Donald Trump has said morally reprehensible things pretty much daily throughout the course of his campaign. Mexicans are rapists. Let’s ban all Muslims. Stop and frisk is great for Black people. He basically spews bile at every opportunity. You know the drill. (And if you don’t, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of Trump’s insults.) His latest spate of extremely problematic statements come to us in the form of leaked audio of married, 60 year old Trump proclaiming his love of groping women while media personality Billy Bush eggs him on. “Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
As has been the way of this election season, this “revelation” (can we even call something so on-brand as this a revelation?) came sandwiched between Trump insisting that the Central Park Five are guilty despite DNA evidence to the contrary and Trump implying that Hillary Clinton is somehow responsible for her husband’s affairs. I don’t know how you go about ranking the terribleness of the racist, misogynistic, hateful phlegm Trump expectorates, but I think it’s fair to say that the fact that Trump’s proud to be a standard issue dirty old man isn’t somehow worse than any of the rest of his toxic bile. It’s all troubling. It’s all terrible.
So why do I feel so profoundly exhausted and depressed about the conversations surrounding Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” casual misogyny?
I don’t remember the first time some guy groped me. The earliest grope I clearly remember happened when I was 12. I had just moved to a new middle school and a pack of boys – “nice” boys, the kind with good grades who went to church and played sports – started following me around the halls between classes, daring each other to grab my ass. From previous experience, I knew that if I told anyone in a position of authority about this I would be told that I shouldn’t wear my jeans so tight and, if I named names, the boys would retaliate. I already had a scar on my knee from the year before when a boy had “accidentally” tripped me on the blacktop. I didn’t want to be known as the tattle tale new kid who asked for it by wearing tight jeans and I didn’t want to add new scars, so I didn’t say anything. Besides, it was just boys talking.
When one of the boys eventually did grab my ass in the middle of the breezeway between Science and Language Arts, his friends high fived him for being brave and “manning up.” The whole school was talking about it for the rest of week – except, of course, for anyone in a position of authority.The next day, after I stood up to look at some pond water in a microscope, I went to sit down again only to find that one of the group of ass grabbers had pulled my chair out from under me because he wanted to see if my butt would feel any different if it was bruised, like with fruit. It was “just a joke,” though. They were having fun. The fact that I reacted by staring daggers at these boys only went to show that I had no sense of humor at all.
I hated them. I hated school. I hated myself.
Eventually the harassment stopped because that particular pack of boys moved on to new prey.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. From my tweens to the present day. That’s over two decades of dealing with gropey men.
And it’s not just me. This happens to all women. Every. Single. One. Show me a woman who has never been the target of unwanted physical attention and I will show you a unicorn.
While I understand that good people sometimes make bad choices and have forgiven the individual men who have grabbed me over the years, do you know what I feel when I think back on every time I was groped? Rage. White hot rage and helplessness at the whole societal structure that allows this behavior by perpetuating the notion that women and girls aren’t so much people as they are decorations you can have sex with.
Everyone’s talking about Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comments – friends, family, internet acquaintances, colleagues, fellow parents, the dudes at the post office. I’m hearing a familiar refrain, especially from men: “I know it’s not great, but is it really that big of a problem?” “Are we blowing this out of proportion?” “It’s only crude talk. Sometimes men just talk like that.” It’s hard to just not think about all the times I’ve been groped and how it made me feel.
The notion that women need to “lighten up” and that it’s understandable that many men feel they’re entitled to touch a woman’s body without her consent is a pervasive and damaging one. And I have spent the past 24 hours or so surrounded by men saying they don’t get that. I’m left with the choice of either ignoring these comments, thus perpetuating the idea that groping is no big deal, or explaining that actually, yes, this is a big deal and actually, no, I get that you feel defensive right now, but it’s not cool to make this whole exchange about how you, a dude, feel attacked by this *conversation* about groping rather than about how I, a woman who has actually been groped – which is to say, a woman, feels attacked by grabby ass gropers and their cheerleader bros.
My choice is either engage in temporary self care by avoiding these exchanges thereby tacitly condoning the idea that groping isn’t really that big of a deal or engage in long term self care by having yet another draining conversation with a defensive dude about just why what Trump said is so repugnant. Either way, I lose.
It’s personal. It’s exhausting. It brings up bad memories. It reminds me just how deep and hard to root out privilege and entitlement is in our culture because I am trying to explain my lived experiences to good people who I like and respect and even *they* still aren’t getting it.
Trump has spewed morally reprehensible garbage throughout his campaign. Mexicans are rapists. Let’s ban all Muslims. Stop and frisk is great for Black people. Imagine what this *whole campaign* has been like for non-Christians and people of color.