November 4, 2016
The Trainwreck Files: Melania Trump
by Sady Doyle
It’s time for another installment of The Trainwreck Files, in which we ask Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear… And Why, to pull a name from the headlines, and definitively tell us: are they a trainwreck, and why? Today’s file: Melania Trump.
It’s just so easy to laugh at her. She looks like a child’s idea of “supermodel”; pouty lips, thickly black-rimmed eyes, heavy European accent, every visible inch of her tanned or bleached to the same shade of golden beige. When she speaks, she does so haltingly, sometimes incorrectly—her husband’s discussion with Billy Bush, for example, was “unappropriate”—and in words that don’t seem to be her own. At the Republican National Convention, they were Michelle Obama’s words, plagiarized. Later—in the interviews she gave defending her husband from sexual assault allegations—the words seemed to be her husband’s, with key lines like “my husband is real, he’s raw, he tells it as it is” repeated nearly verbatim. Of course, anyone so close to the center of a Presidential campaign would be scripted — but Melania Trump, more than most candidates’ wives, seems oddly silent and distant, unable or unwilling to speak for herself. It’s easy to assume that she has nothing to say.
As easy as it is to laugh at Melania, it’s easier still to hate her. She is the living female credential of the most openly misogynistic presidential candidate in living memory; she’s the handmaiden of the Apocalypse, propping up and cheerleading a white nationalist nightmare with no governing experience and what looks to be a steadily growing history of criminal behavior, and calling him a “gentleman” while she does it. She’s totally empty-headed, or she’s totally filled with malice, but it’s got to be one or the other, because no reasonable woman would do what she’s doing. Or who she’s doing. Melania Trump is Eva Braun with a blowout. Right?
Comments like “no one feels bad for you, Melania, you’re just a bimbo,” and “other women would be filing for a huge divorce settlement, [but] she plays the part of gold-digger” flood social media — and, often enough, they’re posted by other women. Ever since the Republican primary, the fact that she’s modeled in the nude—once for the cover of British GQ, once under a pseudonym when she was twenty-five—has been used as a weapon against her. Internet slideshows like “10 Photos Of Melania Trump Wishes We’d Forget” assemble her racier shoots, accompanied by slavering or snickering commentary. (“This photo of a lingerie-clad Melania on her knees makes us forget she speaks five different languages!”) On Twitter, you’re more likely to find them posted with respectable hand-wringing along the lines of “Melania’s pics are so inappropriate, I can’t even post them. How can we go from Jackie, Nancy, Barbara, Michelle, to naked lesbian porn?” It’s not the worst accusation leveled against her; the Daily Mail published, then retracted, a story alleging that she’d worked as an escort.
First things first: Most of the people bewailing Melania Trump’s failure to comport herself like a traditional first lady are, in fact, planning to cast their vote for a woman who was one of the most unconventional and controversial first ladies in modern history. It would behoove them to remember this. Secondly: There is every reason to believe that Melania Trump is in danger.
If we take the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump seriously—and we should—then there is one accusation which is particularly relevant to Melania’s situation. That would be Trump’s first wife, Ivana, who alleges not only that he raped her, but that he ripped out fistfuls of her hair while he was doing it. Ivana later said she didn’t mean to use the word rape “in a criminal sense,” but given her description of the event, there’s no other sense that applies. If Trump is indeed a serial sexual predator, this lines up with the pattern; most sexual assaults are committed by a friend or boyfriend, rather than a stranger. If Trump is willing to assault strangers, he’s probably not safe to live with, either.
The fact that Ivana so quickly denied her own account of the assault tells us something else important. Donald Trump is a very, very vindictive man, and he has tremendous power—conferred by money, fame, and rape culture alike—to punish his victims for reporting him.
In this light, Melania’s dazed, stilted loyalty reads like self-protection or pain, not stupidity. Even if there’s no violence in their relationship, if she left Donald, or expressed any serious disagreement with him, she’d be in the same boat as Alicia Machado, or Megyn Kelly, or Rosie O’Donnell, or Hillary Clinton, or any other woman whose reputation and peace of mind Trump has tried to obliterate with verbal abuse. If there has been violence, Melania’s repeated invocations of a “good,” gentle Trump no one else can see—“this is not the person I know,” she repeated, over and over again, about the sexual-assault allegations—is no different than the compartmentalization many women in abusive relationships attempt, a doomed effort to mentally separate the partner they love from the person who’s hurting them.
Let’s be clear: No one knows what is going on inside that marriage except for Donald and Melania Trump. There is no way to know whether it’s a violent relationship. But the fact that we can’t rule violence out is chilling. So is the fact that, even as we discuss Trump’s violent tendencies, his most likely victim is sitting there, right in front of us, and being called a whore and a bimbo instead of receiving our sympathy. This is how trainwrecks work: Once we have an excuse to hate a woman, or laugh at her pain, even her most obvious, urgent problems can pass by without our noticing or caring.
Verdict: Trainwreck — the second-biggest of 2016.
Sady Doyle founded the blog Tiger Beatdown in 2008. Her work has appeared in In These Times, The Guardian, Elle.com, The Atlantic, Slate, Buzzfeed, Rookie, and lots of other places around the Internet. Her first book, Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear... And Why is out now from Melville House.