Trump’s misogyny is not an anomaly
Here is what we agree on: That Donald Trump’s tapes express sexual assault and the degradation of women. What we don’t agree on is whether his words are an anomaly, something only the likes of Donald Trump would utter, or something more commonly heard in different variations among men. Trump’s supporters have said this is just boys being boys and locker room banter. They call it commonplace as a way of excusing his behaviour. What they mean is that it is ok for privileged white men to speak this way.
On the other hand, I have heard many men declare that they have never heard anything similar to what Trump has said, in their own locker rooms or elsewhere. That this isn't the kind of banter they have been exposed to and that the men they surround themselves with would never speak this way. That if people are saying this in front of you, than you need a different circle of friends. They say this as a way of calling Trump out and highlighting how vile and outrageous his actions are. They say this as a way of claiming they don’t tolerate this kind of behaviour.
But both explanations are myth making and don’t do anything to challenge the status quo. Both excuse his behaviour and the co-creation of a society that allows men like Trump to speak and act in such ways. It turns that kind of talk into something only rich, entitled men like Trump do. It gives men a way to say they are not a part of that same culture, that they in no way contribute to the toxic masculinity that is expressed through men like Trump.
Let me start by saying, I appreciate the desire to separate oneself from the likes of Donald Trump. I do not think most men are like Trump. I do think most men care about women and long like I do for a world in which misogyny doesn’t exist, a world where women’s bodies aren’t up for grabs and aren’t subject to assault by men. But here’s the thing, denying how commonplace Trump’s misogyny is doesn’t get us there. In fact it does the opposite because it fails to challenge how toxic masculinity shows up in our everyday lives, amongst many people we know. It puts the problem over there, as someone else’s to fix and deal with. It absolves us of responsibility.
When you say that you have never heard anyone speak like Trump, you deny the reality of women’s experiences who have spent a lifetime being cat-called, grabbed and touched against our will and for many, sexually assaulted. It isn’t just the likes of Trump who do these things. And it is not all men, of course it isn’t. But take a look at Kelly Oxford’s timeline on twitter to see how overwhelmingly prevalent the experience of sexual assault and harassment are in the everyday lives of women. She has received on average 50 tweets per minute since she put out the call for stories about women’s first experiences with sexual harassment. The men in these stories are not just the Donald Trumps of the world. They are the men who lean over to kiss a young girl of 9, who grab a woman’s breast at a concert, her butt on the streetcar, who rub up against her on the dance floor at a club. They come in the form of comments on her body as she walks down the street, gendered insults over twitter, the banter of wanting to “get some of that” over beers with the guys.
Yet you say you have never heard it; that your circles of community are beyond this kind of objectifying and degrading talk. And perhaps you are right, but what I hear is that you aren’t paying attention. That you have turned away from women’s experiences of harassment and haven’t been paying attention when men have spoken this way in your presence. That when it has happened, that you have walked away, turned away and decided perhaps that this guy or that guy isn’t worth your time. Or perhaps you gave him an excuse — he was drunk, going through a tough time, lonely or experiencing mental illness.
But we need to do better. To turn towards what is in front of us and call it for what it is because denying that men talk this way and talk this way around us, does nothing to combat sexual violence. It speaks to a desire to not be “that guy” and upholds male privilege at the expense of women’s experiences and safety. It places the blame on those who admit to witnessing this behaviour, and claims that we condone it simply by acknowledging it exists.
Oppressive systems don’t change by pretending they don’t exist. If believing in a better world and the best of people were enough to eliminate sexism, racism, homophobia, colonialism and more, we would be there. It takes doing the hard work of turning towards the ugliness, the pain and our role in it, to actually dismantle these systems and to change behaviour.
Don’t be the person who denies these things happen on his watch. Be the person who looks around and sees his friends, colleagues and acquaintances speaking about women in derogatory ways and calls them out. Be the person who acknowledges how prevalent women’s harassment and sexual assault is. Be the person who hears and amplifies women’s experiences.
If we are committed to ending sexual violence, and remember that is what Trump’s actions are, than we need to reflect on how we are part of the system that has created him. How in our own communities we support, even inadvertently, the kinds of behaviour that lead to men thinking they are entitled to women’s bodies. We need to stop thinking that it it is only bogeymen in the likes of Donald Trump who behave and talk this way.