Nope, ladies. No more mulligans for Melania.
Thanks to recent revelations of an alleged affair her husband had years ago, a bipartisan sisterhood is coming to the first lady’s side. She has been defended and protected. Even a “Saturday Night Live” skit over the weekend gave her the closest thing to sympathy that merciless crew can muster.
The truth is, Melania Trump is not a delicate flower or a victim.
She is a grown woman, an immigrant who made it in a cutthroat industry.
She is capable of tackling tough issues, of respecting the responsibility and opportunity she’s been given.
And yet - she hasn’t.
America deserves better.
Women say we shouldn’t focus on her clothing (like when she wore stilettos to visit Texas after a hurricane); they say it’s not right to criticize her for not smiling (the fallen face behind Trump’s back at the inauguration); and there’s the old “women-have-been-criticized-enough-for-their choices” chorus after she waited so long to move to Washington.
There are the hopeful women trying to find encrypted feminist messages embedded in her movements, her clothing, her rare public statements.
And finally, there’s that SNL bit about first ladies comforting Trump, played by Cecily Strong, who confirms that she wore white to the State of the Union address just like the suffragists, just like sister Hillary!
If all of this were true, if our first lady believes that women should not be grabbed by the genitals by powerful men, if she believes that cyberbullying is a danger, if she believes that all of humanity should never forget the lessons of the Holocaust, and if she believes that the suffragists were righteous in their fight for equal rights - then she needs to say it. Out loud.
Coy signals - if that’s what they are - are about her, not us.
Yeah, yeah, she wasn’t elected, she didn’t ask for this, and there is no real job description that comes with being a president’s spouse.
And yes, she should totally wear killer heels if she wants to.
That’s not what this is about.
She has one of the most powerful platforms in the country, the world.
And she can do so much good with that. People will listen to her.
This isn’t the 1820s, and Trump has no need to be like the only other foreign-born first lady, Louisa Adams.
They’re similar, those two. Adams didn’t go willingly into public life and made no secret of her resentment over her husband’s presidential victory. She spent her summers apart from John Quincy Adams.
Eventually, quietly, after reading some of the early writings about women’s rights and equality, Louisa Adams wrote plays and poems that skewered her husband in the kind of thinly veiled references so many feminists want from Trump.
Those days should be behind American women.
It’s an honor, a privilege and a platform, this position of first lady.
Even before Eleanor Roosevelt set a new standard for the influence and input as a first lady by holding regular radio chats, advocating for civil rights and working to help the unemployed, earlier first ladies used their power for good.
Grace Coolidge advocated for people with disabilities and raised $2 million for a school for the deaf. Nellie Taft hired African American men to work at the White House. The beloved Dolley Madison was fiercely involved in local charities and saved many national treasures before the White House was trashed in the War of 1812.
Pat Nixon set a precedent as first lady as the first to visit a combat zone. Betty Ford advocated for treatment of substance abuse, breast cancer awareness and the Equal Rights Amendment. Libraries, mental health, the environment, education, literacy, obesity, health care - first ladies worked to make a meaningful impact on all of these issues.
Trump has given us possible smoke signals and one reading of a Dr. Seuss book. In exchange, the taxpayers have subsidized her complicated life and travels. But more importantly, the American people have given her a coveted place in American history, in Americans’ hearts.
Trump isn’t bound by the days when women weren’t allowed to vote, weren’t welcome into Congress, weren’t expected to learn, to think and to speak.
She has an open door, an on-ramp and a public ready to hear from her.
She owes it to America and especially to American women to use that power. The former model also owes it to American girls (and boys) to be shown that women are more than their looks, their bodies, their shoes and their hair.
Let’s go back to Adams, that other foreign-born first lady, to offer Trump some inspiration. After her subversive poems, plays and quiet protests, Adams blossomed. She became one of the first women to attend congressional hearings. She went on to become a fierce and vocal abolitionist.
By the time of her death on May 15, 1852, she was so respected for her work and for her voice, both houses of Congress adjourned in mourning, making her the first woman whose death was recognized in such a way by the federal government.
It’s time for Melania Trump to be more than a blank slate on which women project their fears. She owes that to her country.