Donald Trump's grotesque brand of sexism has now been co-opted by his closest rival: At a rally in Iowa on Friday, Ted Cruz suggested Hillary Clinton deserves to be "spanked"—an insult so devious, it almost makes me respect him. Almost.
"You know I'll tell you, in my house, if my daughter Catherine, the five-year-old, says something she knows to be false, she gets a spanking," the Republican candidate told his fans. "Well, in America, the voters have a way of administering a spanking."
The spanking Cruz wants to give Clinton is in response to the (pretty widely debunked) belief that Clinton knowingly lied to the American people about the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.
Take a moment and think about the paradigm Cruz lays out here: His five-year-old daughter deserves to be spanked for what he, her father, perceives as untruths, ipso facto a grown woman and world leader deserves to be spanked for what he, a man in government, perceives as untruths. It almost makes Trump’s “schlonged” comments during the last Democratic debate seem mild in comparison.
Needless to say, it's hard to imagine Cruz encouraging his fans to "spank" one of his male opponents.
While female candidates have long been subject to physical scrutiny on the campaign trail, Cruz's words represent an escalation of the already disturbing language male candidates have used to deride women during this election cycle. In the very first Republican debate, Trump spoke about his critiques on rival Carly Fiorina's appearance ("Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president."). Both Clinton and Fiorina have been attacked for their smiles. Now, apparently, it’s not enough just to reduce women to their bodies—now, their bodies must be punished.
A woman’s right to control her own reproductive autonomy almost seems quaint when there are men wishing to be president who believe they have the right to administer corporeal punishment freely with no more justification than “I'm right, and you're wrong.”
(Cruz also appears to be making a not-so-subtle play to set up a binary wherein anyone who is opposed to corporeal punishment is probably also a liar and weak on security, since the two are basically assumed by candidates to be synonymous nowadays.)
I would be remiss not to mention that Cruz's comment comes after Fiorina accused his campaign of calling her "a vagina"—or the "V-word," as she put it—another way of turning women's bodies into insults.
"I’ve now been called the V-word as well by the Cruz campaign, yes V, and I won’t say that word either,” Fiorina revealed. "But suffice it to say—V as in victor—when I told my story, my American dream story of my life, a prominent member of the Cruz campaign said that I had gone full V-word." (The fact that Fiorina refuses to actually say the anatomical term presents another set of problems—but we'll save that discussion for another day.)
Ultimately, while Cruz’s words are so comically vulgar one might argue they speak for themselves, they also carry a darker warning: If a candidate feels so free to publicly degrade women, spankings and the slashing of reproductive rights might only be the start.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.