Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Donald Trump. After listening to the tapes heard ‘round the nation I had to restrain myself from screaming, if only so I didn’t scare my roommates. Coming at the tail end of an absolutely relentless election cycle, this recording is proof positive that our Republican candidate is not only proud of his ability to sexually assault women whenever he pleases, but thinks his behavior is perfectly acceptable.
Rape culture is certainly not, “just words.” On college campuses, one in five women is sexually assaulted. As a woman who has been grabbed, as Trump would say, “by the pussy,” without her consent, I can tell you with certainty, this is not something to be taken lightly.
Meanwhile, Trump attempted to dismiss his comments as “locker room talk.” What he doesn’t realize is the ubiquity with which he claims men talk like this is part of the problem. These are the seeds of rape culture which have continued to grow until we are forced to watch a presidential candidate be asked at a televised debate in front of the nation whether he understands that his actions constitute sexual assault.
The heartening part about this ordeal is the number of men who have taken to social media to condemn Trump’s mentality. “This is a problem that men need to solve,” University of Florida Associate Professor in the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research Trysh Travis said. “We [women] can point it out and say, ‘We don’t like this,’ but men are the ones that need to solve this and I have been really happy to see the number and kind of men who have come out against what Trump has said and said, ‘That does not represent me.’ And I hope that the furor over this will cause more men to do that.”
Condemning his words is important, and the fact that men are rejecting the “locker room talk” narrative is important. However, there are still people defending this madness. Men and women alike have defended Trump saying that this is something that happens, implying that we should just accept it. I have no doubt that Trump is not the first man to say these words, nor is he the first one to consider rape culture a non-issue, but we know better. We have to know better.
“It’s not just words. It’s a way of thinking that is a problem,” said Travis. “It’s a mindset that a million little things contribute to in ways that seem innocuous at the time, but they all add up over time, and they enable the spectacular performance that Trump has by their lack of spectacle.” The way we act starts with the things we find acceptable which starts with the words we say.
“Grab them by the pussy,” demonstrates sexual entitlement that remains so deeply ingrained in our society that people still feel it can be defended. I wanted to scream the first time I heard those tapes, and thinking back on that moment now, I wish I did. We should all be screaming. We should all be screaming because that is the only way to drown out those who would deny that this is a problem. We should be checking this entitlement, this embodiment of rape culture—not just from Donald Trump, but from those who would say it doesn’t matter.
If it happened to them, it would matter. It should matter. It should matter until there is not a single person who suffers from the effects of a culture that feels so entitled to our bodies that consent falls by the wayside.
Over the past several days, women have described their own experiences with sexual assault online. However depressing it becomes to think about the sheer volume of women who have first-hand experience with this sort of entitlement, Trump’s comments serve as a rallying cry. “I think they’ve really energized a lot of people, including a lot of women who won’t identify themselves as feminist. They hear this and they think, ‘That is disgusting. That is wrong. I am upset. I remember the times this has happened to me. I won’t stand for this for my daughters,’” said Travis. “Conversations are happening now that would not have happened if Jeb Bush was the nominee.”
I hesitate to attribute any goodness to a man I find so utterly despicable, but he has prompted a teachable moment. We are having a conversation about rape culture on a national level, and that is what we should have been doing all along. This steaming pile of manure may be what we need to plant the seeds of change in this country.
That starts with all of us on an individual level. We need to talk to each other. We need to talk about Trump. We need to keep sharing our stories until there are none left to be heard. We need to help those who would deny the problem understand that denying a problem’s existence doesn’t solve it, only a change of course can do that.
So let’s change our course. If we choose to accept this as “locker room talk,” if we choose to place our country in the hands of a man who espouses rape culture, then we all will lose this election. It’s time to stand up and say something, and not just to Donald Trump, but to the guy who yells out to unsuspecting women from his car, the one who keeps handing a trashed person drinks at a party hoping to “get lucky,” anyone who finds these things acceptable.
We have the power to demand change right now. If we sit back and choose to do nothing then we all are complicit. After everything we’ve witnessed this year, what could be more deplorable than that?