The #TrumpTapes exposed the Republican Party's long history of supporting rape culture. And women aren't having it anymore.
Almost every day, starting when I was six years old and ending, finally, when I was eight years old, my neighbor—a blue-eyed boy, an altar boy and Boy Scout who could smile and “yes ma’am,” and “no sir,” with a Varsity level of Eddie Haskell faux-earnestness—would ask me to play a game; a special game, a secret game, a game that could only occur when my mother, who was baby-sitting us, was upstairs watching TV or tending to the other kids. A game that happened under a blanket—sometimes an old Afghan, other times, under a fleece sheet patterned with Disney characters—where he’d push me down on my back; lying beside me, he’d pinion my legs between his, using the heft of his body to keep me down. And he would, to use the parlance of our Republican presidential candidate, grab my pussy. His hand was clumsy and cruel. Though my tiny body bristled with pain, I learned that the best way to endure, to ensure that this awfulness was one step closer to over, was to retreat deep into the soft earth of myself, to hide like a seedling until the winter of his touch ended.
I grew through those cycles of abuse like a weed, hardy-looking yet bitter to the taste: desiring of, yet frightened by, men; wrecked by flashbacks prompted by something as simple as walking by a Disney store or seeing an Afghan on a friend’s sofa; and haunted by a hyper-awareness that, the wrong man at the wrong time could make sport of my body—with rude fingers or a blunt fist, he could make it so my body wasn’t my own. Like many survivors, I am enraged beyond reason by Donald Trump’s “hot mic” remarks that “when you’re a star” you can declare hunting season on women; his winking aside to Access Hollywood host Billy Bush that it was aces to “grab [women] by the pussy.” But I’m also grateful. I’m grateful that Donald Trump’s unfathomable uncouthness has taken its teeth to the Republican jugular, exposing the hot, black blood of the GOP’s entrenched misogyny, and its perpetuation of rape culture.
Trump may joke about sexual assault with a boys-will-be-boys glibness, but GOP darlings like his running mate, Mike Pence, who many rank-and-file Republicans are ballyhooing for 2020, are deadly serious about forcing women to carry their rapists’ fetuses to term—even going so far as to try and redefine rape in order to effectively end reproductive choice in this country. In Pence’s America, the rapist is the masked marauder in the back-alley—not a teacher or a coach; a father or a friend; and certainly not that nice young man on the swim team or the boy next door—a figure who is mostly mythological, given the actual statistics around sexual assault. Make no mistake: The Republican party’s legislative terrorism on choice is, like sexual abuse, about stripping women and girls of their bodily autonomy.
Just as the Trumps of the world reduce women to breathing blow-up dolls who exist exclusively to provide pleasure; the Mike Pences and the Marco Rubios and the Paul Ryans—all of whom have introduced or supported some of the most Draconian (or should I say Atwoodian) measures against reproductive rights—reduce women to the Stepford “wives and mothers” that they refer to in their chivalric outrage over Trump’s remarks. Paul Ryan says he’s “sickened” by Trump’s remarks—while still refusing to revoke his endorsement—though he himself has alluded to rape as “a method of conception [that] doesn’t change the definition of life.” Republicans like Ryan; like the dark-haired boy who put his free hand over my mouth; like the boy who pins his dates down in the backseat of his car or on his parents’ couch; or like the real estate mogul who grabs his wife by the hair, bends her over the bed, and rams himself into her, only see women as bodies to be controlled, not as actual people; women are either wives or mothers, daughters or sisters—or else they’re uppity sluts who deserve punishment.
Unlike Ryan, Utah Representative Jason Chaffetz openly revoked his endorsement of Trump, telling CNN that he couldn’t look his fifteen-year-old daughter in the eye otherwise, and that he only way he’d vote for the Republican ticket is if Trump’s running mate Mike Pence moved to the top. So, apparently, he can still look his daughter in the eye while championing a man who’d force to hold a funeral for a fetus she miscarried; and who would, unless she were assaulted by a Snidely Whiplash-type on a city street in broad daylight, deny that her rape was “legitimate.” And Chaffetz could also look his daughter in the eye back when he endorsed a man who openly called for “the second amendment people” to “do something” about Hillary Clinton, who could be our nation’s first woman president. Even in his disavowal of Trump, Chaffetz reinforces the very paradigms of rape culture, which allows men to see women who are of no consequence to him—i.e. not, as Mitt Romney put it, “our women”—as acceptable victims.
Chaffetz may want to put an equator’s worth of daylight between him and Trump, but, like so many other Republicans, he stood idly by while Trump demeaned and defamed other women as dogs and pigs; incited violence against NBC reporter Katy Tur; made unproven allegations that former Miss Universe Alicia Machado had “a sex tape” in a bizarre blitzkrieg of three a.m. Tweets; and while constant, and corroborated, allegations of workplace harassment gripped the headlines. He may not be Trump, but he’s no better than Billy Bush, snickering as Trump talks about popping Tic Tacs so that he can have fresh breath when he kisses women against their wills. This is the culture of silence and sickness that made me believe, for so many years, that what happened to me under those blankets “wasn’t so bad,” a matter of a boy being a boy; that made me feel like I would never ever be at home in my own body.
However much the Republican establishment would love to cleave itself from Trump, he is their Frankenstein, stitched together by a party platform of entrenched misogyny: One that denies women access to health care and reproductive choice; cuts funding to family services and beats the war drums for the Hyde Amendment; lobbies against passing the Equal Rights Amendment and the Violence Against Women Act. Throughout the GOP primary, members of the pundit class wrung their hands and wondered how it was that nobody else in that clown car of candidates could take Trump down. The truth is, there isn’t that much difference between them—Trump is but a brasher, nastier (at least, overtly) avatar of a party that will even fight against the simple principle of equal pay for equal work. Misogyny is misogyny is misogyny, even if you’d feel comfortable repeating the sentiments to grandma at Sunday supper.
If there is one very tarnished silver lining to the electoral chaos of this election, one pure and powerful thing to come from the utter erosion of our political discourse, it’s that so many women have been stirred to speak so nakedly about the daily heartache of living in a culture, and under a political system, that is hell-bent on our continued violation. We talk about the first time, the second time, the seventh time, we were diminished by a kiss, a fist, a hiss in our ear; and we talk about what it means to be denied our basic rights of dignity, and choice, by elected officials who would put a bull-headed strain of religious piety above our health and safety. We watch as the Republican party establishment—which was quite fine with violent chants of “lock her up!” and years of vulgar jokes like “two small breasts, fat thighs, and a left wing”—now, and after Trump was caught insulting a married lady of gilded lily whiteness, fumble toward its indignation. And we remember what it was like to be demeaned, disbelieved. I am no man’s wife. I am a daughter, and a friend. But when I was sexually abused, I was a mouthy kid who loved dogs and hated sweater-tights; who wanted to be an artist, or maybe an astronaut. After years of therapy, healing friendships, and good old-fashioned feminism, I am still that mouthy kid. And I vote.
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