… when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything …
grab ’em by the pussy … you can do anything.
Donald J. Trump, Republican presidential candidate 2016
When the video of this 2005 conversation with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood hit the airwaves all hell broke loose. Trump denied he ever actually did anything like that. “Words,” he said, “just words” … “… locker room talk” and “No one respects women more than me.”
Then women began to come forward accusing him of actually doing it to them. Sexually assaulting them.
And then the base expanded beyond Trump to expose the larger problem.
Twitter invitation: Tweet your first assault story
On Twitter a woman named Kelly Oxford shared the story of the first time, at age 12, she was sexually assaulted … when a man on a city bus grabbed her genitals (she used the p-word) and grinned at her. No, it wasn’t Donald Trump, just some guy who likewise felt entitled to “do things to women.”
“Women,” she wrote. “Tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats.”
A deluge of responses came in from the first minute. She said that if she didn’t get any replies in the first ten minutes she’d take her tweet down. But they came in, thousands of them. It seems one doesn’t have to be “a star” to “do things” to girls and women they don’t even know … or even worse, to girls and women they do know. Women’s first assault stories told of: being groped, penetrated, rubbed against, exposed to, masturbated on, stalked, slapped, raped, or forcibly kissed by fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, brothers, stepbrothers, uncles, babysitters, classmates, teachers, doctors, priests, and friends, as well as total strangers on the street, bus or subway, or at a concert or theater. Even within Twitter’s limit of 140 characters, they spoke eloquently. That first evening more than a million women responded with their own stories. And it’s not over. Thousands more are tweeted every day. Some are telling theirs through the hashtag #NOTokay or on Facebook.
Most of Oxford’s tweeters had never told anyone their story. And many who had were not believed, or worse, they were blamed. Often, the discrediting of the victim began. She had to be made to seem untrustworthy: her previous behavior justified it; she was a liar; she had dressed provocatively; she had moved erotically; she was a flirt; she was no damn good; she deserved it.
Now, with Donald Trump’s example of sexual assault being treated as merely something to smirk at and dismiss, a firestorm has been released. It turns out that men of all social strata, not just celebrities, feel entitled to “do things to women”. And it’s not just an American problem. Women all over the world have the same sort of experiences. It’s even worse in the more male-dominated cultures.
I want to believe that men who behave so disrespectfully are aberrations. Outside the norm. Weirdos. Sociopaths. But it’s such a common story. I wonder if every little girl or woman has a similar story. I cannot imagine any man in my acquaintance doing such a thing. But that may be why it’s so easy for men to get away with it. Most sexual predators probably seem like normal, everyday, commonplace guys, not depraved perverts lurking in the shadows. My years as a therapist taught me that it’s often the most “moral” … the “holier than thou” … men who are the most rapacious. One of my clients, a thirty-something woman, the daughter of a judge and pillar of church and community, had been raped by her very respectable father throughout her teen and pre-teen years.
My own assaults: 1st and 2nd
Here’s my own first assault story: I was about seven. My daddy had died two years earlier. By the time I was seven I’d adjusted to not having a man around to hold me on his lap and let me know he loved me, but I still yearned for the male presence.
My friend Kay, who was eight, lived two houses down Palm Avenue. Her family’s friend, Clyde, a man in his 50s or 60s, often visited Kay’s home. He enjoyed playing on the front lawn with Kay and me – acrobatics, gymnastics, that sort of thing – and we enjoyed the attention. All very innocent. Until one day it wasn’t. Right out there on the lawn, before God and everyone, with cars going by on the busy street, he slipped a finger inside my underpants, down between my legs, and stroked my little-girl crotch. I thought it strange, but he wasn’t hurting me.
Before long Kay, who’d had the same done to her, told her mother and Kay’s mother told my mother, who asked, “Did he do this to you too?” I said yes. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I didn’t know why.
‘Cause I didn’t know I was supposed to?
‘Cause I didn’t think it was a big deal(?) … it didn’t hurt.
‘Cause I was afraid he’d quit playing with us?
‘Cause he was the only man who paid any attention to me?
‘Cause he was a grown-up and you don’t question grown-ups’ actions?
I don’t know. But I do know I’d never been told not to let anyone touch me down there. I guess Mom thought it unnecessary in our fairly sheltered life. And I was only seven. Just a little kid.
My other instance of “sexual assault” came from my stepfather, starting when I was about 13. This was the groping kind. From behind me, if Mom wasn’t around, his big old ugly hand grabbed my barely-formed breast or cupped my bottom. He totally disgusted me. I shuddered with revulsion. Each time it happened I smacked his hand away, gave him a grossed-out look, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind me. He must have enjoyed my reaction. His favorite thing was “getting someone’s goat,” and I was his favorite victim. I don’t know how often it happened, but it was often enough that I developed an automatic response which lasted for years: whenever anyone touched me as my stepfather had, without thinking, I smacked his hand away – which didn’t set too well with my husband (years later).
Like the Creepy-Clyde-crotch-rub, I never told Mom about her husband groping me. I don’t know if it was because by then she was already wracked with cancer or if I just I felt I could handle it myself. It was between him and me. No need to bother her. (In my book of memoirs – THAT’S LIFE – I titled one of the chapters about him, “Rude, Crude, and Lewd”.)
What exactly is “sexual assault”?
It’s only very recently that I’ve come to think of this kind of thing as “sexual assault”. In each case it was unwelcome, but assault is a ten-ton word. My stepfather was abusive in many ways, but was that sexual abuse … just putting his hand on me? It was a major annoyance, but assault? I thought of rape as assault, and since I hadn’t been raped I maintained that I was one of the lucky girls who had never been sexually assaulted. I see now that I may need to expand my definition.
And what about the name-calling? Those obscene epithets that refer to gender-specific parts of the female anatomy, or the many that refer to a woman’s character, relative to sexual behavior. We’ve all heard them. They’re all over rap music and the youth culture. Is it sexual assault when they’re directed at a specific female? Maybe.
Why do some men “do things to women”?
But all this begs the basic question: Why do some men “do things to women”? How do they imagine they have that right? What does it say about them psychologically? Are they sickos? Or is it just normal “boys will be boys” behavior? Or what?
Is it a sexual act? It has nothing to do with love or affection. Or does it demonstrate power and control? Does that make the assaulter the “alpha male” who dominates the other into submission? Even fleetingly. Is it brutality and violence? Or merely arrogance? The entitlement of privilege? (Men are and always have been the privileged sex.) Or do they do it simply because they can? Is it because they know that for the most part girls and women either won’t rat them out, or won’t be believed, and they’ll get away with it?
I suspect it’s different for different abusive men … to a point. In every case, however, I believe it is only insecure little men who indulge in assault behavior, a.k.a sexual bullying. Somehow it makes them feel powerful. Superior. Controlling. Privileged. Entitled. Or it could be their means of belonging in a group. In any case, it indicates a serious lack in their character. Men who have healthy self-esteem and self-respect are respectful of others. They do not feel the need to dominate and assault anyone. They are not the abusers.
Why is it that an entire gender is subject to disrespect by the other? It’s called misogyny: Miriam-Webster’s definition: dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. It’s from the Greek: misos (hatred) + gune (women). How did it come about and why did it become so ubiquitous?
Trump has exposed our country’s racism, misogyny, and xenophobia
As much as I hate to admit anything good might come out of the Trump candidacy, we may someday – in a far-off future – thank him. He has exposed our country’s racism, which since the Civil Rights Act of 1968 had sort of gone underground. No more. It’s resurfaced, with a vengeance. Membership in the KKK has more than doubled in the last year. (And it’s come to light, thanks to smart-phone-camera evidence of police killings of blacks. In addition, social media has played a huge part in disclosing the grossly uneven justice system insofar as minorities are concerned.)
He has exposed our country’s misogyny. According to spiritual leader and physician Deepak Chopra, Donald Trump’s consciousness is stuck in his genitals. “He thinks with his penis.”
Women are coming out of the woodwork with their stories of disrespect, assault, and second-class citizenship. Any woman who doesn’t have a personal story of disrespect or discrimination knows many who do.
Trump has exposed its xenophobia. People from (some) other countries or religions or cultures are now fearful of the wrath of those who would malign and vilify them. They no longer feel welcome in this nation of immigrants, this melting pot which, as U2 singer Bono said recently, is “the best idea the world ever came up with.” (He also told Charlie Rose, “Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America.”)
BTW, he has also exposed our lack of civility. Good manners. He has shown us how, as a society, we lack good breeding.
Not only has he exposed all these things, he has made them acceptable. A whole segment of our society how believes they are okay. So, folks, it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better. But I have to believe it will ultimately get better.
You cannot change that which you do not acknowledge
As I used to tell my therapy clients, you can’t change a trait or behavior until you acknowledge it. Trump’s very public, superior, arrogant attitudes and behaviors may have done us the favor of forcing us to acknowledge our worst shortcomings. We may now begin the long, painful process of fixing them. Perhaps by the time our grandchildren are our age, the USA will be a better society because of that troglodyte, Trump. But in the meantime, we must call people out on their misogyny, racism, xenophobia – conscious or unconscious.
We must have The Talk with our daughters, even very young ones. “It’s not okay for someone to touch you without your permission. And if anyone does, kick, scream and holler, then tell someone you trust.” We must teach them to fight back. We must believe them. And we must model for them that they deserve to be treated with respect.
We must have The Talk with our sons as well. They must not be allowed to grow up thinking it’s okay to speak and act in a derogative manner to girls and women (or anyone else). Of course, they’ll learn best by the example of their fathers, uncles, teachers, et cetera. Donald Trump is the anti-role model.
In addition, we must continue the fight for equal opportunities and compensation for all; equal justice and equal rights. Our police departments must acknowledge their systemic racism and work to eliminate it. That’s beginning to happen too. We must work hard to eradicate all the –isms – sexism, racism, nativism, ageism – all those –isms that allow us to imagine we are superior to any other human beings and therefore entitled to treat them badly. Maybe someday we’ll get there.
Maybe someday we’ll even say, “Thank you, Donald Trump.”
Your first assault story
Please add a comment or your own sexual assault story.