Farage and Paladino should be wrong, but they’re not — they’re just terrible
To the surprise of nobody, it turns out that Donald Trump is a deplorable human being. But there’s something far, FAR deeper floating grotesquely to the surface in the wake of the release of the (I still can’t believe this is a real thing) presidential candidate’s 2005 gleeful boasts about his sexual assault habits, and it’s doing so in a few ways.
The first is the insistence of the media covering the story to pull punches in an apparent attempt to make this whole thing about inappropriate language. “Lewd conversation,” “crude comments,” and other similar phrases have been everywhere at the top of stories about this deplorable chat, while precious few even ventured as far as Politico, who at least identified Trump’s comments as “sexually aggressive”. But the problem isn’t the language. It’s not that it’s an unseemly way for a presidential candidate to be heard talking. Not even close.
When it comes right down to it, I don’t even think the people writing the headlines (who, it should be said, are almost certainly not the people writing the stories, let alone the people who did the initial investigation and broke the story in the first place) would try to say that his language was the issue here. So why does it sound that way? Why is the “lewdness” of it (apparently) the problem?
This ties into the second, and even more subtle, disgusting aspect of the#TrumpTapes fallout. (note: that link contains many, many terrible people saying many, many terrible things)
As a ton of people have already noted, the GOP seems to be dividing messily and scurryingly into two camps: “shockingly outraged” and “whatever… GO TRUMP!” Some in the latter have caused ripples of outrage of their own by insisting publicly that the conversation between Trump and punchable face world champion contender Billy Bush was something “all men do, at least all normal men.” Bastion of British class and reserve Nigel Farage (because I guess he’s just got a lot of free time these days) framed Trump’s sexual assault bragging as “the kind of thing — if we’re being honest — that men do.” (It’s also well worth noting that even Fox News Insider felt it worthwhile to alter this quote when transcribing it for the “article” that accompanies the video in that link)
Statements like these have men all over the Internet completely up in arms, decrying the assertion that “men are just like that” as loudly and unreservedly as possible and rightly distancing themselves from such deplorable justifications for Trump’s horribleness.
But there’s a problem with that response to Farage et al., and it’s a problem that becomes nauseatingly clear when taking a look at the response Kelly Oxford got with this simple but powerful tweet:
In a matter of hours, Oxford had received thousands of replies, each with a new horror story told in the first person by victims of assaults, many of which could easily have been the people Trump was so proudly boasting about assaulting himself.
As a man, it’s tough to know how to respond to such an overwhelming condemnation of my (slightly less than) half of the human population, because Nigel Farage, Carl “Pope Benedict impersonator contest honourable mention” Paladino and the others who say that this is “just guy stuff” may well be more right than they are wrong.
Believe me, I don’t say that lightly or with anything less than profound regret and shame, and I hasten to add that they’re obviously no more than 0% right when they apply that assertion as a justification for Trump’s boasting about being a sex offender. The fact remains, though, that while we’d all like to believe that men like Trump and Bush are complete outliers, a tiny minority of scum amid an overall sea of glimmering, shiny, progressive men, they’re just not.
Oxford’s tweet went out shortly before 5 pm on Oct. 7, and within hours she was reportedly receiving multiple responses per second, enough to get her trending all over the US and Canada. Not long after that, those stories were picked up by the likes of Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, The Boston Globe, The Daily Dot, NBC News and many more. This, in turn, garnered more attention, which gathered more stories, now ticking over into the millions.
Reading through just a small handful of the mountains of harrowing memories being expressed in response to her call out, I struggled to make sense of what I was reading, and what I was thinking as a result.
Ultimately, though, it struck me that calling out Farage and Paladino, etc, for lumping all us men in it together is nowhere near enough as a response. If we disagree with them on the claim that this is a common sentiment among us men, we miss the point, and dangerously.
As the literally millions of stories told on Twitter in the not-even-30-hours since Oxford’s initial tweet can attest, it’s an undeniable fact that men dothink, talk and act like Trump and Bush were doing on that bus in 2005. Responding with “no, men don’t act like that” feels perilously analogous to the #alllivesmatter response, because the fact that not every single individual male on this planet is a proud sex offender like Trump does not mean that a terrifying number of us are, and an even bigger number of us are absolutely guilty of having either done something, said something, or tolerated something similar done or said.
It may seem like semantics, but words are powerful, and the language we use is incredibly important in the way that it can shape our thinking on a topic, or reveal things that we may not intend them to.
In short, Farage and Paladino aren’t assholes for saying that this is “just what guys do” — they’re assholes for implying that that makes it okay.
What our response as men needs to be is not “no we don’t all do that!” It needs to be “this needs to change, and it needs to change now.”