I had a friend over this past weekend remind me of the post immediately preceding this one, where I described my absolute dismay at how implicitly my then-8-year-old daughter perceived and accepted gender bias in our society. "Who would have thought that the last few weeks of the election cycle would make this not so much about our first woman president, but a re-visiting of basic women's rights, in 2016?"
I'll be honest and say that I was not the least bit surprised or shocked to learn of Mr. Trump's statements or the accusations of the dozen women who have come forward to say they were sexually touched and imposed upon by Mr. Trump. The nature of this man is so transparent and so crass that frankly I would have been astounded to learn that he hadn't sexually harassed women.
No; instead I am struggling with a myriad revelations that have emerged since these accusations and tapes became public.
First, the sheer number of women who have come forward to tell their own stories of being sexually assaulted, some by strangers in the street or in bars,but more often by classmates, business acquaintances, authority figures, family members, dates. Millions, tens of millions of women who all say that they have been treated by a man (or by multiple men) as just an object to be taken, used, discounted,shamed. Most kept their stories to themselves for years, either fearing they'd be judged, or disbelieved, or because they felt ashamed, as though they had done something to deserve this treatment. Others had spoken out before, only to suffer the judgement, disbelief, or dismissal they feared. "Oh, that's just guys." "You were drunk!" "He'd NEVER do that!" "Are you SURE??" "Well, if you go out looking like THAT, what did you expect men to do??" The sheer scope and scale of mistreatment of women, today in this nation, is appalling. But in many ways, the reasons for not speaking out earlier are even worse.
Which takes me to my second revelation: the number of people who believe it was OKAY for this man to make horrible, gross, unwanted sexual advances on these women, who believe he has no reason to apologize, who believe that this sort of behavior is just "boys will be boys". Women...WOMEN who think it's okay for themselves and for other women to be treated this way. Who wear shirts in public that say "Trump Can Grab My P***y". Who say things like "he says the things that people like me think all the time." There was even a small but determined group calling for the repeal of the 19th amendment, so our husbands and brothers could cast votes without our pesky p**sies getting in the way! I'm horrified. I'm dumbfounded. I recall a blog post that I did several years ago where I was flabbergasted at the number of people in the United States who believe that evolution isn't a real thing. My level of non-comprehension at that is NOTHING compared to this.
But in the middle of my outrage, I'm also questioning some of my earlier beliefs and positions. Particularly in regard to my opinion about the conduct of President Bill Clinton, when it was revealed in the 1990's that he'd carried on several extra-marital affairs, then most recently with a White House intern. At the time, I said "Just about every powerful man in the history of mankind has kept a mistress. I don't understand why this is such a shock.If he were French, or Japanese, no one would think twice." So this week I had to check myself a bit and wonder if I am applying a double standard to Mr. Trump and Mr. Clinton.
My answer? Yeah, maybe, sort of, not really.
Let me explain.
On one hand, here are two men who are in positions of wealth and power which afford them almost unparalleled access to beautiful, desirable women. And both took advantage of those positions to help fulfill sexual desire. I found one horrifying; the other I greeted with a Gallic shrug. Score one for Beth being a hypocrite.
On the other hand, Clinton carried on extra-marital affairs with women who were, by their own admission, willing participants. Trump on the other hand (while he may also have had willing mistresses) has, by his own account, forced himself on women without their consent, trusting to their fear and shock and star-struck awe to keep him out of trouble. He's also an unrepentant Peeping Tom. Ew. Score one for Beth recognizing the difference between apples and half-rotted durian.
On the third hand, I recognize that, while Monica Lewinsky was a grown woman over 21 and capable of making her own decisions, her position as a White House Intern, alone in a room with the Leader of the Free World, just *might* have left her at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to the question of if and when to say no. Was she really in control of that situation, and were the charges a function of unscrupulous political machinations of off-stage directors, or was she scared and horrified when she was alone with him? Who knows? In any event, I look back now and the slut-shaming the nation perpetrated on her and I think that it was cruel and misguided and wrong. Score one for "yeah...probably not all that straightforward, really".
The take home message is this: Today, in this country, in 2016, a man without principal, powerful or not, can still reduce us to a body part at will, and more often than not, there's not a damn thing we can do about it without exposing ourselves to shame and blame and ridicule, or worse. Despite the fact that we're about to smash the biggest, baddest glass ceiling in this country, we still can't safely let a stranger buy us a drink, work late alone with the boss, walk to the car at night or wear that cute short skirt to the party without taking a risk that can ruin our lives, and not just in that moment when we're grabbed or kissed or violently taken, but for years to come.As women, we have a responsibility to be outspoken about sexual abuse, in whatever form it takes. And to take each other seriously when our sisters speak up about their experiences.
We may have "come a long way, baby", but we have a long way to go.
Post script: My friend Wendy posted this link on Facebook the other day. Just in case we start feeling a bit to comfy in our liberation, to remind us how recently we had a lot less freedom as women. Pay attention, ladies.