It is hard to listen to the video of Donald Trump’s sexually predatory comments without feeling both unbelievably angry and sick. There are so many things wrong with the reality that a man running to be President of the United States can get away with threatening sexual assault, but the most disgusting aspect of this whole affair, for me, is the fact that in the face of such undignified vulgarity, I bear the burden of remaining civil. I am the one that has to ensure my words are measured, eloquent, and moderate, though his were none of the above. In the face of this demonstration of carefree disregard of my rights and my worth, I have to be careful not to “overreact” and be labelled hysterical, crazy, emotional, or dramatic. Somehow, despite being the victim, it is still I that must prove that my wounds are real and that the hurt I feel is reasonable. It is still the power of my attacker to say I shouldn’t be offended, that it was just harmless words: as if words have never led to actions, as if words have never caused nightmares or made my skin crawl walking home after dark, even with three years of combat sports under my belt. To quote the magnificent Louis C.K, “when a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” But this is what’s happening all the time, in this world where we like to believe that we have reached a level of equality in society whereby anyone asking for more is now just being greedy or, worse, just sensitive.
You see, it turns out that since women get to vote now and sometimes we even get to be CEOs, there clearly must be no more structural barriers to our ability to compete on an equal playing field with men. I’ve been told that we as women are no longer facing any overwhelming discrimination and it is simply unfair for us to create programs that exclude men because excluding people on the basis of gender is wrong. Predicting I might bring up the unrepresentative ratio between genders in many industries, they admonish me that lingering differences are just down to a difference in capability, so I should duck my head, shut my mouth, and get on with it. There is nothing standing in my way other than my own complaining. If I am not getting ahead, I should simply work harder rather than blaming the system for my own inadequacies. Be reasonable.
Trump’s terrible statements and the support he’s continued to enjoy despite and even because of them shows the power imbalance that still exists between the genders. The very fact that there are people excusing his statements on the basis of it being “locker-room chat” is worrying, because it says that we as a society accept that being a man means being entitled to my body without my consent. See, sexism is about more than you denying me a job because I am a woman. Sexism is buying into this narrative that men can’t change their behaviour, that it is just a burden of womanhood to shoulder the unwanted leers, caresses, words, and disrespect of some men. The effect of sexism can be accepting that wanting to feel safe in the workplace, or reducing prejudice are irrational and unachievable goals that should not be attempted because “men will be men” and this is just the way the world works. Sexism can also mean women distancing themselves from feminism because they just want to get on with it: grit their teeth through the unpleasantness with a belief that since things can’t change, they should just be weathered. It is me, writing this article, wanting to qualify that I know not all men are sexists, that positive discrimination is a thing, and that I understand men face sexism too.
Sexism is excusing the man for his behaviour and shifting the blame onto the women for overreacting to the situation and misinterpreting his intentions. Because “grab her by the pussy. I can do anything” were definitely vague statements not at all implying a sense of entitlement, her feelings be damned. Trump supporters reacting to the video see women simply shrugging off his words as “guy behaviour” and men saying if they were in his position, they’d grab as much as they could. This is the problem. A powerful man was recorded admitting to actions he must not have considered wrong, to another man that supported and congratulated his words, and a woman that played along to survive. The world we live in has the capacity to make this kind of behaviour okay. Though there are plenty of amazing men and women standing up to say that this is not acceptable, but this is still a reality that many people face. Comments like these and actions that follow are present on our university campuses, in boardrooms, behind closed doors, and out in the open.
This is not a problem that starts or ends with Donald Trump: but we can use his buffoonery to talk about it and to make talking about it an okay thing to do. In the face of a threat to my person, I should be allowed to be afraid, astonished, upset, and downright pissed. No one should be allowed to speak for me about how I should feel or react: I have been hurt and it is okay for me to ask what can be done to avoid it happening again in the future. I am not overreacting and though we have come a long way, it is not greedy or overly sensitive to ask that people, no matter how famous or powerful, be held accountable for their words. My feelings and rights are valid and I should not have to apologise for criticising the people and the conditions that allowed them to be violated. Women can vote now and I’m using mine to say that this is not a problem I’m going to smile and endure. This is not a fact of the world I should just grit my teeth and accept. I won’t just let you do “anything” Mr Trump. I say no.