If you’ve braved the internet over the last 48 hours, it’s highly likely your thumb has landed on a “Free Melania” article, GIF, or meme.
“She’s trapped!” thousands of people claim. “She doesn’t seem happy at all!” and, in the case of Clementine Ford, “Melania Trump is married to a man who abuses women. That probably includes her.”
Enough. It’s time to stop constructing dangerous stories around seven-second gifs. To say that Michelle Obama didn’t like receiving a gift from the new First Lady is one thing – to insinuate that the First Lady is in a domestically violent relationship is another thing entirely.
It doesn’t make Trump’s opponents look funny, or witty – instead, it makes the left look petty and distracted.
Melania Trump had cameras following her every move at the inauguration. Every second, thousands of shutters fluttered, documenting another moment, another slightly-altered facial expression. If the 46-year-old flinched at the frosty wind, it was captured. If she relaxed her face for just a second, it was turned into a viral GIF. If she was three steps behind her husband, it was erected on major websites. And while the vast majority of the photos from Friday’s ceremony show Melania smiling lovingly at Donald Trump, those have not been shared by the left, because they depict a storyline we just don’t want to accept.
Maybe, just maybe, Melania Trump is a happily married, powerful, in control woman.
Our insistence that she’s not is just the latest instalment of the ‘let’s hate on Melania’ show. One that strips a woman of her agency and identity. One that pretends Melania is a “gold digger” who had no desire to become First Lady. One that treats her like a helpless, ignorant puppet in Donald Trump’s parade.
It’s quite bizarre that, as a group that overwhelmingly champions female empowerment, we insist on framing a woman who speaks six languages as utterly malleable to her husband.
So much so, we’d prefer to depict her as a victim of domestic violence than a supporter of far-right ideology.
We know nothing about Melania and Donald Trump’s marriage. And to insinuate that we do from a batch of poorly-timed photos is as ridiculous as me suggesting these photos – which I found in 20 seconds – show Michelle is unhappily married to Barack Obama.
On the other hand, while we're micro-analysing photographs, here I present the most happily married couple on the planet Earth.
We focus on the GIFs and memes for a simple reason: they're easy. It's too easy to share an unfortunate photo. What isn't easy is focusing on the real implications a Trump presidency could have on our globalised, connected world.
Our petty laughs come at a colossal cost.
With every stupid GIF, we push an already disenfranchised right further away. We paint ourselves as unfairly selective and biased, and in doing so deeply anger those who have seen other photos in conservative media already. And once those people turn away, and retreat to the spaces they trust, they are impossibly hard to get back.
Maybe we share these things out of fear - for many people, especially women, immigrants, and the LGBTI community - Donald Trump being in the world's most powerful position presents an array of troubling possibilities.
We are scared, and we are acting impulsively.
But trashing his marriage is not the way to bring about meaningful change. It's a sure-fire way to bring about more disharmony, and propel the discourse of "fake news" and corrupt media.
Let's stop pretending that our carefully curated images mean anything.
Let's aim higher. We're better than this.