Trump And The Dangerous Myth Of Good And Bad Men

By Josh Shahryar

Adapted from flickr/Walt Stoneburner
Our world is filled with men who talk and act like Trump, and men who don’t act like Trump—but remain willfully ignorant of men who do.

Believe me — I, too, would smash 2016 with a baseball bat if I could. As if everything we’ve had to suffer so far wasn’t enough, we’re still dealing with fallout from the “found” hot mic tape of Donald J. Trump with Billy Bush from 2005, in which the presidential candidate and bigot-in-chief of the alt-right movement explains his methods of assaulting women. We’re still reeling from the continued defense of this tape, most recently via Melania Trump, who claims her husband was a victim to Billy Bush and isn’t actually a blatantly violent misogynist.

Politicians seem to be in agreement that what he said is heinous, repugnant, and about 10 miles removed from anything that could even remotely be considered decent. But what this revelation is doing to Trump’s chances of winning the election and the GOP’s chances of making it intact as a political party past that election isn’t as concerning as the reactions to it are. Almost every political pundit — left, right, and center — has spoken. So have opinionists. Men, especially, are extremely vocal about their feelings when it comes to this on social media.

And what’s interesting is that, if you look at the responses, you find that these men seem to be living in two different worlds. In one world, what Trump says in the audio isn’t just acceptable talk, it’s regular talk. In other words, all men talk to other men about how they like sexually assaulting women, without exception. In the second world that’s emerged, not only do men not engage in such talk, but no man knows another man who does.

The starkness of the difference is almost unreal. Has the world finally become a simpler place where you can easily delineate the good guys from the creeps? If the good men and the bad men never interacted, and indeed did not know each other at all, you could immediately and noticeably measure the effects on society.

This distinct duality does not, however, exist.

What exists is a gray alternate world where things are more complex, but equally disgusting in the way they uphold the patriarchy. In this world, men aren’t violently anti-women, but neither are they those rare unicorns known as “male allies.”

In this world, we don’t wish suffering upon women. Gosh, absolutely not. But please don’t ask us to do anything about it if such action would inconvenience us in the slightest.

In this world, willful ignorance reigns; we don’t know men who’re rapists because we don’t want to.

Two men who’ve just been introduced or are looking to further a friendship or business relationship don’t ever sit each other down and say, “Let us discuss openly and honestly what we think of women, how we treat them, and the prevalence and consequences of sexual violence against them.” That conversation — those issues — never come up. Even if you’re the sort of rapist who targets female strangers in parks at night and violates them at gun point, we’ll probably never know about it.

This ignorance is upheld by violently misogynistic men who know how to adapt to the environment they’re in. The rapist won’t openly talk about sexually assaulting women around those who seem to not share this dark proclivity. But he will if he feels he has a like-minded audience. If increasingly violent misogyny is encouraged by someone a man is talking to, he may keep pushing the boundary further, until — like Trump — he’s openly bragging about sexual assault. Trump will tell Billy Bush about “grabbing them by the *****.” But around Anderson Cooper — who professed he’d never heard someone make such statements — he’ll be the Trump who respects women more than anyone, believe me.

If this doesn’t sound like a revelation — after all, men lie like everyone else — here’s the kicker: Most men are able to identify misogyny, even when it’s not overt to the extent of Trump’s “locker room talk.” Men who claim they know absolutely no one like Trump may have heard a friend talk about a girlfriend saying “no” a couple times before proceeding to have sex with her, or objectify a woman crossing the street, or act in any number of other more subtly misogynistic ways . . . and done nothing to address it, on the grounds that it’s not really “that bad”; on the grounds that it’s better to play along than to identify it as something more insidious at work.

This alternate world of men is not unaware of the plight of women. But self-delusion is an amazing drug; you can know things and still not know them. You can know that almost 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetimes and still not know that rape is an epidemic in the United States. You can know that most women are sexually harassed at work in some way, but still not know that it profoundly and negatively affects their livelihood. You can know that most sexual violence against women is committed by men they know, but still believe that sexual violence is only committed by strangers.

And that shields us — the men of this alternate world — from having to sever ties with violent misogynists because if we “don’t know,” then we don’t have to do anything about it. If we acknowledge the extent and severity of violence against women in America, then we’ll have to take action, and “doing anything” about something that’s a “women’s problem” isn’t really a priority. As Paul Ryan said in response to Donald Trump, women are to be “championed and revered,” a patronizing ethos that preserves male privilege. But giving women their rights and fighting to protect those rights? That requires effort, which in turn demands forsaking privilege. And so, it just doesn’t happen.

Besides, as the dangerous line of thinking goes, if we join women in the fight against sexual violence, god knows what the outcome will be. Can we kiss our girlfriends before saying, “Hey honey, may I kiss you?” What if we help end the epidemic of rape and then we’re no longer the one wearing the pants in the house? What if women feel safe in society and not besieged by men, and they take it over?

There are too many unknowns out there for a man to do anything . . . So we just go on hanging out with our friends who we don’t know are rapists because we don’t want to know. We keep doing business with rapists because “they never told us.” We continue to forge bonds with strangers who are kinda “rough” with women without their consent, because hey, the woman can always leave them if they want.

The frightening truth of all of this repugnant circle-jerk is that there’s no alternate world. There’s only one world — the man’s world — and we all inhabit it. It’s filled with men who talk and act like Trump, and men who don’t act like Trump, but remain willfully ignorant of men who do.

This is how the system survives. That this system is inherently violent against women hasn’t been a strong enough reason for us to help dismantle it — yet.

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