Here’s the story of the most recent time I was sexually assaulted. It wasn’t the most awful time, or the first time. It was just the most recent. I was walking home from a party. It was nice out, and I was walking up Park Avenue, arguably the safest street in New York, maybe the world. A bike messenger came up behind me and hit my ass so hard it hurt. His slap was hard enough that I was thrown off balance by it.
But I tried to find a polite excuse for him. I told myself that maybe he’d just fallen off balance on his bike and was trying to steady himself. Sure. That was it. Surely.
Then he drove around the block and did it again. It really hurt. And I became furious. Not just because he hurt me. Not just because he thought my body was there for him to do whatever he felt like with it. I was furious about that, yes, but I was most furious because he made me feel stupid for having tried to convince myself that he might be a decent person.
When I got home I asked myself why I tried to excuse his behavior the first time. He was obviously a bad guy, right?
The answer is because I am always making excuses for men. I do it all the time.
When they tell me all their exes are crazy, I assume they’re just hurting from a break-up. When they talk about how they only date size twos, I try to assume that that must just be a quirky preference. When they talk about how Kim Kardashian had being tied up and robbed coming, I think they’re just… jealous, maybe?
I excuse everything men do that offends me basically a hundred percent of the time. Probably because I, like many of us, are taught to assume that most men operate from a place of goodness and decency (and for that reason, women who point out that those men hurt them can only be mean-spirited crazy liars.) Telling them that their behavior indicates that’s not the case just seems so impolite.
And it’s become pretty clear that I’m not alone in this.
At least until last week I could comfort myself that guys like that man on the bike weren’t going to go far in life. I could assume that most people would not be as inclined to come up with excuses for him as I would be.
Oops. Guess I was overly optimistic about that.
That guy can apparently be a major party’s nominee for President.
Because last week after a recording of Donald Trump leaked saying that “when you’re a star, you can do what you want. Grab them by the pussy,” his supporters seemed to decide that, rather than rejecting this man, they should lean over backwards in a veritable limbo to excuse his behavior.
Some people ludicrously, thought that the problematic word in those tapes was “pussy.” And that by pointing out that Beyonce also used crude, lewd words — and so, for that matter, did John McCain — all would be well. However, the problematic word in Trump’s statement isn’t “pussy”. Pussy is a great word, both in reference to cats and lady-parts. The problematic word is “grab.”
Because, as Anderson Cooper pointed out at the last debate, what Trump is glorifying is textbook sexual assault. You can’t just grab other people by the genitals when they don’t want you to. It’s so unambiguous. It’s profoundly, profoundly clear.
A few members of the Republican party seemed to pick up on that lack of ambiguity. Kudos, very unexpectedly, to Glenn Beck (who announced that not supporting Trump was a moral and ethical choice) and, expectedly, to American hero and POW John McCain. Should they have denounced him earlier? God, yes. But better late than never.
But they’re in the minority. There were a great many more members of the GOP who tried to excuse Trump’s behavior and convince themselves that Trump was not a full throttle misogynist. They’re continuing to do that in spite of that tape and in spite of his comments about women being pigs and dogs and disgusting sex-tape owning individuals for once gaining weight/not liking him.
We seem to have a really hard time grasping that sometimes a shitty guy is not secretly a good guy in disguise. Sometimes he’s just a shitty guy. A good way to tell is whether he continually talks and acts like a shitty guy.
Now, some Republicans tried to retort by claiming that Trump’s fondness for grabbing women should be excused because Bill Clinton’s abuses of women were worse. Were they? Maybe! Gosh, I guess I won’t vote for him for President. Wait, you say I can’t? Because it’s not 1996? Cool, I guess I’ll vote for the candidate who has spent a lifetime crusading for women’s rights while still dealing with false accusations about how she loves helping child rapists and laughs about it.
It’s fair to say that Hillary should have spoken up, or maybe divorced Bill, or not, in a private phone call with her good friend called Monica Lewinsky a “loony toon.” (Though personally, I think I might use harsher language in a private phone call with a friend in her situation.) Should she have made excuses for him? Probably not! The point of this piece is that we’re all making way too many excuses for men, especially when they’re in positions of power. But arguing that you hate women getting assaulted so you’ll vote for a candidate who does it rather than a candidate whose husband did it is insane.
In any case, it’s kind of hard for the GOP to declare themselves the defenders of women when there are members of the GOP like Blake Farenthold. The Texas Congressman was asked on MSNBC if he’d un-endorse Trump if tapes of Trump saying,“I really like to rape women” leaked. He said only that “I’d consider it.” He then excused himself by saying that he was confused by the hypothetical question. “What are the moral implications of killing baby Hitler?” is a kind of complex theoretical question. “Would you vote for a guy who liked raping women” is not. But, yes, theoretically, perhaps that man is confused by theoreticals. Here is my theory on that: some members of the GOP are okay with rape.
And they had better be, because the nature of condoning a blasé attitude towards sexual harassment from a presidential candidate will lead to a culture that allows for more of it.
The most popular response to Trump’s comments seemed to be to say that, “this is just locker room talk!” There are a few issues with that. One is that Trump was not in a locker room. Lots of men don’t talk that way in locker rooms as numerous professional athletes have pointed out, but maybe some do. Being naked and vulnerable around a group of men might be a time when some insecure men need to assert their heterosexual masculinity. Trump was fully clothed and on a bus going to a work event while wearing a microphone. As some publications have pointed out, the whole world is a safe-space/locker room for men like Trump.
When Donald Trump says that “We’re living in the real world!” yeah, we are. Many people would get fired for talking the way Trump did. Trump is the one living in a safe space (I envision it as a child’s fort built of money and ties produced in China) where he gets to say whatever he wants.
People still find excuses for him, though. Consider Melania. God knows women will make excuses for men we know. We’re trained to start excusing men for doing some pretty bad stuff from an early age. Melania feels that Donald Trump was “egged on” into “boy talk” by that nefarious Billy Bush. If Trump can’t stand up to Billy Bush, I imagine he’ll have a pretty hard time standing up to Putin.
Still, at least Trump claimed it was “just words.”
After the tape leaked, a number of women came forward to note that Trump did, in fact, grope them. So, he said he likes groping women. Women also said that he groped them. There should be little disagreement here, unless we profoundly, in the deepest part of our American heart’s, believe that women are lying all the time. Or at least any time they say anything negative about a man.
Trump claims that some of the women accusing him were too ugly for him to grope. Since assault usually has to do with feelings of power and entitlement, and is, again, not a compliment, this is idiotic. But that makes no difference. According to Anne Helen Petersen’s piece about Trump’s female supporters, “They agreed that even if another woman came forward alleging rape, it would not alter their support, because she’d be lying.”
It turns out we profoundly believe that women are lying all the time.
And then there are people who just don’t care. Some of those same female Trump supporters exclaim “getting grabbed at, it’s a way of saying you’re still cute — I’d like it, and I’m 65! Wouldn’t you like it?”
Oh, good God, no, I would not. I would not see it as a way of saying I’m cute. I would see it as a man saying that he felt entitled to treat my body however he wanted without any say from me. Again, that’s why it’s assault and not “happy mutually consenting sex time.”
Many more women in Trump’s camp seem to see Trump’s words and alleged actions as just a case of men being men. First of all, not all men enjoy grabbing women without their consent or talking about it. But let’s suppose that were true.
The bar for men still shouldn’t be that low.
60 years ago white men were sitting around in clubs talking about how blacks were just biologically inferior and demanding that black men shine their shoes. Now talk like that is only permitted in a small shameful corner of the Internet.
That’s because the rest of society realized it was inexcusable.
Making excuses for people’s absolute worst behavior does not make them behave better.
There are some members of the Republican party who are concerned about what a culture that condones sexual abuse or treats it as a joke might do to their daughters. That’s good! But look, I can tell them what it will do to their daughters, because that culture already exists. It will make their daughters grip their keys in their hands when they walk home alone at night. It will make their daughters fearful to antagonize men, ever, because they can’t tell how men might respond. It will make them hesitant to report anything bad that does happen to them because they know that most people will be on the side of the man, and they will be called a liar, or too ugly to be attacked. In some cases it will make them think that their bodies exist only to please men, and their souls and minds are not important to society.
That’s unfortunate. That’s the horrific price some of us pay for existing as women in the world. But you know what Trump’s comments won’t do to your daughters? Make them think it’s okay to sexually harass women. They’ll be on the receiving end of the harassment Trump describes. They’ll know it sucks. No matter what leaks in Hillary’s hacked e-mails, you’re not going to find out she just loves grabbing people by the genitals.
So, stop worrying about the effect Trump’s comments will have on your daughters. Start worrying about the effects those words will have on their sons. Because, Christ, look at what it’s done to Trump’s sons.
Eric Trump claimed that cavalierly chatting about how fun sexual assault is is “what happens when alpha personalities are in the same presence.” But anyhow, it doesn’t really matter because Trump’s comments are “not the person that he is.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump Jr. thinks that women who can’t “handle” harassment “don’t belong in the workplace.”
Those aren’t the words of sons who grew up thinking of women as humans who were equal to them. Those are the words of boys who had excuses made for them their entire lives, just like their father.
When we live in a culture where we keep saying — to ourselves and others — that these guys are actually okay despite their words and actions, we create a world where men like Trump are viable nominees for President.
So let’s stop that. Let’s stop being polite every time men casually bring up how they think most women are crazy, or how they will buy women a ton of shots to get her to go home with them, or generally talk about women as if they are anything other than human beings.
Because it’s time to stop being polite. We gave deplorable guys the benefit of the doubt for 3,000 years. That’s over now.
Because it’s 2016. The days of women making polite excuses for men who hurt them are coming to an end. We’re going to demand to be treated not as cute sex objects or daughters, or wives, but as humans worthy of respect. And we’re going to know that we merit respect just as much as men. You know why? Because in November, one of us is going to be President.