Donald Trump likes to claim that nobody respects women more than him. He's said it multiple times throughout his campaign and, most recently, as a last-ditch effort to court women voters at the final presidential debate. But when he proudly proclaimed to the Las Vegas audience that "nobody has more respect for women than I do," the audience literally laughed out loud.
Suffice to say, those collective chuckles suggested that some voters aren't buying Trump's claims. Despite the clear disbelief among the American people, the top two women behind Trump's campaign continue to argue that he does respect women, but their explanation for how he respects and values half the population is weak and calculated.
When Trump says he likes to "grab [women] by the p---y," calls us "fat pigs" or "eating machines," or pays the women on his campaign staff 35 percent less than their male colleagues, I don't exactly view that as respect. So I wanted to try to find out from the women closest to him and his campaign — Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, and Katrina Pierson, his national campaign spokeswoman — how they think he respects women.
Conway and Pierson are so convinced that Trump values women that they couldn't even fathom why the audience would laugh at him during the debate. "I think the Hillary Clinton supporters laughed. I would expect them to," Conway tells Bustle, without really answering why she thought they would laugh at his claim that "nobody respects women" more than him.
What's most interesting about my conversations with Conway and Pierson is that they both cited examples of Trump's professional relationships with women to argue that he has no problem with them. Conway assumed the position of Trump's campaign manager after Corey Lewandowski was fired earlier in the election season. So, sure, Conway wasn't his first choice for this position, but being a close second is enough for her to argue that Trump respects women:
He hired the first campaign manager as a female in Republican Party history. He hired thousands of women over the years and elevated some of them to the highest ranks of the Trump organization where they are well-compensated with great benefits.
Hiring and paying women for their work is a basic law that employers have to follow in the United States. But hey, Trump manages to do that, so let's just forget about all the horrible things he's said about us. Pierson echoed Conway's statements, immediately pointing to Trump's businesses to prove that he respects women:
The fact that he’s promoted several women in his organization. Over half of his vice presidents and executive positions are women. He has the first female campaign manager in United States history. And I think looking at a woman and her ability, what she brings to the table in her business acumen, he's promoted women in his organization, he doesn’t hire outside executives, he grows them up [within the business]. He’s been a mentor for several women who are here tonight speaking on his behalf. I think that shows a lot of respect.
It's unclear what women Pierson was referring to at the end, as the only women I saw speaking on his behalf were Pierson and Conway.
But respecting women extends beyond the professional network, and insisting that Trump's business relationships with women proves he has no respect issues wasn't enough for me. How does Trump respect women in his personal life? We've heard him reveal the way he thinks about women almost entirely based on their physical appearance, and we've heard the way he glorifies sexual assault and uses his "star" power to "do anything" to women. Those examples are in clear contrast to the way Pierson and Conway have said he treats women in the Trump organization.
"I can tell you I’ve met so many people who’ve met him. As you’ve seen, several Miss Teen USAs have come out, you’ve seen former beauty contestants come out, you’ve seen former Apprentice contestants that have come out," Pierson tells me, seemingly forgetting the sexual assault and misconduct allegations these same women have put forth against Trump.
Five former Miss Teen USA contestants have alleged that Trump walked in on them changing in the backstage dressing room. "Don't worry, ladies, I've seen it all before," one contestant recalled Trump saying when he walked in. Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice, has accused Trump of sexual assault.
So far, 10 women have accused Trump of sexual assault and misconduct; he continues to deny all the allegations, and Pierson does, too. "If you go back and look at the Miss Teen USA interviews that haven’t quite made it to the public, they do say that when he went backstage to do inspection, there was an announcement made and there was a chaperone around the whole time.”
Pierson's comments were weak and confusing. Claiming that there's supposed evidence via interviews that "haven't quite made it to the public" doesn't refute any of these claims from former Miss Teen USA contestants. There have been a couple instance of former contestants saying they've never felt compromised around Trump, but that doesn't negate the claims from the women who did see Trump in their dressing room. Moreover, Trump has bragged explicitly about walking in on these rooms during an interview with Howard Stern.
“No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it,” Trump said in the 2005 interview with Stern. “‘Is everyone OK?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody OK?’ And you see these incredible-looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”
That certainly doesn't sound like something a man who respects women more than anybody else would say. But Trump will continue to try to get away with these things, and the women behind his campaign will continue to support him, despite his clear disrespect for us.