Do Words Even Matter When You’re Classy?
Melania Trump received quite a bit of kudos last night for a speech that apparently exuded class. Is that all we want our women to be?
There’s been a lot of commentary today about how classy Melania Trump was in her address at the Republican National Convention last night.
The idea behind calling her classy seems to be less about the content of the words coming out of her mouth, which were, admittedly, much more measured than what we’d come to expect over the last two nights.
Rather, it seems to have more to do with how she looked delivering her message.
“What’d you like about it?” I dared to ask someone on social media.
“She was very beautiful, the classiest First Lady ever,” was the response.
“But what about what she said? What’d you like about what she said?”
I’m beginning to think that we’re fans of beautiful women who don’t make much noise in this country.
“She is the most beautiful and elegant woman to have ever graced the White House.”
“Melania Trump is the most beautiful First Lady. She loves America.”
When you point out that a woman’s worth should be measured by, oh, I dunno, the content of her character, the tables are immediately turned on you in some impressive mental gymnastics.
It’s sexist that I want to judge the woman on the things she says and the actions she takes, rather than agreeing with you about her looks?
She was a model, or whatever brought her here on an Einstein Visa. Everyone knows you don’t get on Trump’s arm by being an uggo. She’s certainly beautiful.
But what is it about class, or the perception of class, that makes someone’s very existence in a room more valid?
No matter how you feel about that weird parka she wore to visit the kids in cages, the birther claims she spread about President Obama, the speeches she’s cribbed, there’s also something else going on here.
What makes a woman classy, and another woman nasty?
Why is the bar so high for some women, but so low for others?
It seems as if a large segment of the population rewards passiveness, especially when it comes from women of a certain hue.
Garden. Speak when you’re asked to. Don’t make waves. Stand by your man, even when he’s demanding to see the birth certificate of someone born in this country.
If you actually listened to her speech rather than marveling at her military-style outfit and shiny hair, she asked us to look to the future, to reflect on our mistakes, but look forward. She expressed her condolences to lives lost due to the coronavirus, something she has almost universally been lauded for, which speaks again to that low bar.
There wasn’t a mask in that room, by the way, so those words seemed pretty hollow, even silly if that’s possible.
She promised to continue her work with “Be Best,” although the initial focus on cyberbullying was noticeably absent.
She said a lot of words, words that were nice enough, and kind enough. But those words stand in stark contrast to her own actions — or lack thereof — since Trump began campaigning in earnest.
It’s hard to take her words seriously when other than slapping his hand away from time to time, she’s never had any effect on Trump’s frenzied Twitter rhetoric, his lies, and his deceit, even joining him in on the birther chorus during his initial campaign.
It’s hard to give her much kudos when she’s been so inconsequential as a First Lady. Classy or not, what has she done to better herself, those kids she professes to support so fully, those youths she wants to just “be best” already?
She has traveled around the world in vague support of her initiative, sharing photographs with us wearing a safari hat and meeting poor African kids. She gave them soccer balls, because that would allow them to become…best at soccer? I’m really not sure.
She professes how important her initiative has been to curb the level of cyberbullying out there on the Internet. The irony isn’t lost on me here, but as someone who recently left the teaching profession, cyberbullying has only intensified over the course of Trump’s tenure. It’s become angrier, more hurtful, more targeted.
So what has she done?
She’s remained classy, it seems. That’s enough for many.
But when you appear on the world stage following video footage of your campaign to change the world, I’m going to need more than a 25-minute speech of platitudes.
Frankly, I don’t even need her to change the world. If you’d rather spend your years remodeling the White House, and tending to the garden people are so riled up about, run with that. Don’t present yourself as this figure of change, or, which is likely more accurate, allow yourself to become a tool by those looking to present you that way.
We criticize women who stand up for themselves, who ask us to look inward and examine our own biases. We criticize First Ladies who tell our kids to eat more vegetables, for not “looking like” they belong because they dare to bare their arms, or appear to have been working out too intensely.
When they don’t look like our ideal — not even that they don’t look like us, because who can look like a supermodel, really? — we make fun of them. We ridicule their weight, their skin tone, their lack of femininity, at least in the eyes of those criticizing.
I was interacting with someone on Twitter today — stupid, I know — about how people still see the ideal woman as “beautiful, classy and feminine,” thinking that surely we’ve at least come further in this space since the 1950s housewife model.
This is the response I got:
“Some ‘women’ were thought (“taught,” maybe?) that being feminine is associated with weakness and vulnerability which is far from being true.”
This was after he made a crack about people being “gender confused,” which is something else altogether.
Women can absolutely be whatever they want to be, whether that’s feminine, or tomboyish, or whatever. They can be vulnerable yet strong, brave and independent, classy, even, all at the same time.
But when you box someone in, when you’re here telling us that such and such is the ideal role model because of some perception of “class,” think about what that actually means.
Because actions speak louder than your looks.