I was 16-years-old when a man first made an inappropriate sexual advance toward me. I was working at Fuddruckers and had just finished taking the order of a fifty-something-year-old-man. I handed him a buzzer that would let him know when his order was ready, and he said, “Oooh, I’ll stick it in my pocket and think of you.” I was sixteen. I was a child. Yet I was older than most girls are when something like this first happens to them.
Some variation of that joke would be told to me by dozens of adult men over the two years I worked there.
I was twenty-one when I was sexually assaulted for the first, and, I pray, only, time. I was on a Metro platform in Paris waiting in a crush of people for a long overdue train. When the train finally arrived, I was literally swept onto the train by the mass of people. When the doors closed, I was trapped, pushed in on all sides by bodies. A man stood in front of me, his body pressed against my own. I tried to minimize how much we were touching and avoided eye contact.
Then his hands began to move.
At first I thought he was just trying to get out of the way, but then one hand grazed my breast and the other moved toward my crotch. Realizing what was happening, but completely unable to get even inches away, I shifted my torso away from him and tried to position my purse between us. For the rest of that interminable train ride, he thrust his pelvis against the side of my stomach.
They say that in moments of terror you have a fight or flight response, but there is a third innate reaction: to freeze. In those horrible moments, I froze. I was surrounded by people but utterly alone, in a foreign country where I spoke the language only a little. I certainly didn’t have the words to describe what was happening. They don’t teach you words like that in French 201.
Even more than that, though, I felt ashamed. I had done nothing wrong, and yet I felt humiliated. I was too scared and embarrassed to try to ask for help in a foreign language. My face burned and I looked around the crowded train car, searching for someone who would help me, someone who would see what was happening and tell the man to stop. I made eye contact with several people, including one man who I am absolutely certain knew what was happening. He looked me in the eyes, saw my terror and tears, looked at what my assailant was doing, widened his eyes in shock, looked me in the eyes again, and then looked away. He did nothing. He said nothing.
Finally, finally the train stopped and I escaped. I searched the station for at least half an hour for the friends I had become separated from. During that time, my attacker casually walked past me again and again.
I was 25 when I read an article in the New York Times about efforts to prevent sexual assault on subways and to arrest the assailants. I was 25 when I realized that what happened to me wasn’t just an awful but inevitable part of living in a big city. I was 25 when I was given a name for what happened to me. I was 25 when I learned it was a serious crime that deserved a police report. I was 25 when I realized I had been sexually assaulted.
What happened to me is hardly unique, and in a gruesome twist of truth, I am one of the “lucky” ones. I was not raped. Many women who I love have been raped. Many. Not just a few. They have been raped by strangers, by dates, by friends, by boyfriends, by husbands, by brothers, by uncles, by fathers.
Many more of the women I know have been sexually assaulted in some way. They have had strangers pinch their backsides on trains or sidewalks. They have had genitals exposed to them in parks. They have had their breasts or crotch grabbed. They have been picked up and carried away until someone else intervened. They have faced the threat of rape.
I would guess that every woman I know has been catcalled at least once. Catcalling may seem insignificant, but it is demeaning and threatening. You never know when a catcaller will follow you. Even if they don’t, they have tried to shame and hurt you.
Just last week, as I was eating in my car while hurrying from one job to another, a teenage boy called out his window at me, “Keep shoving that Taco Bell in your mouth, you fat cunt.” He couldn’t have been more than seventeen, and he already sees women as objects. To him, I was not a human being with thoughts and feelings and worth, but a sexual object that failed to appeal to him. To him, I was a vagina in a fat body.
You might want to say that rape culture isn’t real. That it’s a made up term that unfairly blames innocent men for the actions of a few. It’s true that most of the men I know would never, ever rape a woman. They would never sexually assault a woman. I sincerely hope they would never catcall a woman. I sincerely hope they would never make light of sexual violence or objectification.
But, based on statistics and my own personal experience, too many men do these things. Typically, rapists are not strangers, but individuals the victim knows personally. Rape, sexual assault, and even catcalling are acts of intimidation and coercion. Objectification is not an innocent act.
Rape culture isn’t just rape. Rape culture is making sexual comments or overtures to someone under the age of consent. It’s making sexual comments to anyone who doesn’t invite them or who asks you to stop. Rape culture is touching a woman’s body without her consent. Rape culture is spewing sexual or objectifying comments at a woman passing by, whether those words are “flattering” or not.
Rape culture is often more subtle. It is objectification in all its forms. It’s a massive, deeply ingrained part of our society. It tells us from our earliest moments that a woman’s most significant value comes from her appearance, from her body, from her sexual appeal for men. It teaches us that a woman’s body is an object to be lusted after and possessed. It trains us to believe a woman is an object.
Please don’t give me any bullcrap about how “boys will be boys” and sexual aggression is natural in men. NO. Attraction is natural. Objectification, obsession, and aggression are not. Saying they are devalues men and women alike.
As you have undoubtedly heard, a video leaked recently of Donald Trump in 2005 saying how he tried to “move on” a woman named Nancy “very heavily.” I won’t repeat the worst of what he said, but he talks about how he “couldn’t get there.” Then he degrades and dismisses her by saying she got plastic surgery and “totally changed her look.” She rebuffed him, and he feels compelled to devalue her.
Then the seriously troubling comments begin. Trump goes on to describe how he can kiss, grope, or grab the genitals of beautiful women without waiting. He doesn’t seem concerned about consent. He assumes they’ll like it because he’s famous. What he is describing is sexual assault.
Billy Bush, though not responsible for the worst comments of the day, is guilty for participating in the conversation, ogling a woman, and egging Trump on. He has apologized with the claim that he was “younger” and “immature.” The man was in his thirties for crying out loud.
Every person in that bus participated in rape culture for not speaking up against what Trump was saying. Everyone who says it’s not a big deal is participating in rape culture. They are making it harder for women to speak out after being assaulted or raped.
Trump remains the most at fault, however. He initially “apologized” for the incident in this way:
“This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”
In case anyone is confused, this is not an apology. It does not admit guilt. It does not admit the severity of what he said. It implies that bragging about sexual assault is normal male behavior, something that all men do behind closed doors. As Brené Brown has recently stated, this is an insult to all of the good men and boys out there. It normalizes objectification and sexual assault.
This is not an apology. He is not sorry for being offensive. He is sorry that other people are offended. This subtle wording shifts responsibility for the offense away from himself and onto those who are reacting to it. It re-victimizes those hurt by his words.
Does this kind of objectification happen every day? Absolutely. My own experiences and the experiences of most women I know are evidence. Does something happening every day make it okay? Absolutely not. Especially when the offender is supposed to be a public servant.
As the controversy kept going, Trump issued a more “sincere” apology. He has said the statement doesn’t reflect who he is. This would be easier to believe if he didn’t have a long-running track record of demeaning women.
I’ve seen people posting that we should forgive and not judge. In response to that, I’d say that first, I’m not making a judgment on the state of his soul or his final salvation. I am, however, fully entitled to assess whether or not his character is fit for the presidency. If this were a one-time comment, I would be horrified, but might excuse it if it seemed out of character (maybe. The men I respect would never make a comment like that even once). Unfortunately, it’s part of a decades-long pattern of behavior. I’ll offer a few examples of his sexist words here. I don’t have time right at the moment, but eventually I would like to add links to the original sources. These are crude and often upsetting, and for that I’m sorry.
* He has said, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what they write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass.” Women are objects to him.
* He infamously said Megyn Kelly was a bimbo and had “blood coming out of her wherever” after she challenged him in a debate.
* He repeatedly talked about how much he wanted to sleep with Princess Diana, saying, “She had the height, she had the beauty, she had the skin,” before adding, “she was crazy, but these are minor details.”
* He purchased the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe pageants with the goal of making the heels higher and the suits smaller. He berated a Venezuelan winner for gaining weight and called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping.” Of the pageant, he said, “If you’re looking for rocket scientists, don’t tune in tonight, but if you’re looking for a really beautiful woman, you should watch.”
* He has called a woman disgusting for breastfeeding.
* He expected his third wife to care for their children without his help: “I mean, I won’t do anything to take care of them. I’ll supply the funds and she’ll take care of the kids.”
* He has called Hillary Clinton disgusting for using the bathroom.
* He has repeatedly mocked Hillary Clinton for her husband’s infidelities, including tweeting “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?”
* In regards to the Pulp Fiction line “Bitch, be cool,” he has said, “ I love those lines.”
* He has called women fat, ugly, dogs, and slobs.
* He repeatedly went on air with Howard Stern to assess the appearance of female celebrities in the crudest of terms.
* This included an assessment of Paris Hilton, someone he has known since she was a child. He admitted to watching her sex tape, in spite of the fact that he knows her personally and is friends with her family.
* He engaged in a conversation with Howard Stern about daughter Ivanka’s breasts. When Stern asked if he could call Ivanka “a piece of ass,” Trump said yes.
* As recently as last year, after his presidential race had begun, he was publicly assessing women’s physical appearance. In the New York Times he said, “Heidi Klum. Sadly, she’s no longer a ten.”
* He blamed sexual assault in the military on cohabitation, as if men are biologically incapable of living with women without assaulting or raping them. In saying that, he’s offering an excuse to assailants. He’s demeaning men who would never assault or rape a woman.
* In one of his books, he wrote, “All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.” It seems like in his mind, interactions between him and women are inevitably sexual.
* He said to one Apprentice contestant, “It must be a pretty picture. You dropping to your knees.”
* When Carly Fiorina was running for president, he said no one would vote for her because of her face. When asked for an apology, he said she was a beautiful woman. He missed the point. Calling her beautiful isn’t the solution. Her appearance was not relevant, and he should never have brought it up at all.
* He sexualized even his own baby daughter. When asked what traits he thought toddler Tiffany had inherited from her mother or himself, Trump didn’t refer to her smile or personality. No, he said she had her mother’s legs, but they’d have to wait and see if she inherited her breasts.
Some might argue that Trump isn’t a sexist because he has employed women at the highest levels of leadership. That’s great, but it doesn’t erase the many objectifying statements he has made about women. My list is hardly comprehensive. After posting what I could remember, I searched several reputable news sources to see if I had forgotten anything. I found so many crude, sickening discussions that Trump has had about women and sex that I had to stop. My stomach was churning.
I have my own strong political preferences, which I normally only share in person. I love to respectfully discuss politics with my friends, but the great respect I feel for many politicians on both sides of the aisle and for the differing views of my friends keeps me from posting about politics on Facebook. It turns ugly too often. I can’t stay silent on this, though. It matters too much.
Vote for whomever else you want to. Vote for Hillary Clinton. Vote for Evan McMullin. Vote for Jill Stein. Vote for Gary Johnson. Write in Donald Duck (the better Donald). Write in Jesus and pray the second coming is around the bend. I really don’t care.
But please, please, don’t vote for Donald Trump. Don’t vote for a man who has consistently demeaned women throughout his public life. Don’t vote for a man who has shown that he sees women first and foremost as objects. Don’t vote for a man who would ever joke about sexually assaulting women. Sexual assault is a violent crime. Joking about it endangers women.
The fact that thousands of comments like Trump’s are made every day doesn’t make it insignificant or irrelevant that he said them. In fact, it makes it more important. Trump’s statements were evil. They objectified women, they made light of sexual assault, and they were dangerous. This is more serious than cheating or lying or just being crass. In his words, Trump is assuming that all women welcome his sexual advances. He is saying that, without waiting, he can kiss, grope, or molest a woman, and she’ll be happy about it because he’s famous. He is claiming a right to women’s bodies without their explicit consent. He is describing sexual assault.
In saying that, Trump is giving tacit approval to men all over the country to do those very things. He blurs the line of consent. He is feeding a culture that kept me from realizing for four years that I had been sexually assaulted. A culture that led me to feel ashamed when a crime was committed against me. A culture that keeps women from asking for help or reporting their abusers. In saying what he did, Trump is implying that the countless experiences like mine and experiences worse than mine aren’t all that important, that they are a joke.
After all, you can brag about sexually assaulting a woman and still become president.
If you think that there isn’t a problem in the way we view and treat women in Western culture, you’re part of the problem. If you vote for Donald Trump, you’re part of the problem.
And I won’t apologize for saying it.