We’re Getting It Wrong: What Trump Really Means for Men
In the wake of Trump’s latest atrocious comments about grabbing pussy or whatever he said (I’m personally trying to block it all out at this point), we’ve heard even more about how bad this is for women. How angry we are. How we’re going to make Trump pay on election day.
When it comes to how men should feel, we’re hearing a lot of the phrase, “wives, daughters, sisters.” We’ve heard it so much during this election that it’s almost starting to lose meaning. Or maybe it’s just starting to lose meaning for me, because I believe when we talk about Trump this way, we are unconsciously reinforcing a fundamental pillar of the patriarchy: Women’s problems are women’s problems, unless for some reason it also bothers a man.
Let us remember that our fathers, husbands, and brothers have valued our purity for centuries because it was worth money and dignity to them. A father cannot marry off a deflowered daughter. A cuckholded husband is not a man. A man with a whore for a sister risks a ruined family name.
This was a dynamic of power, not of compassion. And yet to this day, we frantically appeal to men via their female relatives. In response to the incriminating video of Trump, Mike Pence said that “as a husband and a father” he was offended by Trump. Does that, by omission, imply that as a man he’s totally cool with it?
Where are the men coming out to say, “I am embarrassed by these comments because they reflect terribly on all of us?” Where are the women saying, “we don’t need you to stick up us for us, we need you to facilitate change alongside us?”
In order to do that, we need to stop acting shocked and appalled. As Lindy West pointed out, “Every woman knows a version of Donald Trump”. Most of the men (and probably most of the women) we know have been socialized to think these kinds of behaviors are tolerable, especially if they happen behind closed doors, and especially if they’re just a little more subtle than what “The Donald” does. It’s nobody’s fault, but it is everybody’s responsibility. If we only ask men to worry about their wives and daughters, we’re actually denying them the right to process how they’ve partaken in this culture. We’re forcing them to bury a portion their experience of our society. In doing so, we shame them instead of inviting them to change.
If we can only convince men to have respect for women who are related to them, we still have a big problem. And if we create this perpetrator/hero dichotomy (you are either assaulting a woman or defending your sisters’ honor!) we are actually denying the subtle realities of being human. Worse, we are not preparing men to exist in a world where women are increasingly their intellectual, professional and economic equals.
Part of the problem here is that men seem able to compartmentalize. I often want to interrupt conversations and jokes I hear and say, “but what if the woman in the story were your daughter?!” But it seems clear to me that men have two buckets of women: Their daughters, and everybody else. A study even found that men value different traits in their daughters than they do in their wives. Investing more energy asking men to have empathy for their female family members is a waste. Instead, we need to ask men to rethink how they define themselves.
Nobody likes change. I imagine that if I were in the Old Boy’s Club, I wouldn’t want to let anyone else into it, and I wouldn’t want it go away. I am truly sympathetic to this plight. But as the NY Times points out, this might just be the beginning of the end for that age old unofficial institution. And the change has nothing to do with political correctness. It has to do with money and power.
Let us not forget that the whole reason we have relied on our fathers and husbands for centuries is because we mostly couldn’t earn our own income. That we have all objectified women and focused on beauty because marriage was a meal ticket. Now, every day, there are more of us who can support ourselves. We are rising through the ranks. And we sure didn’t get here because our fathers and husbands decided to go to bat for us.
In fact, we got here against all odds. We got here despite being sexually molested as little girls, ignored by our teachers, criticized by our family members, groped by strangers, dismissed in meetings, ogled at conferences, tortured by the media, put down by our boyfriends and overlooked for promotions. We got here despite imposter syndrome, unconscious bias and double standards. We didn’t get here because somebody defended us. We got here by putting our blinders on and not caring if anyone was on our side.
We’ve known Trumps before, we know Trumps today, and for that reason, this Donald Trump is not our problem. We know how to deal with him. The question is: Do men know how to function and thrive in a world where behaving like Trump is never ok? If this really does mark a paradigm shift, do men know what comes next — not for their daughters and sisters — but for themselves?
People have said that Trump’s behavior is “not just standard locker room talk,” but I have to say I disagree. It may not be true for all men, and likely not to such a degree, but we can’t deny that we all are the product of a society that says objectifying women is ok. That women are something to be paid for, whether at a strip club or with an engagement ring. As women grow in leadership roles and earning power, those assumptions will have to change. And it might not be easy.
So men, when you think of what Trump means to you, don’t think of protecting your wives and daughters. Think of whether you want that man representing you. Think about whether you want to work with women who are constantly on edge and fighting for their right to exist. Think about whether you want to date when all the women around you are being constantly triggered by memories of abuse and insult. Think about whether that will help or hurt you.
Think about what women can teach you. How they might be able to help you solve problems or think differently. Think of your own image and how you are perceived. Think about whether this rising tide of feminism might be able to lift all boats.
Think about how you want to raise your sons. Think about whether they would be happier if they could value themselves for something other than their sexual conquests, athletic prowess or popularity. Think about whether someone could love, admire and respect you even if you weren’t in charge.
If deep down, you don’t think they could, think about what it would take to get there. Because women are inching slowly but steadily towards equal. And that can be just as good for you as it for us, if you’re willing to let it.