As most of you know, my current work in progress is related to sexual assault. For that reason, I’m hyper-alert (and probably hyper-sensitive) to the current rape culture that surrounds us today. With that in mind, please indulge me as I relieve myself of the thoughts that have been swirling relentlessly in my head these last several days.
Over the last 72 hours, there’s been a lot of discussion about the so-called “Donald Trump Tapes” wherein Mr. Trump is heard talking trash about women. Mr. Trump and his followers have brushed this off as simple “locker room talk” and, indeed, I can concede that much of it is just that. A good portion of it is just an overgrown boy commenting on the assets of women and his failed sexual exploits. I have brothers, and many of my best friends are men. I get it. And ya know what? Some women participate in “locker room talk,” as well. Maybe not in such crude terms, but let’s be real — many women objectify men in a similar manner as men objectify women. It’s not okay, but it happens.
In the “Trump Tapes,” however, there is a specific moment where the conversation leaves traditional “locker room talk” and moves to what sounds like an admission (or at least condoning) of sexual assault. For clarification, let me give you the legal definition of sexual assault.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines Sexual Assault as: “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.” (Bolded text my own).
Though Mr. Trump denied during last night’s debate that he has ever participated in this type of behavior, he is clearly heard in the “Trump Tapes” as seeming to brag about committing (or at least arguing the acceptability of ) sexual assault. And no matter how you slice it, even the suggestion of behaving in this manner is wrong.
Sadly, many people aren’t looking at the big picture in this. They can’t seem to focus on the problem because all they can do is focus on the political ramifications for ADMITTING that Mr. Trump’s behavior is deplorable. Instead of focusing on the issue of whether the comments condone (or worse, potentially admit to) sexual assault, people want to focus on peripheral issues such as whether the other side of the election has done anything wrong. OF COURSE THEY HAVE, but that’s not the issue. The level of guilt or innocence for one’s actions is NOT found on a sliding scale whereby you compare your actions to that of another to determine how bad those actions are. They’re either wrong, or they’re not wrong. You can’t say, “Well…I might’ve killed five people, but their deaths were swift because I shot them in the head and they died immediately, unlike (insert name) who tortured his victims for three days and then put an end to their lives. Why are you criticizing me for my murders when (insert name) was so much more cruel? I mean, my crime wasn’t nearly as bad.”
WRONG — they’re both bad, and one person doesn’t get a pass on his bad behavior because another’s behavior was perceivably worse. It doesn’t work that way.
With that in mind, can we please take a moment to separate the comments from the commentator? Can we please forget for just the next few moments that it was Donald Trump who made these comments? Can we forget that there’s a presidential election taking place and, instead, focus on the comments themselves independent of any other factors? Specifically, can we focus on one thing only: The comments regarding a “celebrity’s right” (really, ANY person’s right) to reach out and grab the private parts of another person without permission and with full expectation that he/she will never say anything because of your status.
For purposes of this article, let’s call our antagonist John Doe. In a conversation with his buddy, Fred, Mr. Doe says:
“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything…Grab ’em by the p—y. You can do anything.” (bold text my own).
The key words here — and the moment it changes from simple locker room braggadocio to condoning sexual assault — are:
- “I just start kissing them…I don’t even wait.”
- “You can do anything…”
- “Grab ’em by the p—y. You can do anything.”
Now remember, our commentator is John Doe. He’s not running for election. He’s not famous. Maybe he’s your neighbor down the street, or some stranger sitting on the bus. Answer this question: What do you think of this guy’s comments? Can you honestly say you’re not astounded? Let’s change this up a little bit:
John Doe takes a seat next to Fred on the bus.
John: Whoa! Will you take a look at that woman’s tits? I bet they’re fake.
Fred: (sniggers) Wowza! They’re huge…I can’t tell though. I’d sure like to get under that sweater and find out.
John: Ya know…you can do anything. I mean — we could just go over there and tweak one of them…grope a really good feel. While we’re at it, let’s cop a feel of her p—y. You can do anything — she won’t tell. Why even ask?
Do you see where the conversation left “locker room talk” and moved into suggesting the commission of sexual assault?
Now let’s take this a step further so that you can understand the level of outrage. Why do you think so many women, in particular, are enraged by these comments? Do you know? Do you even care?
Because it’s a TRIGGER POINT and because IT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE DAY. This exact scenario has happened to more women (in particular) than will ever come out and admit it. It happens so fast that, as a victim, you stand there and actually ask yourself, “Did that really happen?”
Imagine the combined confusion and embarrassment that follows this interaction. You stand there in front of this man who has just touched you in one of the most private locations, and then your mind spins out of control.
Whoa! Wait! What just happened? your brain screams.
Depending upon the forcefulness behind it, you might try to convince yourself that it didn’t really happen. Surely he didn’t do…that?!
But the truth is that yes — he absolutely did do that! And he did so because he can. Because, as our commentator said, “(He) can do anything.”
By the time you, the victim, compose yourself and realize that YES it did happen, the moment has passed and the assaulter has moved on as though nothing untoward has ever happened. What now? What do I do? you wonder. As a victim, you often behave as though nothing ever happened because the assault was so quiet and swift that you almost wonder if you imagined it. You look at your assaulter, and he’s moved on — he’s forgotten it already.
But, as a victim, you never forget. You never forget that exact moment when someone violated one of the most intensely private parts of your body without permission, and the location and nature of the assault lends itself to immediate mortification before the rational side catches up and says, “But it’s not your fault.”
Are you still arguing that it’s “just locker room talk”? Tell that to the little girls and women who have experienced it. YES…little girls, many as young as 4 or 5. This behavior happens all too often, and not exclusively to grown women. It happens to your daughters and granddaughters, sisters and nieces. And you never knew it because they were too embarrassed and confused to tell you. In many cases, like Amber Tamblyn’s more extreme example (which you can read here), they didn’t want to hurt YOU — their father, brother, boyfriend… They were humiliated, and they knew that you — the important men in their lives — would upset…and, at the end of the day, devastated that there was nothing you could do to prevent it. Because even as victims, we want to protect those around us from feeling that same pain, humiliation and anger.
The bottom line is this: If we’re not part of the solution, then we’re part of the problem. This is NOT a political question — it’s not an urging from me to you to change your vote. This isn’t a question of how much better or worse one candidate’s actions are compared to the other side. Instead, this is a question of right versus wrong. It’s a very serious situation that points directly at the rape culture today, and to stop it we must acknowledge it and call it what it is…regardless of whether it’s perpetrated by a famous celebrity or by our fictional John Doe.
Yes, there is a such thing as “locker room talk.” It’s maybe not right, but it’s not illegal. Sexual assault, however, IS illegal. If your “locker room talk” condones sexual assault, then maybe it’s time to acknowledge that you might be part of the problem. And, if you’re a father, grandfather, brother, or favorite uncle, now is the time to think about it…not when the young woman in your life finally finds the courage to come forward and reveal to you her sexual assault. Because by that time, your outrage is just words; and you can’t be part of the solution if you are already the problem.
Don’t believe that this type of assault begins, for women, when they’re little girls? Think the little girl in your life could never be a victim of this so-called “locker room talk”? Here’s some further reading for you:
Read the full #NotOkay thread on Twitter. A few of them will leave you in tears.