Perhaps if women were as valued and respected as men, American society would be the place men claim it is.
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Last week yet another woman, Amy Dorris, came forward to accuse President Donald Trump of sexual assault; the number of women who have levelled such accusations against him now stands at 26. What’s perhaps most remarkable was how little press the news garnered.
At this point, of course, it doesn’t much feel like news; that Trump routinely dehumanizes women is an exhaustively established fact. It could be argued that he dehumanizes a lot of people, but let’s pause to narrowly consider his relationship with women.
Or, no, strike that: Let’s pause to narrowly consider our relationship with women, through the lens that Donald Trump provides.
“We” in this case can be understood as referring to Americans, American voters, or the entirety of successive American generations. Fill in the blank as you will, because that relationship has remained remarkably consistent.
Sure, Western society no longer takes as scientific fact that menstrual blood drives dogs mad, and sure, a hundred years ago America conceded that maybe voting wouldn’t cause cis-women’s reproductive organs to wither, and okay, in the 1970s we did decide that grown women didn’t need a man (a husband, or lacking that, a father) to co-sign their loans. There have been changes.
But even as we acknowledge incremental improvements in the lives of one out of every two Americans, let’s also posit a hypothetical: Let’s consider a man who has set his sights on the White House and is known, far and wide, in court documents and gossip columns, to randomly and at will beat other men. One of the men so assaulted had chunks of hair ripped out of his scalp; some of the victims were teens when the candidate, an adult, laid hands on them. As Election Day approaches, the candidate is heard saying that if you’re famous, you can smack whoever you want; some two dozen men come forward with stories of assault.
Would that man be in the White House?
You see what I did there. You’ve been awake since 2016, and you know that if we swapped out “women” for “men,” we’d be staring at a truncated telling of Trump’s life. And you know exactly where he lives now.
Which is why I’m not here to talk about him. I’m here to talk about us.
Donald Trump is exactly who he’s always been. The behavior of which he once boasted to Billy Bush is behavior in which he’s indulged his whole life. The number of women known to have accused him of assault or predatory behavior may now stand at 26, but I’d bet real money the true number of his victims could be much, much higher. Because grabbing women was just: What He Did. No woman has ever been anything more than a grab-bag of parts to Donald Trump; even before we heard the Access Hollywood tapes, this simple fact was, to borrow a phrase, a known-known.
But imagine, if you will, a society in which Donald Trump hadn’t spent half a century of adulthood being allowed to treat women—and girls—like walking parts-collections. Imagine a society in which men who routinely grab, proposition, leer at, and rape women and girls weren’t allowed to succeed in business, given TV shows, splashed across magazines, and flown around the globe, but were, instead, shunned by polite society, or even, I don’t know, brought up on sexual assault charges.
But in American society men are not, as a rule, held accountable for hurting women. On the contrary, the freedom to hurt women is granted to every cis-gendered male at birth by a society that expects women and girls to prevent that predation on our own, and punishes us when we fail to do so; the more powerful the man, the grander the scope of predation he’s allowed. The only exception concerns white women hurt by non-white men: Imagine, for a moment, if writer E. Jean Carroll had accused not Donald Trump of rape, but Barack Obama.
If you’re white and you doubt me, make no mistake: White women are still collections of body parts. It’s just that the inventory occasionally expands to include our race. Whatever advantage white women have in this department begins and ends with our capacity to serve the white-supremacist patriarchy—again, if you doubt me, I invite you to scroll through the pictures of Donald Trump’s accusers.
The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg puts a razor-sharp point on a painful truth: Women are still fighting, tooth and nail, for the most basic rights, privileges, and powers. Ginsburg played a titan’s role in reversing many gender inequities (the freedom to apply for a credit card without a man’s steadying hand, for instance), but consider the fact that fully half of the country is now facing the very real threat of being stripped of their right to bodily autonomy, because one 87-year-old woman died a natural and expected death. And then, while you’re in that dark place, recall that Ginsburg was one of only four women to have ever served on the Supreme Court over the course of two and a half centuries, and then perhaps also call to mind the number of women who have served as president in that same time-frame.
But how could it be any different, in a society that treats women’s very bodies as forfeit, every day? At any given moment in the course of any given day, a woman is almost certainly being assaulted. Other women are busy planning wardrobes and schedules around the knowledge that they’re not safe in their persons, ever. Some are asking teenaged sons to accompany them in the evening, or texting friends for backup, or buying guns, because they know they’re not safe in their persons. Ever.
That Trump has been a disaster for the American people goes without saying, but we can’t lay the fault for the calamities he’s wrought entirely at his feet. Americans shared in that fault well before we rejected a singularly talented woman—however narrowly, however technically—for a singularly incompetent man; well before his corrupt family and hangers-on moved into the People’s House; well before the death of a legal genius made it possible for an incurious, venal buffoon to threaten women’s modest advancements toward personhood for generations to come.
To prevent the disaster that is Donald Trump, we didn’t need to elect Hillary Clinton. We didn’t need to put more women on the Supreme Court. We didn’t need to close the pay gap or hire more women in STEM or address any of the other gender inequities that a healthy society would have addressed long ago. All we needed to do was value women just enough to not look the other way when men assault them.
On Monday morning, as he explained on Fox & Friends his plans to try to ram through an appointment to replace Ginsburg on the Court, Trump used a phrase that might sound familiar: “When you have the Senate,” he said, “you can sort of do what you want.”
Of course Donald Trump dehumanizes women; so does America. Maybe now, at last, we will begin to see what that costs us.
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