism, well.
“He’s going to have powerful, competent women coming at him in all directions,” said Jennifer Lawless, a politics professor at the University of Virginia.
Trump’s go-to strategy of name-calling and ad hominem attacks is not going to work against this onslaught, she said. Calling these women weak, suggesting he can ruin their careers — all strategies he’s done with men he doesn’t respect — will be an instant reminder of the president’s sexism.
“If he wants to avoid daily reminders of the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, then he can’t deal with these powerful female adversaries the same way he’s accustomed to dealing with powerful male adversaries,” Lawless said.
Of course, Trump has had to face off with powerful women before, but typically these were one-offs. In the race against Hillary Clinton, already the subject of a good portion of the country’s hatred, he was able to tap the misogynist well. He was successful in demeaning Warren by calling her Pocahontas. His strategy with Angela Merkel? Ignore. At one event, Trump notably avoided making eye contact.
The difference this time is he’s outnumbered. And that’s crucial.
Having more women in power makes a real difference when it comes to battling sexism — that’s true in the boardroom, where it’s generally recognized that you need at least three female directors in order to have truly meaningful diversify. And it’s true in politics, too.
Alone, one woman can do a little to combat sexism, but together, a diverse group can break through insidious stereotypes and take on men like Trump — who’ve spent their careers ignoring women.
“Have you ever been to a meeting when you’re at the table, and a woman makes a suggestion, and then they go to the next person, and then two persons later a man makes the same suggestion, the other gentleman at the table say, ‘That’s a great idea’?” Pelosi asked CNN’s Dana Bash recently.
The whole listening to women thing will hopefully be less of a problem now that there are so many women in Congress, Pelosi told The New York Times.
The 78-year-old congresswoman has been training her whole life for this moment — beginning her career in Congress as only one of 23 women in the House, wrangling power away from a bunch of men who weren’t exactly itching to mentor her.
She isn’t here to coddle the president, as the women in his orbit tend to do. Indeed, one of the only high-ranking women in the Trump administration calls the President “dad.”
And Pelosi won’t be cowed by his insults. “I know how to take a punch,” she told Bash. “I put on a suit of armor, eat nails for breakfast.”
We got a taste of how she handles Trump at the end of last year, when she swooped into the Oval Office for a meeting that was supposed to be a photo op and turned into a Democratic public relations coup when she and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) got Trump to take credit for the government shutdown that is currently in its 12th day.
At the meeting, available in its entirety on C-SPAN, she dismantled Trump who tried his best to only talk to the men in the room (another tactic he’s used with powerful women).
Pelosi chided him at one point by saying, “don’t characterize the strength that I bring.” Those words are now immortalized on a T-shirt in her office, the Times reported.
Her armor that day was a red Max Mara coat that became instantly iconic. Today, she got more than a coat ― she took up the gavel.