This Is Not A Think Piece About Trump’s Sexual Assault Comments
By Maggie Ethridge
I’m writing this to you if you believe that Trump’s remarks about touching women are — while possibly embarrassing and okay, yes, crude and rude — not actually harmful, and within the norm of private talk between men. I’m writing this to you if you believe Trump successfully defended himself when he dismissed his comments as “locker room talk.”
I grew up with you. I went to school with you. I spent Friday nights, Saturday nights, Sunday nights with you. I sat in class with you while you talked, I overheard your banter at crowded high school parties. You were some of my boyfriends. You were some of my teachers. You were some of the fathers I knew. You are often kind in your actions.
I’m not writing a “think piece” about you; I’m writing a piece to you, because I sincerely want you to understand why comments like those made by Trump are not “just words.” How they shape futures. How they most definitely have affected those you love.
Perhaps the story of my daughter will help you understand.
Lola is 14. She’s in her freshman year of high school. She’s going to school with the same group of girls and guys she’s known since kindergarten, as well as a bunch of new teens that she has never met. It’s a huge high school and there are a lot of new faces.
I’m biased, let’s acknowledge that, as her mother; she is exceptional all the same. She joined the drama club. She writes music. She deeply cares for people, and treats everyone with respect.
Following a positive experience in middle school — where she had guy friends and girl friends, started the Equality Club, and felt confident and respected by all — Lola entered ninth grade with a bad case of the nerves, but also excited. She joined some clubs, started complaining about homework, and was trying to find her place in the social structures. It was bad, and good; some kids were nice, and some were assholes: life.
And then: She started playing basketball as part of P.E. The team that Lola is on is all guys with two girls. Lola went on the floor with grim determination. She doesn’t love sports, but she works hard and was ready to learn. But the guys won’t pass her the ball. They throw it over her head. They make jokes about her being a girl, jokes about how she should go home and do her nails. They laugh in her face, when they can get away with it.
And then: Lola was sitting in class with earbuds in, and the group of all guys she was working with started talking about a private Instagram board they are part of. This board is made up completely of naked photos of girls that Lola knows. The girls had sent the photos to their boyfriends. Their boyfriends had then posted the photos on this private account and rated the girl’s body parts. How hot are her tits? Is her ass saggy? They laugh at the girl’s bodies and criticize them. One of the boys has been Lola’s friend for a few years. When the account was shown to Lola, he glanced at her repeatedly as her face burned.
And then: A girl Lola has known since kindergarten, a very shy and quiet girl who is into athletics, turned a boy down one morning before school, nicely, after he asked her to a dance. He called her a bitch and changed the sign he wrote to ask her out to say BITCH in big letters instead of her name, and the school started talking about it, and the response was that this girl should have said yes, or thought about it, because everyone knew that this boy really, really liked her. The girl who turned down the boy went home after two periods of class.
And then: Lola heard boys that she has known as friends since childhood talk about who is fuckable and who is not. She knows that sexual desire is a part of life and that the teenage years are when it really kicks in for everyone, and that talking about sex, using slang words, is normal. But when she hears boys talking about “sloppy pussy sluts” who are “fuckable,” that is not about sexual desire at all. That is about guys grouping together, feeling united in looking at girls as body parts — vaginas, breasts, asses — while also making fun of them, believing that girls are really just there to have sex with and be judged.
On Friday, when this happened, her father and I called her into our room. The entire week before she had been an anxious, insecure bundle of poor moods, and we knew something was wrong. What is it? we’d asked, but she’d just shaken her head. This day, we sat her down and said, Please talk to us. So she opened up her mouth, and started to cry.
“The boys are awful,” she wept. “They don’t actually like girls; they just use them to look good. They think it’s okay to treat us like shit, and no one is doing anything. My guy friends are cowards; they won’t speak up and say anything because they don’t want to be seen as uncool. And every time I say something to speak up, everyone tells me to tone it down.”
Don’t make such a big deal out of it.
Take a Xanax.
These are things Lola has been told in high school when she speaks out against these experiences.
By my senior year of high school, over half of the girls I knew had been sexually assaulted. I am one of them. I was assaulted four times by four different guys by the time I graduated. Once, when I had my leg in a cast up to my thigh and was unable to walk. Once, by a guy I really liked; suddenly, in the middle of a conversation, with no warning, he reached under my skirt and pulled my underwear aside and, as Trump says, grabbed my pussy. I went freezing cold. I started to cry. I asked him very quietly — I was afraid he was going to rape me and I didn’t want to anger him — to please stop. And he did, and he walked away, and I drove home and cried in the shower.
I knew many girls who were raped in their own bedrooms, in bathrooms, in backyards, in cars, in classrooms. I knew a girl who was raped by four members of the football team. She later tried to kill her mother with a knife and was institutionalized. My best friend was raped by a friend of hers at a party after he followed her into a room.
To those who defend Trump, who think what he said are just words, I implore you to look at the connection between the kind of comments he made and the kind of comments young men feel they can make — about girls playing basketball, about girls who reject them, about girls they see as fuckable objects. Consider how kids look up to those with authority, including not only Trump, but you, who’s defending what he’s said. Consider how such comments can enable not only men assaulting women, but teenage boys assaulting girls. Consider the fact that 44% of sexual assault survivors are under the age of 18. Consider how, as adults, you set an example.
Then ask yourself: Is this the example you want to be setting?
Thank you for reading.
*Lola gave me permission to use her experiences and name.