Jennifer Conti, an OB_GYN and medical journalist, recently wrote an article about her experience this election season for Slate. The article, “A Conversation Between and OB-GYN and Her Trump-Supporting Father About Sexual Assault” throws into sharp relief a dichotomy many women in America are struggling with this election cycle. For many women, like Conti, it boils down to this: My father is a good man who loves, defends, and champions me, but he is willing to vote for someone who, at the very least, believes sexual assault like what I have experienced is perfectly acceptable.
At worst, my father is willing to cast his vote for a man who has assaulted women in the same way I have been assaulted. At worst, my father is complicit in my assault. It’s a damn tough pill to swallow.
I am lucky. I do not have to ask these questions about my father. This November he’s casting his vote for Hillary Clinton. Everyday on Facebook I can watch him advocate for women in the comments sections of his friends’ posts and shared links. For my father, I am not a special snowflake possessing a special social status by virtue of my relationship to him. My person hood is not to be respected because “I am his daughter” but because I am a woman like every other: deserving of respect, decency, and bodily autonomy.
That is not the case for many women. Many women struggle with fathers who love them, would fight fiercely for their rights to their bodies, but would abandon women as a whole. Conti is one of those women. Her father chased the man who assaulted her through a toy store but, simultaneously, her father will champion her assailant when he casts his ballot for Trump in November. Conti isn’t alone. On my father’s Facebook, I watch men with daughters defend Trump’s statements as locker room talk. I watch them refuse to accept the old maxim: Thoughts lead to words. Words lead to actions. Actions lead to character.
I would like to be very clear, a man who says, “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything” is a man who assaults women. He knows he can “do anything” because he has. It isn’t like saying, “I might be able to get away with something but am not completely sure because I would never try it.” The statement is, “You can do anything.” I, Donald Trump, can do anything.
A man who says, “When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy” is a man who believes his status and influence entitles him to the bodies of women, at will, without their consent. “I don’t even wait” he bragged to Billy Bush. He doesn’t wait for what? Consent. Don’t wait for consent, “just kiss” and grab them by the pussy.
Fathers, when you cast a vote for Donald Trump, when you defend him online or in your homes, you tell your daughters that their safety and agency can be sacrificed, by you, on the altar of your economic or social preferences.
You tell them that the sexual assault of women is a small price to pay for lower taxes and fewer immigrants. You tell them their bodies are their own, until it is politically expedient for you. You remind them they are always unsafe, even in their own homes. Is that true?
Is it true that in your anger about Hillary Clinton, immigration, taxes, and the war in Iraq, you would offer up your daughter’s pussy to Donald Trump and men like him? Men have been buying status, power, and position with women’s bodies as currency for millennia; perhaps 2016 is no different.
Don’t say, “It was locker room talk.” Or words don’t mean he actually did it. Or it was 11 years ago. Or it was lighthearted joking between men. You can, and maybe should, read a plethora of articles online about how these excuses are completely insufficient, and I don’t seek to rehash those explanations here. It wasn’t “locker room talk” because that conception of locker room talk does not exist. It was a description of assault.
Words have power and meaning, especially for a President of the United States. Obama once said his words move markets. A President’s words change the world. Sexually assaulting someone is not a joke, witty banter, or an amusing anecdote. Don’t say, “but Bill Clinton,” because Bill Clinton is not on the ballot. He is not running for President. His actions are his, and his alone; they are not relevant to any discussion about this year’s Presidential Nominees. Those issues and concerns have their place but, like Bill Clinton, they are not on the ballot or in the voting booth.
One in five women on college campuses is sexually assaulted; some estimates place the numbers even higher. I want to tell you what that feels like to live with, so you know. I want you to know what that feels like so when your daughter comes to you and asks you about Donald Trump, or tells you about her assault, or her fears, you might understand better where she comes from.
The first time a man asked me to perform oral sex on him, I was 10 years old and in 5th grade. He was a family friend and watching my siblings and me while my parents were out. He offered toys and gifts. When I hid between the chair and ottoman in our living room he begged me not to tell anyone what he had said. I remember the pit in my stomach, cowering behind the ottoman, pulling it towards me so I would be squeezed a little tighter between the ottoman and the chair. If I could just wedge myself in tight enough, if I could be small enough, I would be safe. I remember crouching stock-still, paralyzed with fear and unable to speak. I remember closing my eyes, wishing this wasn’t happening, begging it not to be real. Eventually, he gave up trying to convince me and left me alone. I ran upstairs, locked my door, and hide in the closet until morning. I was 10 years old. I never told my parents. He told me no one would believe me.
Three years later, I was assaulted on a church youth mission trip. I was 13 years old, just about to enter high school, one month shy of my 14th birthday. On the pretext of exploring a tree house near our campsite, a 17-year-old boy cornered me alone. He reached under my shirt and grabbed my breast. The fear and paralysis were so familiar: stock-still, unable to speak, unable to move. I was 13 years old, 3,000 miles from home, with a group of chaperons I didn’t know well, trying to make friends so I wouldn’t go into high school alone. After what seemed like hours, he took his hand away and climbed down from the tree house.
He cornered and assaulted me several more times on the trip. I remember we had to fill out this chart. It asked for personal information for everyone on the trip, things like: favorite song, favorite sports team, favorite subject, etc. It was designed so everyone could get to know each other one-on-one. There was a ritual public shaming if you failed to do so. Each person without a completed sheet would be forced to stand in the middle of a circle and sing and dance for their supper and the amusement of their peers. He used that sheet of questions as pretext to get me alone, despite my attempts to avoid him. Telling other people in the group that he was going to work on it with me. Once he trapped me in the corner of a stairwell, kissed me, reached into my jeans, and grabbed my crotch. Once, he snuck into the kitchen when I was alone prepping lunches for the day and grabbed my breasts.
I was 13 years old, on a church mission trip. He was 17, about to be a senior in high school. He was the son of my sister’s third grade teacher. He was a star athlete on multiple varsity teams. A few months later, after school had started, he showed up on my bus. He told me he learned I was on his route, and didn’t drive that day so he could sit with me. He sat down next to me, trapping me between him and the window, so I couldn’t get away. My heart was pounding a deep dread welled in the pit of my stomach. My hands, arms, and legs were shaking. I told him never to touch me again, stood up, pushed past him, and sat somewhere else.
It takes longer than you think to find your voice when someone is violating you. For a while you sit there in shock, unable to believe or comprehend that the unthinkable is happening. I found my voice the 5th time he tried to put his hands on me. At first I was ashamed. Ashamed I didn’t say anything sooner, ashamed of the paralysis and fear I felt, ashamed I let it happen. I’m not anymore. I was 13 years old, surrounded by strangers, and terrified. I did nothing wrong. He should bear that shame, not me. He was 4 years older than me; he assaulted me. I saw him at family parties for years afterwards, and I never went back to youth group.
I was lucky. Through high school and college it was pretty smooth sailing, the normal little violations women live with, but nothing paralyzing. Nothing I couldn’t handle. (Think about that phrase for a moment. Think about what it means to have to learn to cope with sexual assault on a daily basis such that you have a skill set ready to deploy by age 14.)
Men picking me up around the waist and carrying me around the campus over their shoulders without my permission, as I squirm and beg to be put down. Men throwing erasers, wadded up paper, peanuts, and whatever-the-hell-else they could find down the front of my t-shirt. Men on my swim team asking for my bra size, and taking votes within the team when I refuse to say. Or snapping my bra straps, or the straps of my swimsuit. I am grateful every day for a swim coach who put a stop to that right quick.
Men who yell at me out of car widows as I walk home from work. My personal favorite was the car that circled round the block twice, so when they came back they could throw cheap dog toys and dog treats at me. Get it? Because I’m a bitch?
Men at work who ask for my help looking for something, only to follow me around the entire facility staring at my ass. Men call my name to get my attention, and then gesture to their crotches. Men who ask my boss if I can be let off work early to go home with them. God it’s just exhausting now. Even the listing is exhausting.
And for all this, I consider myself so lucky. I remember vividly talking with a roommate after our mutual acquaintance was raped. She had reached out to us knowing we were ready, ready with the resources and support she wanted and needed. We were ready because as a woman, you prepare to get raped so you will be ready when it happen to you or someone you love.
We sat there, in our dorm room, and my roommate turned to me and said, “One in five women. When I count the women in my life, just my sisters and I make three. And I hope to God it isn’t them. I would rather it be me. At least I know I would be ok.”
“I know. Me too,” I replied.
Ask yourself what it must feel like to take stock of your friends, sisters, and acquaintances, to count them out, knowing one in five of those women will be sexually assaulted. Imagine what it must feel like to never wish that violation upon any of them, and to instead hope you are the statistic. To hope you are the one in five assaulted or raped, because then your sisters, cousins, nieces, and friends might be spared. Imagine the weight of what it feels like to say, “I would rather it be me.”
Imagine carrying it everyday. Imagine carrying it down every street you walk, on every train, in every cab, in every work meeting and copy room, every night out at a bar or movie theatre or concert or parade. Imagine carrying it even when you are alone with a man you thought you could trust. Imagine carrying it in your classroom, in your house of worship, in the home you live in.
I am no different from your own daughter. I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood in the Midwest. I went to a good high school, took honors classes. I studied karate for 10 years, and was selected for a traveling team. I have two loving parents, and a whole host of other adults who would absolutely with out question support me. I have friends who love and support me. I got into a good college, and was so excited to go. There is nothing special about me, or my story. It could belong to anyone, and does belong to so many women. I am not a special snowflake.
When your daughter asks you not to vote for Trump, when she expresses concern and fear over his statements about women, it is because her story is like mine. It is because, like me, she fears powerful, entitled, unapologetic men and for good reason. Your vote for Trump is a vote for a world in which women’s safety and security is secondary to your economic and political preferences. Like Conti, I ask the following of you: Please don’t vote for Donald Trump. Don’t vote, or vote third party, if you cannot bring yourself to vote for Hillary. But do not vote for Donald Trump.
If you are determined to cast your ballot in his name this November, I cannot stop you. But do not vote for him ignorant of the message you send. Do not vote Donald Trump ignorant of your daughter’s life story, her experiences and her pain.
She may be a special snowflake to you, to be loved, respected, and cherished. But as much as I wish it were different, to so many men she is just an object for consumption and gratification. For you, your daughter is special. For the rest of the world, she is a woman. Stand with her against people who would try to take her agency from her, against men who assault and harass her.
Imagine your father tells you he loves you, and with the same breath, votes to elect a man who would violate you, allow others to violate you, and permit a world where your pain is a punchline in the locker room. Imagine your body is currency to be exchanged, your sexuality an object used to buy a tax plan or immigration reform. A daughter’s safety, agency, and bodily autonomy are not prices to be paid by her father for his political agenda. Would you use your daughter to buy yours?