It's possible to critique — and even mock— her words and ideas without relying on sexist tropes.

By Kathleen Walsh
Aug 25, 2020 @ 5:57 pm
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Kimberly Guilfoyle, a fundraising official for Donald Trump's reelection campaign and girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., delivered a speech on the first night of the Republican National Convention that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer described as “forceful.”

“That’s one way to put it,” was Jake Tapper’s wry response. 

Others had a different take. 

Commentators far and wide described her address as “unhinged,” “lunatic,” and “crazy.” A few, like CNN’s Ana Navarro-Cárdenas and Stephen Colbert in his Late Night monologue, likened her to a banshee. Many compared her to a witch or a female cartoon villain. Others called her drug-addled. Almost everyone wanted to know why she was “screeching,” “yelling,” or “screaming.” Kimberly Guilfoyle Gets Loud, read one CNN headline. Kimberly Guilfoyle Shouts Unhinged Speech at the Top of Her Lungs, reads one from The Daily Beast. Chris Cuomo’s take: “I was scared and I kept saying 'why is Kimberly Guilfoyle yelling at me? Why are you yelling?' Why was she yelling?”

By the morning, #CocaineConvention and #GuilfoyleChallenge were both trending on Twitter. 

While I encourage everyone to get as creative as they like in calling out and mocking the dangerous misinformation and fascist rhetoric in Guilfoyle’s speech — we can do it without falling back on lazy, sexist tropes. 

“No but seriously that Kimberly Guilfoyle speech was like the moment in the big Hollywood blockbuster when the virgin is about to be sacrificed and the high priestess is shouting incoherently as she slowly pulls a curved dagger from her cloak except this time the hero didn't show,” opined Seth Abramson. 

“I'm going to channel Kimberly Guilfoyle Meth-Witch Energy each time I'm about to work out,” declared Wajahat Ali. 

Jokes chastising Guilfoyle for “screeching,” speculating about drug use, and making comparisons to evil queens from Disney movies, lean on ancient pillars of sexism that were created to exclude women from public life and positions of power. Policing Guilfoyle’s tone without even attempting to engage with the substance of her speech doesn’t just do a disservice to her, it perpetuates a culture of misogyny that hurts all women.  

Dismissing women as “crazy” has a long and storied history: from diagnosing loud or misbehaving women with “hysteria” and throwing them in asylums to deploying the word as a catch-all descriptor for “woman who is upset with me” or “woman who is loud” or “woman with opinions.” It’s why women in every arena of public life must work so hard to modulate their tone. It’s why Brett Kavanaugh could wail about beer at the same hearing where Dr. Christine Blasey Ford remained stalwart for four hours of painful testimony. 

The history of likening women to witches is, perhaps, even more fraught. For centuries, men executed women they accused of witchcraft or sorcery and for centuries after that a “witch” remained a powerful symbol of what happens when you let women get too much power. The “why is she yelling” and “I’m scared” comments also play directly into nagging shrew tropes: look out fellas this hysterical lady is coming for your manhood!

Donald Trump Jr. spoke with a similar tenor during the convention, and while he got his fair share of “CocaineConvention” cracks, they did not approach the volume and vitriol of those directed to Guilfoyle. What’s more, no one compared Jr. to a shrieking banshee, called him insane, or wondered “why is he yelling at me?” Trump Jr. was called “desperate” and a liar, but even some of the wisecracks directed at him were tinged with sexism-by-proxy. “Either he’s high or that’s what happens when you live in the splash zone of Screamin’ Guilfoyle. Just bring a poncho!” said Colbert. 

It’s fair to argue that the substance of Guilfoyle’s speech in particular should be dismissed out of hand. It certainly should — but only because the substance of her speech showed some deeply troubling fascist inclinations, not because she spoke loudly when she said them. 

Guilfoyle’s speech was laden with racist dog whistles, white grievance, and nationalism. She claimed to be first-generation because her mother is Puerto Rican, apparently not realizing Puerto Rico is not a foreign country. She urged, presumably Republicans, not to let “them,” presumably Democrats and people of color, “take your freedom!” Her phrasing and, yes, her vocal affect, mirrored the rousing declarations of dictators and their deputies throughout history. It’s fair to say “I’m scared!” in response to this speech not because of her tone, but because this is yet another sign of the authoritarian direction currently pursued by Trump’s Republican Party. 

And it is actually possible to mock Guilfoyle’s address without relying on misogyny. On Tuesday, Morning Joe opened with a segment poking fun at Guilfoyle, by creating a supercut video of her speech cut with Dwight Schrute from The Office reciting a Mussolini speech to thunderous applause. A clip of Guilfoyle saying “Don’t let them steal your lives and your future!” was followed by a clip of Dwight saying “Once more rise and be worthy of this historical hour!” for example. 

And it was funny — because more than she resembled Ursula the Seawitch or Baba Yaga, Guilfoyle resembled nothing so much as Dwight Schrute earnestly selling a Mussolini bit. No commentary about evil witches or hysteria or shrieking — just good old fashioned fascism.