When our extra-terrestrial (ET) overlords arrive in the US and demand to be taken to our dear leaders, what will we say when they ask about human propriety, respect, and etiquette?
Do we tell them, this, of Trump: He has admitted on tape to grabbing women's genitals without their consent, he has been accused of walking in on female, teenage pageant contestants in various states of undress, and he's been accused by multiple women of assault, groping, and harassment. He also regularly condoned chants of "lock her up" against his his female opponent in the 2016 Election and promised to imprison her if he won. His female opponent, we must explain, has been convicted of no crime.
Also, per Donald Trump, "Nobody has more respect for women than Donald Trump!"
Accordingly, our ET friends would ask, So, given the definition of respect on your planet, we shall introduce ourselves by reaching for the nearest set of genitals?
Well, I would explain, other views exist.
We would then turn to Pence: He is a politician who famously refuses to have dinner alone with women if his wife is not present. This refusal is respectful, we are to believe, as it is an avoidance of temptation and a way to honor his commitment to his wife.
Well, that seems better, the ET would say. However, approximately half the humans Pence deigns to serve as a politician are women, yes?
I would answer in the affirmative.
They might continue: Then how can a man who can't be trusted to dine alone with women be trusted to make policy decisions affecting women? Isn't that sort of a wolf guarding the sheep-house situation?
I would correct their idiom usage but assure them that, yes, I believe their basic observation to be correct. It certainly does seem as though if a person is only able to see women through the prism "sexual temptation" that person might be unqualified to hold public office in a nation in which women exist.
Starting to get on a roll, our ET friends would continue: Then, can a man who can't be trusted to dine alone with women furthermore be trusted to even be alone in any space with them? Of all human interactions that occur, what is the unique danger that dining poses to women, when men are nearby?
A logical question. And, perhaps at this juncture our ET friends would remember Donald's behavior toward women and would experience an ah-ha moment of sorts! Ah yes, they would speculate. Men must not eat alone with women because men run the risk of spontaneously grabbing women's genitals whilst dining and the way to keep women safe from men is to therefore exclude women from things.
I would try to interrupt our ET friends, letting them know that not all men (hashtag) are like that. But, if they were intelligent creatures (which they would be, having requested to speak with the feminists first), they would likely continue the line of logical inquiry: If men are so easily tempted and unable to control their sexual impulses during the course of basic bodily nourishment, as this Mike Pence suggests, why is it that men, rather than women, are in charge of so very many things on your planet? Why is not a more responsible gender in charge?
But the question, of course, would answer itself. And, together, ETs and I would enter a Sapir-Whorfian feminist hivemind of perfect knowledge: When men rule, men make the rules.
The rules do not have to be logical, they just have to ensure that the continuation of male supremacy is embedded as a consequence of the rules, even if the rules contain other, polite features. Pence's rule, for instance, ensures that women remain classified as "sexual temptation," but has the added bonus of, for him, eliminating infidelity opportunities.
So, despite what on the surface might look like Donald and Pence being very different sorts of men treating women very disparately, our ET visitors might deduce quite quickly that a wish for continued male supremacy is a bond that unites many men across the political spectrum like almost nothing else.
It is only the manifestations of this wish that differ and the extent to which it's cloaked.
Trump's brand of male supremacy is overt: Women's bodies can be violated simply because a powerful man wills it. Women are, under this doctrine, objects who lack full autonomy and whose boundaries are violable.
Pence's brand of male supremacy is similar, but on the surface—like himself—more polite. It's so polite-seeming that we endure endless rounds of critics asking, What's the big deal, even? So what that he won't eat with women!
What's the big deal? Well, it's like I always say.
Show me a man who insists on treating a woman like a lady, and you can almost always guarantee that he expects to be treated Like a Man. That is to say, as women's superior. Acknowledgement of this gender balance is one the many bargains women are continually asked to strike when it comes to Pence-esque "chivalry" or "benevolent" sexism.
Inherent in this bargain is that it's an agreement of sorts: conditions exist for both sides. For women, chivalry is not granted to all women, but only to certain classes of compliant women. Karen Pence, for instance, but usually not poor women, or women of color, or trans women, or queer women, or fat women, or butch women, or ambitious women. And so on.
Consider, for instance, that Pence-who-is-too-respectful-to-eat-with-women just cast a rare tie-breaking vote to withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Our ET friends might ask, If this man is respectful of women, why would he decrease women's access to healthcare?
Here, I would remind them that when faced with such illogic, the more relevant question is usually, How does this action benefit male supremacy?
A second aspect of the "chivalry" bargain is that you best be grateful for it, women! Here I would invite our ETs to, during their time on Earth, refuse a man's offered chivalry and then to report back how that worked out for them.
A third aspect of "chivalry," I would explain, is accepting the worldview that men and women have different, but complementary, roles with respect to one another—with the man on top. That these traits are ever-shifting across time, place, and culture speaks to their fragility, but the bargain requires us to pretend that these traits are, instead, fixed and universal.
Take a man who's used to treating only certain classes of men as his intellectual peers, remove him from his male-discourse-only bubble, and plop him instead into, say, a roomful of feminist women (the horror!). Suddenly, his roadmap for interaction is gone. The women are no longer reading from his preferred subservient script. Anything can happen and—
Wait! Our ET observers would interrupt with excitement. Could these fragile myths about gender, of which you speak, possibly manifest as the deliberate avoidance of women in certain public settings, because interacting with women in non-controlled settings might cause his "knowns" about the class "woman" to fall away? And if these "knowns" start to fall away, what other "knowns"—particularly the "known" of male superiority—might disintegrate?
At this point, I would beam with pride at our ET visitors and tell them what astute observations they have made thus far. To reward them, I would invite them into my home for dinner, because I'm afraid of neither aliens nor accidentally cheating on my spouse during meals.
I would end by politely asking for a cruise in their pod and suggesting that, considering what we've learned thus far, we skip the part where I take them to our leaders. After all, a far more decent, capable, and interesting person might be walking in the woods somewhere, and wouldn't it be something if we ran into her?
*whispers* The truth is out there.