OPINION: Melania Trump Is Not Donald, And She Deserves Different Treatment

A crude sign sparked a new conversation about the treatment of the first lady.

Earlier this week, an image went viral of an anti-Trump protestor holding a sign that read "Rape Melania." 

Though some have questioned the authenticity of the photo, the picture itself raises an important question about how to treat Melania Trump. It is our opinion that there is one word that should guide all Americans in the way they talk about the incoming first lady: respect. 

As Melania enters the White House, she will do so in a historic fashion not unlike her predecessor, Michelle Obama, who became the first African-American first lady. Melania will be the first immigrant to serve as first lady of the United States, an accomplishment that should be celebrated regardless of your political affiliation. 

Though she will not be the first foreign-born first lady — that distinction belongs to Louisa Adams, wife of President John Adams, who was elected in 1825 — she will be the first to be born in a foreign country to foreign-born parents, as both her parents are Slovenian. She speaks five languages, making her the only first lady to ever speak more than two.

Melania is also the mother of an 11-year-old boy and a stepmother to four of President-elect Trump's children. She is a reminder of what many modern families look like in America today. And while her husband holds views on immigration that many find controversial or offensive, Melania's immigration story — one that includes a high-profile modeling career and now her ascension to the White House — is seen as a symbol of success to many.

Undoubtedly, Melania will face criticism in her new role. 

Some of that criticism will be fair and warranted. Her role as first lady is an important one and requires her involvement not just in the political process, but in the dialogues happening across this country. She has already promised to address online bullying during her time in the White House, a pledge that the American people should hold her accountable for. 

But we must deliver our criticisms to Mrs. Trump in a fair and dignified way. "Rape Melania" signs, hateful language about her online, and sexist remarks towards her should be condemned in the fullest terms. The inherent misogyny in some of these already occurring attacks is something that was vilified by the left when they were levied against Hillary Clinton, and they must be vilified all the same when they are levied against Melania. 

The American public must also do its duty in protecting and respecting Barron, an 11-year-old boy who will be entering the White House under a highly scrutinized administration. While Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Tiffany Trump will — and should — be under the watchful eye of the media and American public, it is our responsibility to offer Barron as normal a life as possible. That means doing what we can to protect him from unnecessary, inflammatory, and harmful public scrutiny.

Americans, politicians, and the media must learn from the lessons taught to us during Mrs. Obama's tenure in the White House. She was once referred to as "Obama's baby mama" in a Fox News graphic. A fist bump on stage with her husband was labeled as a "terrorist fist jab." Most recently, a West Virginia mayor was forced to resign after calling Mrs. Obama an "ape in heels" on Facebook. 

These overtly racist attacks on Mrs. Obama were not and cannot be accepted. In the same vein, attacks on Melania related to her sex, looks or nationality must be flatly rejected.

It is worth noting that the "Rape Melania" sign, and the consequential #RapeMelania hashtag that trended on Twitter, are both reminders of a pervasive rape culture that often rears its ugly head during attacks on women, both online and off.

Jokes and threats of sexual violence towards women are just the kind of online activity that Mrs. Trump has pledged to fight against, and just the kind of frightening rape culture that we all must reject from every corner of our society. 

Finally, we would like to wish Melania Trump a happy, healthy, and safe tenure as first lady of the United States. It is our wish that she succeeds in her mission of tackling online bullying, and that her time in the White House is absent of the kind of disrespect that many of the first ladies before her had to experience. 

Cover photo: Flickr