On Monday, President Trump stormed out of a press briefing after attacking two female White House reporters — Weijia Jiang of CBS News and CNN’s Kaitlan Collins.
It began with a question from Jiang: “You’ve said many times that the U.S. is doing far better than any other country when it comes to testing,” Jiang said. “Why does that matter? Why is this a global competition to you if every day Americans are still losing their lives and we’re still seeing more cases every day?”
“Well, they’re losing their lives everywhere in the world,” Trump replied. He then went on to suggest that Jiang, who is Chinese American, should pose her question to China.
“Maybe that’s a question you should ask China,” Trump said, emphasizing the country’s name. “Don’t ask me, ask China that question, okay?”
When Trump called on Collins, she ceded the floor back to Jiang in a show of support. Trump called on Collins again, and she began explaining that she wanted to let Jiang finish her line of questioning. The president cut in and walked out of the briefing.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has clashed with women journalists who ask questions that stray from his talking points.
Trump is hardly unique in insulting women who challenge him, experts say. In both contemporary global politics and throughout history, women and minorities have long been discredited for challenging authority.
Trump is just one leader that follows a similar playbook of “macho behavior and sexualized gendering,” said Amrita Basu, professor of political science, and sexuality, women’s and gender studies at Amherst College.
Basu called the behavior a hallmark of a certain kind of performative populist hero that has risen to power globally in the past decade.
“It’s not an attack on all women. It’s women who challenge the authority of these leaders — especially women who are strong, feminist and anti-racist,” Basu said.
“Politically we’re seeing more of this with heads of state. If you have them engaging in this kind of behavior, it legitimizes other people doing it and coarsens other kinds of debate with crude, vulgar misogyny,” she said.
Elmira Bayrasli, co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, a policy institute dedicated to closing the foreign policy expert gender gap, says this type of behavior is not just limited to political ideology. “Challenges to power upset power.”
She points to Rachel Carson, a writer and former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who published “Silent Spring” in 1962. The book exposed the extensive harm of the pesticide DDT and Carson was vilified by the Kennedy administration for it. They set up a panel to investigate her claims against the chemical and eventually vindicated her.
Still, Time magazine called the book “hysterical” and “patently unsound” and the chemical industry funded a well-oiled machine to label her a communist, insinuating treasonous tied to the Soviet Union. She was personally decried for being “hysterical” and “a spinster.”
Mary Helen Washington, an English professor at the University of Maryland and author of “The Other Blacklist: The African American Literary and Cultural Left of the 1950s” pointed to the black women who were to the left of the mainstream Democratic Party. They were often denigrated by liberals as well as conservatives.
In the 1940s and 1950s, feminist and advocate for the working class Claudia Jones drew revile as the highest-ranking black woman in the Communist Party. In 1949, she published “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman,” detailing the plights of working class black women for the first time, Washington said.
Jones was eventually imprisoned and deported to London.
But for Washington, the treatment of Lani Guinier, now an emeritus professor at Harvard Law School, particularly stands out.
Guinier was nominated by former president Bill Clinton in 1993 to be assistant attorney general for civil rights. He quickly withdrew her nomination and called her legal writings about voter repression and affirmative action “anti-Democratic” and “very difficult to defend.”
“Vilified is not even a good enough word for what they did to her,” Washington said. “Her staunch advocacy for voting rights and affirmative action and her critique of the Democratic Party leaders for their marginalization of black voters — the ‘backbone’ of the Democratic Party, set the stage for her public humiliation. ”
“As soon as they as they saw her Afro,” the establishment turned on her, Washington said, referring to her “wild hair” and “wild ideas.” She was nicknamed “Loony Lani,” the “quota queen,” and the “left-wing extremist.”
In subsequent appearances, Washington says Guinier wore her hair more relaxed and in a braid.
“These women are precursors to many contemporary black women whose politics run counter to the right-wing as well as to the liberal mainstream,” Washington said.