By now, President Trump’s attacks on the media are old hat. But when the president lashed out at MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski in June, claiming he once rebuffed Brzezinski at a New Year’s Eve party and that “she was bleeding badly from a face-lift,” his tweets provided a new window into a disturbed psyche.
As an English major, I have a tendency to over-dissect Trump’s language. But in this case, I believe we should pay closer attention to his choice of words. Doing so can be instructive, both for women who feel justifiably threatened by the president’s rhetoric and for men who fail to understand—or do not want to understand—the way in which Trump’s thinking is deeply misguided.
This is not the first time Trump has lashed out at a woman with reference to blood. Trump’s attack on the female co-host of “Morning Joe,” which he accused of negative press coverage, echoed earlier comments he made during the 2016 campaign about television anchor Megyn Kelly, who moderated a presidential debate hosted by Fox News. “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” Trump said of Kelly’s questions.
Remarks like these suggest that Trump has a disturbing obsession with blood and the female body. Though none of his comments explicitly reference menstruation, the subtext is clear. Trump is disgusted, even intimidated, by the thought of female blood.
Not only does Trump set a new low every week, but these latest comments suggest he doesn’t even want to vindicate himself. Like Shakespeare’s Richard III, the president has “in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
The rhetoric of bleeding follows Trump wherever he goes. In a controversial message of political resistance in May, comedian Kathy Griffin held aloft Trump’s bloody severed head.
Let’s be clear: Trump’s mental association of women with blood is not normal. Most men don’t look at a woman and immediately think “Period! Period! Period!” Nor do they describe a woman’s trip to the bathroom as “disgusting,” as Trump did of Hillary Clinton after she visited the restroom during a debate break.
But how are we to explain such a childish aversion to blood, especially when it seems so clearly linked in his mind to the female body? Trump is a man who has spent his life surrounding himself with beautiful women, from beauty pageant participants to his own wife, who worked as a fashion model and has undergone plastic surgery.
Taboos surrounding female menstruation span every civilization and culture, and only in the last century has the process become gradually destigmatized in certain Western countries. Since the time of Aristotle, taboos about female blood have been used to justify sexism and patriarchy. For millennia, men have been repulsed by the subject. In some Orthodox Jewish communities, a menstruating woman—along with anything she has lain on sat on—are considered ritually unclean and are not to be touched.
In the United States, advertisements for many sanitary products avoid depicting menstruation by using blue, rather than red, liquid. We even have a laundry list of euphemisms to describe a woman’s period: “the crimson tide,” “Aunt Flo,” and “on the rag” to name a few.
Despite the recent rise of feminism as a mainstream movement, women continue to face overwhelming social pressures to conceal their monthly bleeding around the workplace and at home. At best, the topic is discussed openly and without judgment among friends, and at worst…well, Trump may have just shown us the worst.
Trump only seems capable of viewing blood in negative terms, when in fact blood has a powerful two-sided symbolism. It is both a symbol of life and the harbinger of death. When women bleed, it is a reminder that they are creators of life. The word can conjure powerful images: rivers of blood, blood oaths, blood sacrifices, the blood of Christ, and the blood of one’s enemies.
The presidency has long had a troubled relationship with blood, not least because of its associations with Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. When Lyndon B. Johnson showed reporters a scar from a recent gall bladder surgery in 1965, the nation was scandalized, not by the scar itself, but by the thought that the new president, like the one before him, was mortal.
There are many possible explanations for why Trump seems so repulsed by and obsessed with blood. Among them is misogyny, plain and simple. Another factor may be Trump’s age and his reluctance to accept the natural aging process as he insists that he is in perfect health.
Or perhaps the answer is guilt. Does Trump, after a life of maligning women, feel a sense of remorse? After all, he has said and done, it might be wishful thinking to assume the president has a conscience when women are concerned. But it’s nice to imagine him, (sarcasm ahead) wandering the White House at night like Lady Macbeth in the dark rooms of Cawdor, caught in a futile attempt to escape his own bloody rhetoric.
Whatever the reason, the president’s words should stand as an example of how not to think and talk about women.
Finnegan Schick is a senior in Timothy Dwight College.