In the short time since the release of the recording in which Trump bragged about his penchant for sexual assault to Billy Bush, there have been a lot of big reactions. Prominent Republicans have pulled their support for Trump as president, the discussion of rape culture has been amplified, and even Tic Tacs had to make a public statement in order to distance themselves from Donald Trump. That’s where we are as a society–candy companies have become the voice of reason.
In the wake of this tape leak, I, like many others, am disgusted, although I can’t say I’m surprised. The majority of the posts I’ve seen about this have condemned Trump’s behavior but there are others who have taken a different viewpoint. I’ve seen posts saying Trump’s comments were just “locker room talk” or “guy talk.” I’ve also seen posts that try to justify the recording by saying that Trump isn’t the only one who has made lewd comments about women and as such, the poster doesn’t see why Trump is being so vilified (this is usually followed by a comment about a liberal media conspiracy and some argument about the Second Amendment for no fucking reason).
“It’s just locker room talk, that’s how guys talk.”
To the men how have used this justification: just because you personally think it’s acceptable and commonplace to discuss women in such a derogatory way doesn’t mean all men agree with you. Frankly, I think it’s an insult to men at large to assume that their language and behavior is as base as yours. And Trump’s comments aren’t just idle chit chat–they’re an admission of repeated sexual assault. Girls and women everywhere have stories about how some man tried to kiss them without permission or put their hands on her body like he was entitled to it. In some cases, it was, in fact, a literal “grabbing by the pussy.” Maybe she was like me and was groped in a nightclub by some guy who felt entitled to grab her butt. Or maybe she was like the victim of Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist, who was dragged unconscious behind a dumpster and sexually assaulted. Or maybe she was like one of my friends (plural, not singular) who was raped because a man decided it was his right to violate another human being’s body. Speaking about women the way Trump did normalizes his behavior and continues to demean women.
“Trump isn’t the first man to make comments like this.”
So because everyone else is going to jump off a bridge, you will too? Just because other men have said abhorrent things like this doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for Trump to say it too. Trump supporters in my social media feeds have trumped (ha) up examples of other men saying things about women as if that at all justifies Trump’s comments.
One such individual asked why Billy Bush isn’t being raked over the coals for snickering on the recording and I have a two part answer for that: first, Billy Bush’s behavior is appalling because he just encouraged Trump by validating Trump’s comments on the entitlement to sexually assault a woman because he’s “attracted to beautiful.” Billy Bush is, in no way, off the hook. Secondly, people are focusing more on Trump because he’s currently in the running to be the next goddamn president of the United States. As far as I’m concerned, support of Trump is support of his behavior and his comments. You don’t have to be a rapist yourself, you just have to be cool with supporting one.
What Trump said wasn’t “naughty words”, it was an admission of sexual assault. A woman’s chosen reading material doesn’t justify sexual assault. That’s like saying a girl was “asking for it” because she was drunk or wore a short skirt.
The difference that seems to be lost on the creator of this meme is the issue of consent.
consent: (noun) permission for something to happen or agreement to do something
The fictional characters in 50 Shades of Grey are two consenting adults participating in BDSM. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in that particular activity or not–the people doing it in the book are and they both consented to participate. Donald Trump was describing actions against women who did not give their consent (as per his comment “I don’t wait.”) Trump is not entitled the grab anyone’s genitals simply because he feels like he can do anything he wants. One is fantasy (50 Shades of Grey, if you need that clarified) and the other is reality (Trump). The two aren’t even comparable.
“What about Nancy O’Dell?”
What about Nancy O’Dell? I’ve also seen O’Dell’s name thrown around as deserving of some blame because Trump discusses her on the recording. In case you missed it, Nancy O’Dell is the married woman that Trump talks about on the recording, the one he wanted to fuck so he took her furniture shopping. Some Trump supporters have said she should share in the blame because she “encouraged” Trump by going furniture shopping with him. Really? Do you also want to ask what she was wearing? What about if she consumed any alcohol around him? Women are just asking for it right?
The recipient of sexual assault or harassment, whether it be verbal or physical, is never to blame. You know who is to blame? The perpetrator of the assault. The reality star who made the comment. The idiot who stood by and said nothing or, even worse, snickered at the idea of “grabbing her by the pussy.” Nancy O’Dell’s only “fault” in this whole situation is that she is a woman who dared to go out in public without her husband and she didn’t want to bang Trump.
Fear Keeps Us from Making a Scene
This reminds me of a situation I was in recently. I attend a weekly literary reading at a local bar and it’s something I really enjoy. I go alone and I often sit at the bar while I listen to the authors read their work. Several weeks ago, a guy I’d never met sat on the open bar stool beside me. He introduced himself and I was polite, but I turned my attention back to the reading. Despite my gentle reminders that I was there to listen to the reading, he kept trying to start up a conversation.
I’ve been married to my husband for almost six years now and I still never know how to bring that point up to someone who I think is trying to hit on me. I don’t want to be the woman that shouts, “I’M MARRIED!” to which the man replies, “Jesus, lady, I just asked what time it is.” As this guy was seated on my left, I held my drink with my left hand and tried to prominently display my wedding ring, which he finally noticed.
“Are you married?” he asked.
“Yup!” I replied happily, feeling relieved that he’d gotten the hint so then maybe he’d leave me alone long enough to listen to the rest of the reading.
“Where is he then? Why are you here alone?” he asked incredulously. I resisted the urge to say something about how I don’t require a male escort each time I leave the house and instead told this guy that my husband was at home. “Babe, if you were my girl, I’d never let you out of the house by yourself,” he said with conviction. I fought back a dry heave at his use of the word “babe” and instead decided to attempt to further accentuate my unavailability to him.
“He’s at home with our son,” I said.
“You have a baby?” the guy asked.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
“Because to be honest,” the guy said, leaning in conspiratorially as if we were sharing some sort of dirty little secret. “I was going to try to make babies with you.”
“I’m perfectly happy with the one I have,” I said and turned back to the reading. The guy left me alone for a few minutes before tapping me on the shoulder again, this time to ask who I’m planning to vote for president in November (I’ll give you a hint: it’s not Trump).
“Babe, are you fuckin’ serious?” he asked, starting to slur his words a little. The guy informed me that he was a Trump supporter (shocker) and told me it was because Trump knows how things work and he’s going to make things great again and because our country keeps getting disrespected. The guy then told me that two days earlier, he’d been on a hike and he saw a Mexican man drop some trash. My patriotic new “friend” told the Mexican guy to pick it up, but was told no. So then this guy bragged to me about how he had pulled a gun on the Mexican man and forced him on to his knees to apologize for dropping trash.
“He was disrespecting my land,” he said. “I had to. He was disrespecting my land.”
The guy then tried to segue his story into hitting on me some more but at that point, I was fucking terrified of him. I knew I was safe in the bar but I also knew that I would eventually have to leave the building. I was afraid of doing something that would make him angry and make him want to follow me and possibly hurt me. He clearly had no problem using force and intimidation and I was afraid that I was going to be the next person forced onto my knees.
This is what rape culture has taught women: fear. I went to a literary reading to enjoy some local authors and I left feeling afraid that I might get raped or killed. My specific experience is unique, but the general circumstances are not. In order to keep ourselves safe, women have to make sure they have a plan: a friend to call, 911 dialed on their phone waiting to hit the green button, a rape whistle, pepper spray, a taser, a walking buddy–the list goes on and on. Instead of teaching men not to attack women, we teach women to be afraid.
I finally managed to extricate myself from this guy and then I tried to spend the rest of the evening attempting to laugh off the incident. I met up with friends and told them about the incident as a ridiculous story of getting hit on by a Trump supporter for an hour. And then I went home and cried because I’d been so scared.
As a result of Trump’s comments, many prominent Republicans have come out to disavow him. Is it too little too late for some people? Maybe, but at least they’re refusing to stand by their man in light of his most graphic statements against women (the most graphic ones caught on tape, anyway). But what pisses me off is that for some, their reason for pulling their support is because when men like Trump make comments like this about women, they’re about someone’s daughter/wife/mother/sister. I get the attempt to humanize women (surprise: we’re already human) but my right to dignity and respect as a person is not contingent on my relationship to someone else. Women don’t deserve to be spoken about or treated like that because they’re people, not because they have value to somebody. Being human is value enough.
Moving Past Rape Culture
Trump’s comments are yet another illustration as to how terrible and pervasive rape culture really is. Those that still support him are making excuses for him, and I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not. It’s kind of like how I wasn’t surprised when Brock Turner sexually assaulted his unconscious victim behind a dumpster and newspapers ran his swim times, like that’s fucking relevant in the slightest.
The worst part is that even now, some continue to blame Turner’s victim. Turner’s supporters mourn the loss of his chance to ever compete at the Olympics and they point a finger of blame at the victim. She was drinking at the party, she flirted with Turner earlier in the evening, let’s talk about what she wore; the list goes on and on. But none of that matters–Brock Turner still violated his victim’s body without her consent (see the definition above in case you’ve forgotten what that means). Even Stanford University has decided to ban hard alcohol at undergraduate parties as a direct response to the Brock Turner case. Frankly, that’s a bullshit response because it pushes the blame off of the rapist and on to the booze. Vodka didn’t assault a woman–Brock Turner did.
The fact that I have to say this at all demonstrates just how deeply rape culture runs in this country. It’s why people are making excuses for Donald Trump’s comments now. But to justify is to accept, and, frankly, I’m tired of accepting rape culture as the norm. I’m tired of people excusing misogyny, I’m tired of victim blaming, and I’m really fucking tired of the pathetic reasoning of “boys will be boys.” Your gender does not excuse you from your responsibility to treat other people with respect.
Rape culture isn’t going to change unless we raise our expectations of men and stop letting this sort of thing slide. Trump’s comments are inexcusable. Anything said to the contrary only furthers the problem and continues to make it okay for women to be treated as less than human beings.