Misogynist-in-Chief

Nine months ago, after the release of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” audio footage that got Billy Bush sacked from The Today Show, my brave younger sister Jennifer wrote I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture. Both of these events suggested the promise of an honest conversation about the country’s regressive and damaging gender politics.

With Trump’s exposure (word deliberately chosen) as a misogynist pig of the highest magnitude, it seemed impossible that his presidential campaign could continue. After all, 51 percent of the American voting population?  Female. And for one beautiful moment, our male allies on both sides of the ideological spectrum united in rebuke at the notion of mothers, sisters, friends, wives and daughters seized by the genitals. Some of the language used to condemn Trump smacked of patriarchal appropriation (cough, Mitt Romney) but there was a brief, national consensus that a sexual predator ought not to be Leader of the Free World.

At the same time, women like my sister – a suburban wife, mother and broadcast journalism professional – seemed to reach a breaking point. Jenny’s long radio career makes her no stranger to working in a male-dominated field and the public and private discrimination and harassment that come with it. She’s tough, hardworking and certainly not a snowflake. But to read her story is to absorb the traumas of millions of American women who stopped feeling safe in their own bodies, and became aware of unequal opportunity, shortly after hitting puberty. We were tired of staying silent and refused to let Trump’s behavior become normalized for our sons and daughters. Pussygate was ugly. It was dehumanizing. It was painful. But if ever there was that overused trope, the old teachable moment, we were there.

Yet on November 8, 2016 the Misogynist won the election. The Electoral College perversity was more than an affront to a popular vote that overwhelmingly favored Trump’s opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  It was more than the selection of an inexperienced, proudly unread corporate grifter over the most qualified candidate to ever run for President. The real punch to the vagina was the clear opinion, articulated at the ballot box by voters of both genders, that the possession of lady parts is the ultimate leadership disqualifier.

How else to explain why white women in every demographic pulled the metaphorical lever for Trump more often than Clinton? Slate’s L.V. Anderson bespoke the November 9 anguish of the sane, Caucasian female minority and gave voice to the anger of intersectional voters: “What leads a woman to vote for a man who has made it very clear that he believes she is subhuman?…Self-loathing. Hypocrisy. And, of course, a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue.”

The months following the election – the effectual end of Hillary Clinton’s long career of public service, the elevation of a clownish, perverted reality television personality to the nation’s highest office, and above all, the undeniable truth that the climb from the pit of social, economic and political misogyny has barely begun – were so difficult. I stopped writing altogether. I avoided media – social and traditional – of every kind. Existential depression and disappointment. The knowledge that the country was under the executorship of a gaudy, classless and ignorant shithead who may or may not be in the pocket of Vladimir Putin. It was all too much.

But like many other Americans, male and female, I found my voice again. I stood with my Midwestern sisters at the January 21 Chicago chapter of the Women’s Marches. With renewed determination, I picked up a keyboard to critique a Trump administration that poses a cornucopia of threats to peace, security, freedom of speech and social morality.

The current occupant of the White House has brought a dizzying amount of shame and scandal upon the office and the country – in a very short time. Hateful immigration policies, withdrawals from international agreements, an illiteracy so appalling that complete sentences and a basic familiarity with American history prove too much to ask. Frederick Douglass deserves every moment of his surprising 2017 resurgence but come on…

And last week’s Twitter war between President Trump and the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe is a stark reminder that Access Hollywood is no regrettable fluke of early Aughts “boys will be boys” braggadocio. America’s leader is an active and determined misogynist. He will not be educated. He will not apologize. He will not even be discreet. However, could this ultimately work to the pissed off poon advantage?

Peter Beinart of The Atlantic writes:

“Hostile sexism seems to motivate women even when they merely observe it happening to others…There’s some evidence that Trump’s hostile sexism, as evidenced most infamously in the Access Hollywood tape released last October, has had exactly that result…”

It’s worth noting that Trump’s current approval rating with women is just 28 percent. Yes, #AllWomen. Even the white ones who’ve finally figured out that placing patriotism – and pussy – in this POTUS’ care is an act of self-annihilation.

I Am You: An Open Letter to Trump’s Accusers and Promoters of Rape Culture

Alongside my partner Bob and my two nieces, I love my sister Jennifer more than anyone in the world. It breaks my heart that Fall has had a way in recent years, of bringing about events that move my her to share heartbreaking personal stories. However my pride in her courage and willingness to open up, to create dialogue and change, is beyond description. Ladies and gentlemen, please read this week’s important guest post.

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I don’t consider myself a writer, and I certainly didn’t want to write this piece. But just as it was last November, current events, personal experience and an acute sense of universal injustice compel me to speak. Although I work in broadcast communications as a career, my private life is something I guard with care. This is a difficult story for me to tell. But here it is because tell it I must…

Women are coming forward in droves with horrifying tales of physical violation. These stories do more than provide corroboration for the sick words Donald Trump spoke on the now-famous Access Hollywood tape from 2005. These reports lay bare that Trump’s vile rhetoric was much more than indiscrete “locker room talk” The accounts of these women expose a pattern of frightening, inhumane Trump experiences, experiences which he is of course refuting. When pressed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper during the second presidential debate on Sunday October 8, Trump claimed that his revolting dialogue was just loose “guys will be guys” bluster. Certainly he never assaulted anyone….

Tell that to the multitude of women over decades who experienced traumas verbatim to what Trump described to disgraced Today Show anchor Billy Bush. A particularly disturbing account from a former People magazine reporter sent chills down my spine. I don’t have to imagine the humiliation and terror she must have felt being violated on the job by a powerful man.

It’s not hard to put myself in Natasha Stoynoff’s shoes because like far too many women (conservative estimates place the incidence at 1 in 6), I have been a victim of sexual assault. More than once. The first violation occurred was when I was 12 years old, walking down a neighborhood street with my older sister. A man walking in the opposite direction grabbed my breast, gave a satisfied leer and continued on. I can never forget that look, like he was certain something erotic had passed between us, the disgusting, humiliating intimacy it suggested. Sickening. Though other passerby and drivers on the busy road must have seen something, no one bothered to help. I was a child assaulted in broad urban daylight.

Though this unnamed educator never crossed the line to physical contact, as a senior in high school, I experienced systematic degradation from an AP English Language teacher. Every time I raised my hand to participate in class, I was acknowledged by the “pet name” Cookie Buns. After many such publicly embarrassing, misogynist incidents, I stopped raising my hand. This man did more to negatively impact my education (academically, and the school of life) than he will ever know.

That same year, a stranger followed me home from the train to my apartment vestibule. Initially, I wasn’t sure if he lived in the building. Anonymous city life. Then he pinned me against the door of my unit and started to reach up my skirt. It was shrill screaming and the insane barking from my very large Golden Retriever, Max (always keenly on the lookout for threats to my safety) from behind the locked door that saved me from what was certain to be rape, if not more. After my attacker fled, I was so shaken I couldn’t dial 911 for several minutes. I also blamed myself for what happened. I remember crying and asking, “Why did I wear a skirt today?!” But the tragedy wasn’t complete until a male neighbor later told me he heard my screams but thought I was “horsing around.” That man, a member of my community, could have intervened or called authorities. Maybe the sicko who attacked me would have been caught. To my knowledge, he never was.

I wish this was the end of my story. But it’s not. In my early 20s, I was grabbed by the breasts (again) by a drunk supervisor at a company event. Some of my colleagues witnessed this, as the assault took place in a crowded room. I went to another (female) supervisor, embarrassed and enraged. I naively figured she’d move quickly to address the obvious impropriety. Instead she all but dismissed the incident with this observation: “I assumed you’d be okay with it.”

Boys will be boys, right? Never mind that I’d done nothing to invite that kind of behavior, or that I was married with a child. What kind of person publicly acts out his sick private thoughts and keeps his job? I’m sure it will surprise few women to know that he did remain employed. Years later, when we professionally encountered each other again, he pretended not to know who I was. Another tactic to obfuscate and rob me of my dignity.

This is the society we live in. A society in which we blame and shame the victim, call them liars, insist that they “asked for it.” No matter what anyone says, this is why Trump’s targets didn’t come forward sooner. Sexual assault is an isolating, psychologically gutting experience. It’s reasonable to believe these women were looking for a safe sign to come out of the shadows. The leaked Access Hollywood tape and Trump’s bold, arrogant denials provided that signal. It’s beyond maddening that these accounts are being tossed aside by some for political expediency since we are a month away from an election. Very inconvenient for Republicans. Another classic case of victimizing the victim, forcing them to relieve trauma all over again.

I confessed my struggle with putting this story out for public consumption. I have experienced the denial, the shame, the fear and the isolation. Frankly, it’s not a side of me I want people to know, especially my daughters. I don’t want them to think of their mommy in danger or, worse, fear for their own safety. But this story is bigger than one narrative. I am Trump’s victims and they are me. And although women bear the brunt of our society’s rape culture, too many boys and men have also been violated, or love someone that has suffered and continues to suffer. Paralyzing fear is a tool of the oppressor. I’m done being oppressed. Staying silent does nothing.

This story is for all those with an agenda, attempting to invalidate a women’s personhood or trauma. You’re disgusting and on the wrong side of history.

This story is for those who haven’t talked about their harassment and/or assault, regardless of the reason. You deserve to be heard, and I believe you.

This story is for all the young boys and girls who may experience unwanted, unasked for aggression in the future. Anyone who behaves in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable is in the wrong. Period. Speak up. Scream as loud as you need to.

This story is for anyone who isn’t yet clear about respecting other human beings. Assume nothing. You have no fundamental right to someone’s body. Don’t touch anyone without permission.

History will not be kind to the 2016 presidential election and its Republican standard bearer. But we can learn. And we can start healing wounds and prevent future damage. We have a common interest in doing so.

“The greatness of humanity is not in being human, but in being humane.”

– Mahatma Gandhi