When assessing the most sexist moments from the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, perhaps the most shocking thing is that there weren't even more. That's not to say, of course, that there weren't far more sexist moments than any person, former Secretary of State or otherwise, should have to put up with — because there absolutely were. But in this hotly anticipated face-to-face meeting between one of the most accomplished women in America and a rude millionaire-cum-"politician" who added "blood coming out of her whatever" to our cultural lexicon, frankly, I was expecting much worse.
Which isn't to say Trump did a good job, or in any way exceeded expectations simply because he refrained from calling any woman a "pig" or "dog," or yet again implying that it was "disgusting" that Clinton (unlike other human beings, of course) uses the bathroom. As many sharper political minds than me have noted, the bar was set incredibly low for Trump Monday night, as it often is in general — throughout his campaign, he's had a knack for making expectations for him so low, that whenever he meets them, he's read as a success, while Clinton must meet levels of expectation that, well, make more sense for someone who we're considering electing president of the United States, rather of president of the eighth grade booger-eating society, which is the position that Trump often seems to be running for.
So I don't want to be complicit in the system that sets these uneven expectations — in a way, those low expectations for Trump's words and deeds were the most sexist part of this debate, and remain one of the most sexist parts of this entire election. But the seven most sexist moments from the first presidential debate still come pretty damn close. All words are drawn for the Washington Post transcript of the debate.
1. Trump Tells Clinton, "I Want You To Be Very Happy. It's Very Important To Me"
The first few minutes of the debate were, in many ways, a master class in usage of insincere niceness as a tool of aggression. Clinton's "Donald, It's good to be with you" was a sick burn for the ages that managed to be hilarious without really taking any potshots at any aspect of Trump's campaign or self (except, you know, the idea that anyone would enjoy being with him).
But Trump's passive-aggressive volley — “Secretary Clinton, is that OK? Good. I want you to be very happy. It’s very important to me” — took that emotional cold war to a new, and sexist, level.
The basic question about whether it was OK to refer to Clinton as "Secretary Clinton" was bizarre — of course it is, as she has held the office of Secretary of State and thus can be described using that honorific, in the same way that we could refer to Trump as "Person Who Was In Home Alone 2 Trump." But his follow-up — "Good. I want you to be very happy" — was an odd sexist piece of attempted snark. Is the implication that she's a child? That all women are children? We may never quite know — but we do know that it was among the first of many strange sexist moments Monday night.
2. Trump Mansplains Military Strategy
Clinton repeatedly referred to her website throughout the debate, because, well, it contains a lot of proposed policy information that should be relevant to you if you're trying to figure out how to cast your vote. And when Clinton noted that her website included this relevant information, Trump interrupted, proclaiming "She tells you how to fight ISIS on her website. I don't think Gen. Douglas MacArthur would like that too much." Then, when Clinton responded, "Well, at least I have a plan to fight ISIS," Trump responded, "See, you're telling the enemy everything you want to do. No wonder you've been fighting — no wonder you've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life."
As I'm sure you already know, ISIS was formally named in 2013, which would make Clinton about 25 years old if she had had her entire adult life occupied by fighting the group. But Trump's assumption that he, a person who has never held political office in any capacity, knows more than a former secretary of state about how to plan military actions — or, indeed, what a dead military general might think about said military actions — smacked of incredible sexism.
3. Trump Talks About Clinton's "Stamina"
When it comes to coded terms used by politicians to invoke ideas beyond the words they are directly saying, Monday night's invocation of "stamina" was a gold star effort. After moderator Lester Holt asked Trump, "Earlier this month, you said [Clinton] doesn't have, quote, 'a presidential look.' She's standing here right now. What did you mean by that?" Trump attempted to force the conversation in a different direction, replying, "She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina. I said she doesn't have the stamina. And I don't believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina."
So what does "stamina" mean, in this context? Could it mean, I don't know, just to make up an example, campaigning through a case of pneumonia? Nope; instead, Trump replied with this nugget of mystery: "You have to be able to negotiate our trade deals. You have to be able to negotiate, that's right, with Japan, with Saudi Arabia. I mean, can you imagine, we're defending Saudi Arabia? And with all of the money they have, we're defending them, and they're not paying? All you have to do is speak to them. Wait. You have so many different things you have to be able to do, and I don't believe that Hillary has the stamina."
So stamina is about ... making other countries pay us to defend them? Does "stamina" here mean, oh, I don't know, "having a penis?"
I'll let Clinton's own reply to that one close this section out: "Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina."
4. Trump Criticizes Clinton For Preparing For The Debate
Within a larger (and frankly extremely questionable) comment about African-American communities, Trump tried to diss Clinton for having curbed campaign trail appearances in recent weeks in order to prepare for the debate: "[Y]ou know, you've seen me, I've been all over the place. You decided to stay home, and that's OK. But I will tell you, I've been all over. "
The sexist invocation of Clinton as some kind of Hermoine-esque planner who is far too nerdy to be president is familiar at this point, which is why it was such a relief to hear Clinton proudly owning it in her reply: "I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that's a good thing."
5. Trump Blames Clinton For Literally Every Problem In The World
When Clinton joked that, "I have a feeling that by, the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened," Trump jumped in with a "Why not?" that was honestly pretty illuminating about his entire campaign strategy. Why not scapegoat a woman, or an ethnic group, or a wide variety of ethnic groups, or literally anyone it's convenient to blame in that moment? That "Why not?" stood in for the entire Trump campaign.
6. Trump Chides Clinton For Not Being "Nice"
Let's set aside the fact that Trump himself is not known for saying particularly nice things on the campaign trail, and simply take in the raw sexism of a man chastising a woman running campaign ads FOR HER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN and not being "nice" in them.
Trump said, "I was going to say something...extremely rough to Hillary, to her family, and I said to myself, 'I can't do it. I just can't do it. It's inappropriate. It's not nice.' But she spent hundreds of millions of dollars on negative ads on me, many of which are absolutely untrue. They're untrue. And they're misrepresentations. And I will tell you this, Lester: It's not nice. And I don't deserve that. But it's certainly not a nice thing that she's done."
Because, obviously, not bringing up rumors about about a rival's family (which he essentially still did, by drawing attention to them without explicitly naming them) is definitely comparable to running extremely standard campaign ads. Why can't female presidential candidates just be nicer, and not promote themselves, like real ladies?!?!
7. Trump Pats Himself On The Back For Not Mentioning Rumors About Clinton's Family (While Essentially Still Mentioning Rumors About Clinton's Family)
And while this didn't occur during the debates themselves, we'd be remiss if we didn't bring up what Trump told CNN, post-debate, that his proudest moment was not bringing up gossip about his rival's husband, which he did basically bring up during the debate while he was castigating her for being "not nice."
That anyone could think this is a legitimate way for a politician to behave in public is noxious sexism of the highest order; but the fact that public opinion seems to generally hold that Clinton "won" the debate is hopeful proof that America is too good to buy it.