Criticism vs. Bullying, ft. Melania Trump.

“I could say that I’m the most bullied person in the world,” Melania Trump said in an interview with Good Morning America on Thursday.

So, Melania had an interview with Good Morning America this morning (10/11/2018):

For anyone unfamiliar with me, I am extremely liberal. But I’m also don’t abide bullying, no matter who the bully is. For example, I have, from time to time, interrupted Twitter threads about Melania and even her husband, King Cyberbully himself, to kindly ask people to please not deride them based on their appearances. There’s plenty of other things to criticize without stooping to petty bullying.

But it is also important to differentiate criticism from bullying.

Take, for example, the jacket pictured at the top of this article. Melania wore a green “I really don’t care do u?” Zara jacket in June, 2018, to visit children who had been separated from their parents due to her husband’s administration. At the time, there was a media storm trying to understand why she wore this particular, extremely uncharacteristic (because it was only $39.00 and, to that point, she had never been seen wearing anything so cheap, relatively speaking) jacket instead of literally anything else. Her spokesperson tried to deflect with the good ol’ ‘why are you so focused on her clothes?’ She also wore a colonialist pith hat to visit Kenya earlier this week, and, when, again, the internet did not approve of this choice, she responded with “I wish people would focus on what I do, not what I wear." It’s certainly usually a fair argument, since women’s words and actions are routinely ignored in favor of what they’re wearing, but that’s not what’s happening with Melania.

The two outfits that have caused outrage were both, at best, literally careless choices. Which, in that case, at least she’s being honest with her jacket choice. And, in that regard, people are focusing on what she’s doing. At best, what she’s doing is literally not caring about the reasons for her trips or the history of the countries that she’s visiting. That’s not a good thing. All she had to do to not be insulting was wear almost anything else than that particular jacket on that particular day, or that specific hat to that specific country. Even if that jacket wasn’t particular to the event but was instead meant for the media in general, she should’ve worn something else for that particular trip and saved the jacket statement for another day. That choice was a very poor one. And the hat…there’s no excusing that hat. That should not have happened, period.

Calling her out for these decisions or general lack of thought is not bullying. It’s not even sexism. Bullying and sexism would be routinely ignoring her behavior in favor of discussing her clothing, calling her names like slut or whore or insinuating she’s a prostitute (not that there’s anything wrong with prostitutes in and of themselves, but in this context I know it would be used as an insult), or, say, calling her an ‘ape in heels.’ That last one, when used in real life, also added in racism because someone actually said that about Michelle Obama. Criticizing her jacket choices for a specific event, or her hat choices when visiting specific countries, or even Michelle Obama wearing expensive shoes to visit a food bank, are not examples of bullying.

(People also complained about her choice to wear stilettos to survey hurricane damage back in 2017 — personally, I never expected her to get in there and actually help people, so that didn’t bother me. I was more concerned that she might trip on some debris and get hurt. Those shoes were a very poor choice in that environment from a safety standpoint and I am honestly glad that nothing bad happened to her. Still, stating that wearing heels to the aftermath of a hurricane is tone deaf at best is, again, criticism, not bullying.)

It is true that all public figures (and, these days, most non-public figures) do experience obscene levels of bullying, especially online. Actually, usually it’s almost exclusively online for people as famous as Melania. I have no doubt that she receives hundreds of messages or emails each and every day threatening her or at least calling her names. Quantity-wise, she probably is among the most bullied people online right now. And that does need to be addressed and dealt with.

Her feelings just tend to ring a bit hollow when she hasn’t really, as far as the public has been made aware of, done anything to combat, say, her husband’s extreme bullying behaviors. And Donald J. Trump is a huge cyber bully.

He’s a pretty big bully in general. Even his classmates remember him being a bully as a kid. Hell, he even admitted to bullying others — including his teachers — in The Art of the Deal.

Donald was among a group of boys who pulled girls’ hair, passed notes and talked out of turn. “We threw spitballs and we played racing chairs with our desks, crashing them into other desks,” recalled Paul Onish, a classmate, describing himself and Trump as “probably the two worst.” — The Washington Post

It’s no surprise this behavior carries over and even intensifies when he sits himself down behind a screen. Even when there’s no anonymity, people still dial their feelings up to 11 online. Even worse, he has a huge platform for his bullying to spread. He may not be pulling ponytails anymore, but he’s still causing damage. After complaining about a teenage girl that he had called on at one of his rallies (she, apparently, made the mistake of not praising him), his supporters sent her violent rape and death threats. A short while after being elected, he complained about a union leader…who then also started receiving threats. White children are now also using Trump’s words to bully minorities — one teacher caught her students wondering if Jews should be burned, another caught her students using the n-word and calling their Muslim classmates ‘ISIS Figthers.’ They’re learning new ways to attack others, and they’re learning that this is acceptable behavior — and it started happening before he’d even been elected.

That is bullying. Trump is a bully. That’s not up for debate because it’s just a flat out fact. He harasses and encourages and inspires others to harass anyone who doesn’t agree with him. His supporters are even harassing people that are otherwise on their side, like a Fox News host that disagreed with how Trump behaved towards Putin. As soon as he criticized Trump in any way, supporters immediately started saying he was fired. Not asking for him to be fired, but just outright saying he was.

“So they finally fired your fat ass,” Cavuto said one viewer wrote.

Another added, “The Chubby Chunk’s been chucked!!.. Use the time off to atone for your sins and maybe eat a salad!”

The internet has opened up new doors for connectivity, which has also allowed for new ways violence can be organized, initiated, and ensured that these acts get to the eyes of the intended person.

Is it ok to punch Nazis?

And, of course, it’s not just Trump supporters that are getting violent, but, being on the liberal side of things, I can’t say I completely disagree with the violent feelings people are feeling as they watch their rights, their safety, and their freedoms slip away. We are literally watching another rise of fascism and it seems to keep winning at every turn. American history classes don’t sit back and say ‘Hitler actually didn’t have the majority support.’ We hear about how Germany was the country of the Nazis and genocide. We don’t want America to be the country of whatever-our-Nazis-would-be-called and even more genocide. The world was already supposed to have learned this lesson.

But that doesn’t make inciting or initiating violence ok.

Now, I won’t say don’t defend yourself. If the alt-right brings weapons and starts advancing, no matter how much they try to act like wounded puppies, they are ‘throwing the first punch’ as it were. There will be, just as there has already been, many situations where self-defense will be inevitable, especially with how many of the alt-right plan for and encourage violence. Protect yourselves, and protect your peers. But don’t become them.

Just as we can’t let them define when it’s ok to retaliate (because the answer would be never retaliate), we can’t become them. We must stand by our morals. If we want to stop violence against women, we cannot then be violent towards their women just because those women are on the wrong side. That includes sending cruel messages and emails, name calling, or just generally being nasty for the sake of being nasty.

It’s not the easy path, but the good news is that it’s also not a ‘just roll over and take it’ path. They’ll cite Martin Luther King, but ignore how he was also accused of inciting violence in his day.

As for Melania, well, if you truly want to stop cyber-bullying, then please, first start within your own home.

I write in the hopes that perhaps I may help others feel not so alone. Join my writing journey on twitter @kate_is_writing

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