My Certain Rage
Author Alyssa Wong wrote a wonderful essay just published in Nightmare Magazine, called The H word: The Darkest, Truest Mirrors. In it, she recounts the time she moderated a panel on the moral responsibility of the storyteller. One of the panellists, in describing the work of Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson theorised that writing stories with such darkness takes a certain rage. Wong writes, “ As I take notes on a piece of hotel stationary, I write down, in clean letters at the very bottom of the page, a certain rage. I underline that phrase several times. It touches something in me, resonates, deep and soft.”
The phrase resonates with me, as well. In an immediate, personal way. Though it was about writing horror, reading Alyssa Wong’s essay resulted in a lightening bolt moment for me. A sudden definition of a feeling that has been bubbling under the surface; something brewing in me over the past several days — since the recording of a Presidential candidate breezily describing how he gets away with sexual assault was unearthed.
When the news broke of the recordings existence and its contents, my first thought was “I’m not surprised.” My second thought was “And, like every other shocking display of Trumpery we’ve witnessed over the course of his campaign, this will likely hit the news and discussion panels over the weekend, and then it will be back to what counts as ‘normal’ in election politics these days.” I was actually quite surprised that it’s become as big an issue as it has, on the other hand, it’s only served to further highlight what we’ve learnt of the current Republican party and its supporters. They really don’t care.
At first the outrage looked promising — down-ballot Republicans were horrified, renouncing their support of Trump. Higher profile Republicans started renouncing support (albeit some rather reluctantly). Then the spin started. “It’s just words…” “Bill Clinton’s said/done worse.” “Hillary’s an enabler.” “It’s just words…” “Rap music…” “Hollywood…” “Locker room talk…” “It’s just words…” “But, but — 50 Shades of Grey — so women should overlook it…” “It’s just words…” “It’s just words, folks; just words…”
No, it’s not “just words.” Republicans can’t seem to understand what so many of us are upset about, because it’s “just words.” Well, I’ll tell you. We’re not upset about the fact that he said lewd and disgusting things — what upsets us isn’t the “words”, it’s what the words mean. Donald Trump, Republican candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America, admitted that he has frequently, joyfully even, committed sexual assault against women he finds attractive.
I see why some men might not really get it. They’ve never had the experience of being a woman in a patriarchal society. To them it might just look like boasting, and maybe you sometimes boast about things you haven’t really done, or want to make look like a bigger deal. The thing is, there has been a pattern of misconduct with this man. And a pattern of him boasting of his misconduct. It’s not “just words”. But what has been most troubling for me is the reaction of the women supporting Trump.
From the outset, I’ve never understood Trump’s appeal to ANY women, especially conservative women. He’s crass, he’s rude, he’s made it clear over and over that he has no interest in the female half of the population beyond what they look like, and/or what they might do for him. He’s the guy their fathers would have slammed the door shut on.
When the outrage over the recording of Trump spread, I thought “finally — FINALLY maybe these women will wake up and see him for what he truly is”. Well, I was wrong. Women came out of the woodwork to defend him. Gleefully posting the “50 Shades” meme, as if because a bunch of women read those books, surely they’re OK with Trump’s behaviour toward women. I suppose if they read murder mysteries, they’re OK with getting murdered?
Every time I saw a woman who otherwise seemed intelligent make light of Trump’s admission of sexual assault, or even if they expressed outrage but said “I’m still on the Trump train”, I felt my blood pressure rise. I felt…betrayed. I couldn’t believe any woman could support a man who admitted committing sexual assault.
When I came across Kelly Oxford’s tweet inviting women to tweet their first assaults at her, something clicked in me. I realised that part of why I was so affected by the lack of concern some women were showing over Trump’s admission was because it had happened to me, and it felt as if they were dismissing my horror, confusion and hurt at having been violated. It was as if I were subconsciously reliving the nightmare and having it brushed off as inconsequential.
I have never told anyone else except my mother and, most recently, my husband about what happened to me. I have never forgotten, but I have successfully blocked these memories for years. But now, like Kelly Oxford, I believe sharing these experiences are necessary — these are the kinds of actions Trump brags about and so many shrug away.
At summer camp, we were bussed from our base in the woods to the city’s public pool for the day. While I was swimming from one side of the pool back to where a group of my friends were gathered a man grabbed me and swung me through the water. At first it seemed fun, being propelled through the water, feeling a bit like I was flying, and I giggled. But then, he grabbed my genitals through my swimsuit and I stopped giggling and started to panic. Before I had a chance to react, he leaned in close to whisper that maybe I should invite my girlfriends over for some more “fun”. Then, giving a final squeeze, he let go. It took several minutes for me to calm down enough to remember I needed to tell someone (my parents had given me the talk on strangers and inappropriate touching). I found our female counsellor and told her what had happened. Her response was “I’m sure it was just an accident or maybe your imagination playing tricks on you.” I had never felt so alone in my life when she said that. And, of course, I started to doubt myself. I was only about 6 or 7 when this happened. Later, she came to find me. It turns out that at least two others had come to her to report the same thing. We were asked to point him out, but by that time, he’d either left, or noticed us talking to an adult and was hiding out until we left. The counsellor left his description with the pool’s management and that was that. It was never mentioned after that, and we carried on with camp week as if nothing had happened.
A year or so later, I accompanied my mother to my aunt’s house. My aunt ran a beauty salon out of her basement, and Mom went every other Saturday or so to have her hair done. My aunt and uncle lived on the outskirts of town, in an area that was still mostly farmland. Behind their house was a meadow bordered by forest and I used to explore there while Mom was in the stylist chair. Sometimes on my own, and occasionally with a girl who lived across the road from my aunt’s salon. She was several years older than me, although her brother was my age and in my class at school. He and I never really got along, though, so I only every hung out with his sister, and even then we weren’t close friends. She sort of tolerated me when her friends weren’t around. I never saw her mother much, but her father was around sometimes. He was a red-necky sort, and I didn’t really like him. One Saturday, I was exploring in the meadow behind my aunt’s when I heard someone quickly come up behind me. I barely had a chance to turn my head before he picked me up, put his hand over my mouth and carried me into the woods. Several yards in, he dropped to his knees with me sitting on his lap. I was scared, and struggling. He was telling me to calm down and not to make any noise, that we were going to have “fun”. That terrified me further and I struggled even more. I knew that whatever he had in mind, it was not going to be fun for me. Then, another noise. His daughter, knowing I’d be there with my Mom, had come looking for me. She had just come within sight of the meadow when her dad grabbed me, and she’d followed. “Let her go, daddy,” she said. He hesitated, but finally let me go. She walked me back to my aunt’s basement and we went in together. I think she even explained what had happened. What, if anything, my mother said to her father, I do not know. But someone must have said something because I never saw him after that — he wasn’t around on the Saturdays we came.
This is why I am so furious to see otherwise seemingly intelligent women let this slide and continue their support of Trump. It’s like living through those sexual assaults over and over and watching other women — some of whom I know personally — pat my attacker on the back and say “good job!” It’s like being betrayed by the very people I would wish to defend, and would hope would defend me. It’s being told, by people who should know better, “I’m sure it was just an accident…”
This is what clicked for me when I read Alyssa Wong’s essay and saw that phrase.
So, if you know me, either on social media or in real life, and you are a Trump supporter — if you post those dismissive memes on your timelines, or proudly stick that Trump/Pence sign in your lawns? Sure, I’ll be civil to you, but underneath? Seething underneath that civility will be a certain rage.