On Monday, a federal judge dismissed Stormy Daniels’ defamation lawsuit against Donald Trump, saying that inflammatory statements he’d made about her in the past — specifically, calling her claims of being threatened on his behalf “a total con job” — were protected by the First Amendment and “normal” political hyperbole. Trump celebrated his win Tuesday by calling Daniels “horseface” on Twitter.
Known for lashing out on Twitter with various insults and demeaning nicknames, it’s no surprise that Trump took a jab at Daniels — but the fact that he brought her appearance into it is a clear reminder that the President thinks the worst possible thing that can be said about a woman is to call her ugly.
“Misogynists tend to direct their insults against women’s appearance [because] they believe (in accordance with their misogynist belief system) that women care more about their looks than about anything else,” says Berit Brogaard, director of the Brogaard Lab for Multisensory Research at the University of Miami who has written about misogyny for Psychology Today. “So, they believe that insulting a woman’s looks will hurt her more than insulting, say, her personality or intellect.”
Kate Manne, assistant professor at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University and author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, agrees. “In a patriarchal world, in which women are valued based on what they give to powerful men, her looks are just another commodity to rank, buy, sell — or to try to devalue,” says Manne, explaining why a man like Trump might jump to insulting a woman’s appearance when he doesn’t like something she’s said or done. “Downranking her appearance is hence a way of saying, in effect: ‘She’s worthless; she’s nobody.’”
Trump has made it clear over and over again that he values women only when he finds them sexually attractive — praising the appearance of women he approves of, just as he insults the appearance of those he doesn’t. He’s made repeated off-color comments about his daughter Ivanka’s looks (including saying he’d date her if she wasn’t his daughter, that she has a nice figure, and allegedly telling Stormy Daniels during their affair that she reminded him of Ivanka); he admitted in his 2004 book How to Get Rich that the success of female contestants on The Apprentice was “dependent on their sex appeal;” and awkwardly complimented first lady of France Brigitte Macron’s “physical shape” upon meeting her in 2017.
In 2015, Trump attempted to discredit Carly Fiorina, former Hewlitt-Packard CEO and his then-opponent in the Republican presidential primary, as a candidate by saying, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” to his campaign staffers, in the presence of a Rolling Stone reporter.
When New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who had been writing about Trump since the 1980s, referred to him in print as a “financially embattled thousandaire,” Trump sent her a copy of the column with her picture circled and “The Face of a Dog!” written over it — which she revealed in a 2011 article about his then-fledgling presidential campaign, saying, “He is extremely sensitive to any gibes about his business record.”
And, during the presidential election, he tweeted that if Hillary Clinton couldn’t “satisfy” her husband (an obvious Monica Lewinsky reference), she couldn’t satisfy America.
The fact that Trump and Daniels allegedly had a sexual relationship in the past makes him look even more like a cat caller yelling to a woman that she has a nice ass, and then calling her ugly when he doesn’t get the response he wants — building a woman up and then tearing her down, all the while focused solely on her appearance.
“Misogynists don’t hate all women as a matter of principle. They hate women who do not perform in accordance with their beliefs about how women ought to behave,” says Brogaard.
“Since most of the misogynist’s beliefs about how women ought to be and what they ought to do turn on their appearance, their sexual availability or their potential as a wife and mother, the misogynist’s hateful insults will tend to be centered around these topics.”
Daniels responded to Trump’s gloating on Twitter, saying he demonstrated “incompetence, hatred of women and lack of self control,” and suggesting that if she’s a horse, then he has a “penchant for bestiality.”