With Donald Trump in the White House and a conservative majority in both houses of Congress, feminism might seem to be in dire straits. But if you ever want to remind yourself that the feminist movement has actually accomplished something, look through a list of creepy historical quotes from male politicians about women. It's appalling what men sometimes feel like they can say nowadays, but it's nothing to what they could say in the past. At least women can speak up for themselves now — in the past, these statements were often just allowed to stand as fact.
It's heartening to think that men now have to face backlash when they say creepy things about rape in public or talk about abortion in ways that dehumanize women. Maybe one day, the legality of abortion won't be questioned anymore and feminism will have achieved its goals of equality for all. That day will clearly still take a lot of work to reach, though, so it's still necessary to look back and see how far we've come.
Here, then, are some of the creepiest quotes from political men over the last two millennia, including top church leaders, monarchs, a certain dictator, and several democratically-elected American politicians. If you're not already cringing just thinking about it, you might want to start now.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a highly influential Catholic thinker in the 13th century, a time when the Catholic Church held a lot of power over the politics of the day. While he was not overtly involved in politics, his ideas definitely would have been used to shape the laws of the day — and he didn't think so highly of women:
He was canonized soon after his death and still has numerous schools named after him, so I imagine that quotes like these aren't the most highly cited.
Martin Luther, the religious thinker whose philosophy may have had more effect on politics than anyone else before him, certainly revolutionized the Church — but he sure didn't revolutionize its thinking on women:
I'm not sure exactly where he pulls that directly out of the words of God, but I'm sure that someone's done that research for him. And just as a bonus, Luther also said that "no gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise." Almost sounds like something out of a Rush Limbaugh radio show, right?
If you know anything about King Henry VIII, it's probably that he had six wives and beheaded two of them — so you probably wouldn't expect him to be exactly the portrait of an old-school feminist. When he met his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, he had this to say about her:
He didn't behead Anne of Cleves, but he did talk loudly and publicly about how unattractive he found her — like a horse — and ended up divorcing her because of it.
Napoleon might have been a brilliant military mind — besides his whole Russia invasion — but he didn't have such an enlightened view on women's place in society:
I guess he didn't need to specify "male children," because clearly in his mind, the female children would just become the next generation of machines. Apparently Joan of Arc didn't have such a lasting impact on French military thinking as one might have hoped.
Joseph Smith founded the Church of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church — a formidable force in American religion and politics. He had some pretty clear-cut views on the nature of women, and they weren't so complimentary:
If he did go with that planetary metaphor, though, it does more or less explain the polygamy thing.
Outgoing President Grover Cleveland reacts as William McKinley sworn in, 1896. pic.twitter.com/Wg0D4r2mXk— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) December 1, 2016
Grover Cleveland was unique as president, because he was the only one to serve for two unconnected terms of office. He was not unique for his time concerning his thoughts on women, though:
Cleveland was a Democrat — shows you how times have changed.
Creepy doesn't even approach a description of who Hitler was as a person, but it's pretty apt for describing his thoughts on women:
Cringing yet? Here's another:
Just — ew.
8Pope John Paul II
While the Catholic Church has lost much of the power that it used to have, the Pope still has a role to play in world politics — for better or for worse. John Paul II commanded the respect of millions and still does, but he wasn't without his moments of misogyny:
This is a creepy quote about the inferiority of women, cloaked as an undisputed historical fact. It's not an undisputed fact — the New Testament was put together long after Jesus' life — and yet a 20th century pope was still using it to propagate a belief that men were the superior sex.
Breaking: Texas A&M Aggie Ring plaza vandalized. Graffiti says "Rape is inevitable may as well enjoy it - Clayton Williams" pic.twitter.com/viWKn0EqYl— Rusty Surette (@KBTXRusty) April 4, 2017
While he was running for governor of Texas, candidate Clayton Williams caused a well-deserved stir by making a rape joke to a bunch of ranch hands on his ranch. Apparently they were having bad weather, and to lighten things up Williams made an analogy between bad weather and rape:
Luckily for humanity, he did not get a free pass for this, and he ended up losing the election even after apologizing and trying to play it off as not a "serious deal."
10George W. Bush.
In all fairness, Dubya was not known to be the most eloquent speaker, and sometimes that came out in incredibly creepy ways. One of his "best" moments came during his 2004 reelection campaign, when he was talking about malpractice lawsuit reforms:
I'll just leave that there.
Oh, Paul Ryan, the wolf in sheep's clothing when it comes to feminism and women's rights. The man who wants more time at home, but refuses to support policies that would grant that to everyone. He claims to be helping American families, while at the same time gunning towards a healthcare plan that would legitimately kill millions of people. On the one hand, he says this after a video comes out showing his presidential candidate bragging about sexual assault:
But four years prior to that, in his own campaign for vice president, he had this to say about abortions in the case of rape:
So, we're to be championed and revered, but in the end our bodies are really just incubators? Perhaps that's why he thinks women need championing — because as mere ovens of life, we can't champion ourselves. Women are to be respected as fellow human beings, Rep. Ryan. Acknowledging that would be your first step in the right direction.
There are no shortage of creepy historical quotes throughout the ages — but this is enough for now. Now it's time to turn to something more empowering — and just remember that we've progressed far enough to see all of these for what they are.