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Trump's tweets about 'bleeding' Mika Brzezinski shine a spotlight on workplace sexism

Mika Brzezinski
William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire | Getty Images
Mika Brzezinski

It seems to have taken the election of a businessman president to shine a spotlight on, and start an overdue national conversation about, some of the most pernicious forms of workplace sexism.

In two tweets posted Thursday, Donald Trump writes that he has heard Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," speak "badly" of him. Noting that he no longer watches the program, Trump wonders why "low I.Q. Crazy Mika" and "Psycho Joe" would have come to his Mar-a-Lago resort at New Year's Eve, hoping to join him.

He writes that, at the time, Brzezinski was "bleeding badly from a face-lift" and that he "said no!"

The response to Trump's missives has been swift, profuse and bipartisan. Some have focused on how inappropriate it is for the leader of the free world to be personally attacking morning show hosts on social media, while others have zeroed in on the distinctly sexist way in which Trump chose to insult Brzezinski.

The Washington Post's Callum Borchers writes, "The posts followed a consistent pattern: When Trump hits Brzezinski and Scarborough on Twitter, he hits Brzezinski harder, more personally and in a way that seems designed to portray her as someone who is insecure ('facelift') and unintelligent ('low IQ') — and who would not be on TV if not for her romantic relationship with Scarborough, to whom she was recently engaged."

Trump's use of the word "crazy," too, seems to have gendered connotations. Professional women have long fought against the stereotype that they're more emotional than their male counterparts, or even emotionally unstable.

Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee have demanded an apology from the President. So have Republicans like Ben Sasse and Lindsay Graham, as well as conservative pundits like Bill Kristol, who told the President, "You are a pig."

This isn't the first time Trump has gone after a woman in viciously personal terms (see: Rosie O'Donnell). Nor is it the first time he's castigated a female journalist after a perceived slight: He also disparaged "Little Katy" Tur, whom Trump called a "third-rate reporter" and accused of refusing to report on crowd size at his rallies.

It's not even the first time he's hurled accusations of bleeding-while-female — who could forget his infamous post-debate remarks about "blood coming out of" Megyn Kelly's "wherever?"

Megyn Kelly looks on during the Republican Presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, January 28, 2016.
JIM WATSON/AFP | Getty Images
Megyn Kelly looks on during the Republican Presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, January 28, 2016.

On Tuesday, Trump interrupted a call with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to comment on RTÉ News-Ireland correspondent Catriona Perry's looks and "nice smile," beckoning her closer to his desk. (She laughed nervously in the moment and later called the exchange "bizarre.") That gesture, maybe even more than his remarks about Brzezinski, encapsulates the so-ingrained-it's-part-of-the-decor sexism that women still face in America's offices and boardrooms.

"Trump's tweet was meant to make Brzezinski seem grotesque and pathetic," writes Michelle Goldberg for Slate, "a failure in the struggle to remain attractive — the only struggle that, in his eyes, really matters for women." And that is often how men have undermined women in the workplace.

Trump's tweets couldn't have come at a more fascinating time for discussions of how America treats women at work. Tech and other industries are publicly reckoning with the same issue.

Not long after former Uber engineer Susan Fowler forced the ride-sharing service to examine its "bro culture," Arianna Huffington was interrupted during a discussion about attracting more women to the board. The interjection came from fellow board member David Bonderman, who joked that more women on corporate boards meant more talking. Bonderman resigned in short order.

Decades ago workplace sexism was far more overt. In her book "Own It," Sallie Krawcheck writes that when she worked at Salomon Brothers in 1987, her male colleagues left photocopies of penises on her desk — every single morning.

"I was humiliated. And I was embarrassed. And I felt shame. And I knew they didn't want me there," she wrote of her male coworkers.

KRAWCHECK ELLEVEST
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg | Getty Images

Today, office sexism is much more subtle, often seen in micro-aggressions like interruptions and word choice. Is that female coworker "assertive" or "aggressive" — "passionate" or "emotional"?

Some things haven't changed. Krawcheck writes that she didn't report the treatment she received from her male colleagues. She was right out of college and couldn't risk losing her job. Instead, she resorted to humor, making jokes about the size of the Xeroxed penises being left on her desk.

Brzezinski used that same tactic this morning. Instead of appearing upset or angry, she fired off a tweet that winked at the president's preoccupation with the idea that he has small hands.

In this climate, it's hard to imagine a man hanging onto a board seat at a major organization after making public remarks like the ones Trump tweeted on Thursday. Companies are becoming less willing to tell their shareholders and investors they have yet again failed their female colleagues, employees and consumers.

The boys-will-be-boys atmosphere may finally be changing, as even boy geniuses are being encouraged to act more like men. But it's tough to see a near future in which professional women are no longer forced to contend with sexist behavior at work if the same rules reining in Silicon Valley's offenders don't also apply to the country's chief executive officer.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of MSNBC and CNBC.

Don't miss: Sallie Krawcheck: I was told to 'sit down and shut up'

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