are we really being mean to melania?

it’s funny- not ha, ha funny, but, like, oh the whims of life funny (which is, maybe, really just an optimistic spin on super depressing)- how you can study culture for ages and then still be surprised by it.

still be like, oh look at this gross thing i’ve seen! yay cultural analysis and phd-level thinking! huzzah! and not realize that, in seeing that gross thing that one time, you will now be seeing that gross thing EVERYWHERE ALL OF THE TIME. because that is how culture works and this gross thing is now something you’ve trained your eyes to see.

remember those magic eye posters in the 90s? where if you squinted hard enough at a mosaic of 1000 pictures of al gore or marilyn monroe, a dolphin would emerge.

i could never see the dolphin.

i’ve always resented that so i tend to lean heavily on this metaphor to boast about the things i can see.

it’s small consolation. honestly, sometimes i’d rather have just seen the dolphin.

that is all a wind up to the buffet at which we find ourselves, in the neighborhood to which i never wanted to go. we have been here before. and before. and a few times after that as well. (if you are like, oline, wtf are you talking about, go forth, catch up, come back. i do not have the energy to recap.)

lest this give you the impression that i love this party, let me be clear: i do not. i am tired of these leftovers. i would like to go home.


let’s start here:

i will be brief.

  1. just because a whole bunch of journalists call someone mysterious over a period of years, that does not mean that they actually are any more mysterious than all of the rest of us.
  2. i am 1000% on board for analyzing sartorial speech, BUT…
  3. SHE DOES SPEAK!!!!!!!!!!!!
  4. no one listens.
  5. they analyze her clothes instead.
  6. this is sexist.
  7. it is also an example of white privilege.

ok, that was your starter. let’s hit the buffet.

here is the thing. YES. melania trump should be judged on her own terms. but that is actually not what this article does. (and many apologies, but our buffet is heavy on the “yes, but…” today.)

it primarily judges people who have criticized melania trump by generalizing various critiques of melania trump rather than revealing what melania trump has said and done. judging her on her own terms, which is what the article argues we should all do.

why are people so mean to melania? that is this premise of this article.

note how this article takes for granted that people are “mean” to melania.

given that MT has previously declared herself “the most bullied person in the world,” i guess there’s an argument to be made that this is this piece’s attempt to take her on her own terms?

so, who is everyone?

the commentariat!

and why is this concerning?

OMG, WTF?!!?!?!!!


omg, wait. wanna see something really funny?

isn’t that cute? michelle obama had arms and “social campaigns” and barbara bush was steely.

who has been left out of this party?

hillz! also, again, wherefore art thou, laura bush? (how is she always exempt from these lists?!)

second, my lands, get me my smelling salts, the saccharine glow we’re putting on the obama years here has given me a headache.

you remember, right?

it was quite a time to be alive.


(via human events facebook page, july 2014)

you’ll note the introduction of the first person plural…

(via the daily mail)

WE are the commentariat apparently. WE are the mean ones.

WE need to pay more attention.

(the daily mail)

again, not entirely wrong. we do need to pay more attention- TO WHAT SHE SAYS.

but that is not the argument here.

behold her smiles, yo! is the argument here.

and also that WE need to take her one her own terms rather than be mean to her.

the article then outlines the ways in which WE are mean to her.

WE criticize her performance in her public role:

(via the daily mail)

WE forget that she did not run for office:

(via the daily mail)

WE do not like her husband.

(via the daily mail)

as a result, WE discount her as a trophy wife.

those things do happen.

BUT. and this is a big-ass BUT: if you’re going to take on her own terms, you have to freaking look at what she says.

which this article does not do.

instead it makes gross generalizations about women from eastern europe:

(the daily mail)

and, by its lack of inclusion of any of her comments on issues, suggests melania trump has no opinions.

yes, it that were indeed what people were doing and some do. BUT. this is hardly a majority of people. and this is disingenuous argumentation.


as ijoma oluo pointed out early on, to hold her accountable for her beliefs isn’t actually to be mean or sexist. it is to hold her accountable for her beliefs.

she is not silent. she is not a mystery. SHE SPEAKS!!!!!!

the continuing failure to listen and to hold her accountable for what she says is, i would argue, the sexism in play here.

there is one quote from melania trump in this daily mail article. it is, of course, about her marriage.

so the arc here is how dare WE suggest a woman is an ornamental foil for her husband but her words only matter when she’s talking about him.

coup de grâce:

this is rich, non?

one thing i’ve not mentioned here is that, once upon a time, MT sued the daily mail. and basically won. that is not irrelevant in this context, i think. nor in the mail‘s fairly lavish coverage of her during the trip to the UK.

but this is an interesting dog whistle, yes? look at the seeming non sequitur of “virtue signaling.”

look at how two famously liberal women have been co-opted here.

consider the mail‘s broader editorial agenda of critiquing the duchess of sussex every time she draws breath.

in placing MT with these women, in particular, the writer makes it clear that she has basically considered MT on her own terms, as opposed to melania trump’s terms, whatever those may be.

a robust analysis of what melania trump has said in public is warranted. i think that should absolutely be a part of the conversation that is being had about her in media and culture.

but that is not what we have here.

here, we have an article that starts with the contention that people are being “mean” to melania and asserts we should take her “on her own terms,” without clarifying what those are and, in turn, failing to do so.

i know, i know. this is the daily mail. this is the shit they do. i am looking for rigor in a haystack.

but this is a mode of gaslighting, yeah?

(you remember gaslighting. the daily mail explained it to us once.)

everyone is unprecedentedly mean to melania, we’re told. but… are they?

we need to stop being mean to melania! but… are we?

melania is a mystery! but… is she, really?

it’s only been two and a half years here, but the myths are already in place. and they are operative. it would behoove us all to train our eyes to see.

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