More Than Disgust

What Trump’s Remarks Really Mean to Women

People are saying that if you’re a woman, you can’t possibly vote for Trump after his remarks to Billy Bush. But we’ve excused men from this conversation, and that’s exactly the problem.

It’s been looming over me for a while now, this uneasy feeling, after hearing Donald Trump’s sexist comments and his deflated “apology” over and over again the past few days. Any woman who has been sexually assaulted (and sadly, if you’re a woman who is reading this, there is a good chance that you have) is feeling this feeling. It’s familiar.

It’s the panic, fear, and anger that you felt when it happened to you. It’s the flushed feeling, the crawling skin, the deepest desire to turn back time, so tangible that you almost feel you actually could. It comes creeping back to you as you realize that someone who has inflicted this pain on what I can only imagine is dozens of women, if not more, could be the leader of your country. That half the population condones this man’s behavior; endorses it by extension of endorsing him. Half the population wouldn’t recognize or care if you were in danger of sexual assault and wouldn’t help you if you needed it. Half the population, and notably, the leader of our country wouldn’t see your worth past being a pussy up for grabs.

It’s nearly impossible to explain to a man what it feels like when your sexuality is demanded of you by someone you’re not attracted to, or don’t know, or don’t trust. Millions of men heard what Trump said about women and are disgusted, and are gleeful at the irreparable damage it has done to his campaign, and are relieved. But so few understand the real, tangible pain and fear it evokes in women who hear Trump’s remarks.

In the moment your assault happens, your mind races. You feel the same fear one feels when you’ve narrowly escaped being in a car accident. Your heart jumps from your chest, and your cheeks flush, and your limbs tingle.

Except you’re not in a car on the freeway, inches from a collision. You’re at a party. Or in a bar. Or you’re at work. Or at the doctor’s office. Or you’re in your own goddamned house. And you’re the only person who feels endangered because the vehicle that is careening toward you is just a guy in a sweater, that statistically, you’re probably friends with.

You start with implying your disinterest, because you don’t want to come off as dramatic. You move away, you turn away, you pull away. And it doesn’t work. A hand on your thigh or the small of your back returns relentlessly. You timidly voice your concern to a friend, and they tell you he’s just drunk. He’s usually a good guy. Just let it go.

You try being direct, but not rude, because he’s a friend of a friend, and so you feel you need to make concessions. You don’t want to blow this out of proportion. You don’t want to be “that girl.” Your gentle protests go ignored. You start to question your own behavior. Maybe you shouldn’t have smiled at him. Maybe you should have moved away when his arm was around your chair an hour ago. He retreats for a moment, and then comes on more strongly. He waits till you’re alone. He’s stronger now, and closer, and more determined. And those feelings of uneasiness and second guessing yourself give way to fear. Fear of this person you know. This “good guy.” Because you realize that he could take whatever he wanted from you if he decided to. And that if he did, you’d be afraid that no one would believe you, or that no one would take it seriously. Or that somehow, you gave him the wrong impression — you’re just a flirt. A tease. You shouldn’t have been wearing those tight jeans. He ignored your refusal, and it’s your fault. You’re afraid of what they’ll say. You could be molested or raped in the next few minutes, and you’re afraid of what they’ll say.

It could have been something as inane as a few stolen kisses, or a caress of your thigh, but if you didn’t invite it and you didn’t want it, it shouldn’t have happened. If in the moment that it happened, you felt these feelings, it shouldn’t have happened. And the reason it happened has nothing to do with you or what you could have done differently.

It happened because of all the times we’ve been told we should appreciate the attention. Not because women have heard those words relentlessly, but because men have also heard those words relentlessly.

It happened because women are assigned worth in relation to men. Because in order for a man to fathom the damage that assault can have on a woman, he must be reminded of his mother, wife or daughter. That it has simply happened to women is not enough. That we are not someone unless we are someone to a man.

It happened because boys are subjected to the idea that men of power get what they want because their power hinges on their ability to take what they want. The same sentiment so crudely asserted by an asshole with a hot mic who just happens to be unsettlingly close to running this country.

If I ever have a son I will fight tooth and nail teaching him how not to participate in the rape culture so engrained in our society that many fail to see that it even exists. If I ever have a daughter she will know exactly how to assert ownership over her body. I will teach her early and remind her often. She will know that it’s better to be called a crazy bitch by a drunk asshole then to be subjected to the feelings of shame and fear that come with being a victim of sexual assault. If anything good will come from my own fear and shame and from watching my country make a presidential candidate out of a bigoted misogynist, it will be this.