The Personal Cost of Sexual Assault Culture

I’m angry this morning.

I’ve been angry about having-voluntarily-become-a-citizen-of a-country-where-people-elected-Donald-Trump-as-candidate-for-President for a long time.

Today I’m specifically angry that someone I know, a ‘pillar of the community’ in my town, thinks it’s OK to dismiss Donald Trump’s 2005 chat about how he treats women, because “Bill did it too”.

OK, let’s go:

1. If We’d Had Proof About Bill

If we’d had this kind of iron-clad proof about Bill Clinton’s character would he have been elected president? Maybe.

1991 was a long time ago, even though it doesn’t feel like it to people my age—except when you think about how far we’ve come on issues like, uh, acknowledging unwanted sexual contact as the damaging assault that it truly is.

2. Bill Clinton is not running.

If you think Hillary is morally weak for staying with her husband after knowing what he was like, then you clearly will have no compassion for other complicated human emotions and situations.

Why do abused people stay with their abusers? Why don’t drug addicts just pull their socks up? Why do we have to pay all this money to put ramps in for the couple of disabled people who might conceivably want to enter our buildings? (Can’t they just wait outside until we send someone down to help them like the infants they are?)

3. When we had proof of Bill Clinton’s actions, he was impeached.

We didn’t invite him to stay on. We weren’t proud he was our leader. It’s not ‘going all Democratic” or “defending the Clintons” to demand that we don’t knowingly elect another man like him.

He is not “a dirty boy”. He is a grown, 70 year old man, who has shown us the content of his character in many and varied ways. This is only the latest.

And, at the risk of being accused of defending Bill Clinton (which I am not), he HAD some skills in the job he was doing. He trained for it his whole life. He qualified as a lawyer. He apprenticed as governor of a large state. Twice.

I disagreed with many of the policies he put in place, and think the fallout from them has been bad. But he understood government. He did not need on-the-job-training.

4. Contact Without Consent is Sexual Assault

People like me, your sister and your mother had to put up with Trumpian behaviour from the moment our periods started, because now we were women.

You had to smile and laugh and learn to brush off grown men in order to voice being called a bad sport or a ‘shrill harpy’ or frigid or worse, to avoid being physically intimidated or attacked.

We had to endure being touched and propositioned by strangers because ‘it’s just a bit of fun’.

5. Assault is Damaging

When someone decides they can be in your personal space, touch you however they like and demean you when you say no, it is a psychologically damaging assault that leaves an impression. It might make a dent, or it might crush someone, but, as with all interpersonal interactions, it has an impact.

Are we clear on that?

6. A Climate of Degradation Doesn’t Just Hurt The Target

Sexual predation doesn’t just hurt women. We have to stop saying “this language has to change ‘for our daughters and our wives”.

We have to change this language for our daughters and our sons and our wives and our brothers and for all human beings.

This culture hurts men too.

Decent men feel bad, and often powerless when the Dude-Bros let loose. Decent men have historically felt stressed and constrained by cultural norms and had to tamp down their natural decency so as not to look like a “fag” or a “pussy”or whatever demeaning name guys like this would throw their way; guys that might be their boss, or their partner on a project, or 243lbs of angry muscle.

7. How The Threat of Sexual Assault Affected Me

First, I’m fine.

I’m tall, and strong, and opinionated and I never once felt in danger from a man.

I did, however, learn to be careful about how I bent down to pick something up.

I learned to tug my skirt down.

I learned it was not OK to go out alone.

I learned to smile and deflect when men tried to chat me up on the train, when I was 13.

I spent the years when Bill Clinton was busy being elected, at university, with one hand on the rape alarm I kept in one pocket of my biker’s jacket and my other hand on my sharp housekeys as I speed-walked home with my head down. From. Studying. At. The. University. Library. I was 18.

It never occurred to me to get particularly angry that I had to do this. I had been conditioned to think that I might get attacked and that if I did, I needed to prove I had done everything possible to excuse myself from blame.

Let me repeat that: I didn’t expect to be attacked. BUT I learned to walk with my head down, not making eye contact, carrying a rape alarm, so nobody would blame me (much) if the unthinkable happened.

I internalized this at 18.

What did that do to my character? I don’t know, because whatever it did is part of me now and always will be.

Is this what we want for our children?

I wasn’t angry on my own behalf, but now that my kids are approaching their teens, I am mad as hell.

  • I’m angry that my boys will be viewed as predatory.
  • I’m super-angry that my friends’ tall, beautiful, bold, witty daughter will soon begin to duck her head and shorten her stride if she dares go out after dusk.

I’m angry that I, an adult human being, think twice about taking walks in quiet places lest something bad happen and I get blamed.

I thought we had moved past this. I was 19 when Bill Clinton was elected. I was 33 when Trump was recorded making these comments. I am 44 now and I have one question:

Can we stop?

Can we stop normalizing this behavior, please?

And while we’re at it,

  • Can we stop thinking it’s OK that African American mothers have to train their sons to be meek so they don’t get in harm’s way, sometimes by officials of the state?
  • Can we stop treating everyone who’s poor as if they’re weak?
  • Can we stop dismissing everyone with an accent as lazy because they ‘haven’t learned English properly’ when they’ve uprooted their lives and learned to live and work in a new culture, raising kids in a place where they don’t understand the school system, taking fewer benefits than they’re entitled to and paying more of their income in taxes than richer, native-born Americans?
  • Can we stop demonizing people because they love who they love and they just want to be treated equally?
  • Can we stop asking people to calm down, when we’re metaphorically punching them in the face?
  • Can we start respecting that my experience may not be the same as your experience and that two realities can be true at the same time?
  • Can we stop pretending we’re Christian or Pro-Life when we do not demonstrate it with our words or our actions, not to mention our policies?

Let’s Move Forwards, Not Backwards

We have proof of the kind of man Trump is and he’s not “a dirty boy”. He’s the kind of damaging, hateful man who wants to take us back to a time when wolf whistling was cool, and it was ok to not employ people because of their parents or which side of the tracks they came from.

I though we were making progress. I thought people like Donald Trump were figures of fun, who we reviled and kind of pitied.

I didn’t think we were ready to put them back in charge.

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