Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. Here, Stylist’s contributing editor Anna Pollitt looks at how Donald Trump reduced a veteran journalist to nothing more than her physical attributes - and why it's not ok.
You may not have heard much about Caitriona Perry, a US Correspondent for Ireland’s National Broadcaster RTE. You’re not really meant to; she delivers the news. It’s something she’s done for 17 years, with award-winning success.
Yet, as of Tuesday evening, she became famous outside her professional sphere thanks to Donald Trump.
In an incident that combines so many signature Trump behaviours - unprofessionalism, sexism, entitlement, awkwardness and inelegance - he interrupted a phone call with the Irish prime minister to comment on Perry’s looks.
Yes, Leo Varadkar may have a country to run, but heck, it’s not as big or powerful as the US so it’s fine to keep him waiting, because, well, there’s a woman who’s caught Trump’s eye! And as for Perry’s role as a reporter, rather than presidential plaything? Pah.
Calling Perry away from her job with the other journalists to stand by his desk, Trump tells her: “Go ahead. Come here, come here”.
Then, looking directly at Perry, he informs the Irish leader: “We have all of this beautiful Irish press”.
Given that he invited the media to record his diplomatic phonecall to Varadkar, it’s not remarkable that Ireland managed to muster up broadcast crews. Describing the people in front of him as “beautiful” is doubly patronising.
But it comes with a huge added dose of creep when he delivers the line while gazing at a female member of the press he’s beckoned over to join him.
“Where are you from?” Trump asks Perry.
So far, so beauty pageant.
“I’m from RTE News,” she replies.
The president, who has more experience judging Miss USA contests, may have been expecting to hear a place name. Still no matter. He briefly turns his attention back to Varadkar and repeats Perry’s name while she’s forced to hang around him.
Then it gets, as things so often do with Trump, even worse.
“She has a nice smile on her face so I bet she treats you well,” he tells Varadkar.
Again, this is an award-winning journalist with 17 years’ experience up her sleeve, not a young child or a cute puppy. Why would the US bureau chief for Ireland’s state broadcaster give world leaders an easy time of it?
It’s the warped logic that women’s primary function is to look a certain way for men.
If we’re not smiling, we should be and if we are, then that’s it, our job’s done, we don’t need to worry ourselves with the complex bits of politics, leave that to the serious men.
The “complimentary” nature of Trump’s actions doesn’t make the incident any less sexist or dismissive of Perry’s status and achievements. It's merely a neat get-out because women who are not happy to be praised for their looks are branded “ungrateful”. Not a problem men have to deal with though, as Trump would not have dared belittle a male reporter in the same way by calling him beautiful and complimenting his smile.
Watch what Perry calls the “bizarre” encounter carefully and you may detect a look of “ick” flash across her face as she returns to her colleagues. It’s akin to being cornered by a drunk bloke in the pub who “pays you a compliment” and generally treats you like something that’s there for his pleasure. You know he’s not going to change, he’s drunk and you’re on your way to the loo, so if you’re feeling generous you smile politely but definitely keep your head down on the way back.
Sad though that this is the President of the United States of America.
Trump does eventually stop wasting everyone’s time and returns to the the call with Varadkar, whose eyeballs are probably now at risk of rupture.
He congratulates the leader on his “great victory” and the pair say they are looking forward to meeting in person in March, when Varadkar visits the US.
However, Varadkar did not mention his predecessor Enda Kenny’s invitation to Trump to visit Ireland, a controversial offer Kenny extended to Trump in March.
Wonder why? Perhaps Trump will visit the “beautiful” people in Ireland at some point, but maybe as Varadkar hung on the end of the line, listening to him waste both his and Perry’s time with self-indulgent, sexist trivialities, he just thought, “nah”.
Images: Getty, Twitter