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Woman, thy name is ‘softness’

By Grace M. Pulido Tan

There is something in a recently reported interview of Donald Trump – when he was not yet the Trump that he is today – that strikes a raw nerve.  He said that when Ivana, his former wife, became an executive in one of his companies, she lost her “softness” and became a, well, executive.  He would also hear Ivana yelling on the phone, as executives often do, and this turned him off, pretty much like Hillary’s “yelling.” When he’d come home and dinner wasn’t ready, he would “hit the roof.”  His advice?  Husbands, don’t allow your wife to work the trenches.

How very macho and Filipino.   Then and now, many husbands still keep the wives away from the workplace; their place is to tend the husband, the children, and the home.  Not a bad idea at all, because this takes so much more time, energy, and responsibility than a full time job.  I know, because I have always been a working wife, mother, and housekeeper; never a stay-home even in retirement.

The reality is, more and more married women are in the work force either for economic reasons or self-actualization. They are in government, the academe, corporations, domestic households locally and overseas, production lines, public markets and sidewalks, police and military forces, farms – everywhere. Many are primary or indispensable breadwinners, top-notch executives, and highly performing  public servants. Yet, they continue to be primarily responsible, as well, for the care of the children and the upkeep of the home, not to mention the bunch of marital duties to keep the spousal relationship always in high gear.  To remain “soft,” as Trump puts it.

The problem is, he equates “softness” with “obeisance,” that deferential posture to husbands that wives are expected to take; that not too subtle acknowledgment of the husband’s superiority and authority over the wife.  Hence, wives are expected to keep the house neat and tidy, raise impeccably mannered children, and serve the husband hand in foot. They are not to raise their voices but be ever gentle and always pretty. When asked for an opinion, it cannot be contradictory or intelligent.  It matters not whether they are stay-at-homes or members of the working class.

It is a tall order, indeed, and sadly, it persists to this day in an even worse form: misogyny. According to psychologist Berit Brogaard, misogyny is characterized generally by “rude, grandiose, cocky, controlling, and self-centered” behavior towards women, allowing men various liberties for which women will be criticized, and making jokes about women or otherwise shaming them in public.

Thankfully, women are not “soft” in the way that Trump wants.  We are tough and strong to the core – not with the air of accomplishments nor by the test of fire in the workplace – but because of our appreciation of who we truly are and our unique capabilities and attributes that precisely position us to become wives and mothers, and even successful career women.  But yes, we are “soft,” in the sense of being inherently nurturing and deeply attuned to the basic need of men and women alike for respect.