Trigger Warning: Violence Against Women
I have so many things to say about the Trump Access Hollywood tapes that I don’t even know what to say. I am tempted to say nothing. But, like Michelle Obama and millions of women all over the world, I can’t stop thinking about this.
Trump’s words hit so close to home for me and for women, because we all know how true they are. It isn’t that Trump’s expressed beliefs about women’s bodies, that you can do anything you want with them, is so uncommon. Actually, this is the prevailing belief in our culture, as exposed by the fact that I don’t know a single woman who has not experienced sexual abuse or assault or domestic violence.
I am only 26, but I knew this by the time I was 17 and publishing my first zine with my friend Mary Downing. We called the zine Anonymous, and put out an open call for anonymous submissions, wanting to create space for content that would be censored if it was attached to a person’s name and identity.
The first submission we got was a page torn out of a journal: a story of sexual assault, and while this piece of paper weighed heavy in our hands, it did not come as a surprise. The teenage girl who wrote that submission understood our culture’s beliefs about women’s bodies as well. She wrote “I read a statistic once that stated that 1 in 6 women in America are raped. Numbers mean so little when they don’t affect you, hm? Five of my friends (six including K) have been raped, as well as my sister and myself. We are all under the age of 20. Does that seem like one in six? It doesn’t to me.”
I can’t believe I have to write this. I don’t want to write this.
The part that pisses me off the most is that I haven’t been pissed off (enough) before.
It’s not that I haven’t been angry. Almost two years ago I got out of an abusive relationship where my body was threatened in passive and active ways every single day. And trust me, after that I was angry. Inside my own head, I yelled at my ex for most of every day for many months. While I was driving to work, washing the dishes, walking down the street, mending a sweater.
That part, the overt violence, the literal abuse, feels at once too obvious to bother talking about and also still too raw to write down. We know that this kind of violence affects women in profound and devastating ways. There are resources for this kind of violence, not enough resources, but resources. The average person on the street will agree that it is not okay to hit your partner.
What makes me angry now is that for my whole life I have known that violence against women is not acceptable, and I have also known that the agency I have over what happens to my own body is minimal and will be ignored or removed by men in large and small ways at whim. I am angry because this has been presented to me as so absolute and so perfectly normal that I have accepted it.
Sure, I have protested. I have had fiery conversations with other women about our shared experiences. I have devised very clever responses to yell back at cat callers. I have been trained in and taught the comprehensive Sexuality Education curriculum Our Whole Lives, with a strong focus on sexual ethics and active consent. But still, deep down, I knew that at the end of the day, men could do whatever they want with my body, with no consequences at all.
Once, sharing a bed with a male friend in a room full of other sleeping people, he started kissing me, started to put his hand in my bike shorts. I turned my face away, took his hand and pushed it away from me, forced to try to communicate silently so as not to wake our sleeping friends. He tried again, and I again stopped him, pushing his hand more forcefully away. I lay there in the dark as he rolled away from me and eventually went to sleep.
The next day we got up and went on with our lives. There was no conversation about what had happened, but what surprises me the most in hindsight is that I felt no anger. I felt no need to initiate a conversation myself, to demand an explanation or apology. This person was and is my friend, is well-liked and respected in our radical activist community, and I took it as par for the course that “boys will be boys ” and men do this sort of thing. I just forgot about it.
Recently, this same friend and I were sitting on my front porch late at night and he asked me if I remembered this incident. I hadn’t thought about it since the day it happened, but I did remember once he told me the story again. He said, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. You tried to tell me to stop and I didn’t listen. That was fucked up.”
The act of this apology was a really humble and vulnerable and strong thing for him to do, and is a testament to his character and the thoughtful way he aspires to live his life. If you’re out there reading this and you think you owe somebody an apology, go do it today. If you don’t know how to apologize and you need some guidance, read this article.
This incident is a drop in the bucket when you look at the scale of violence women experience every day, or or even the scale of violence I have experienced as an individual. I tell it to say that this conversation is not just for people who wake up with bruises the next day. It matters the way we are treated, and the way we treat each other, and we don’t need to sit around waiting for something “really bad“ to happen to us before we get pissed off. We don’t need to excuse our friends from accountability because we love them or because they are good people or because they do good work.
If you need it, take this as permission: be mad about the ways you are disrespected and dehumanized, if they are big and if they are small. Demand better. Demand apologies. Or don’t, but know that you deserve them. Get safe, be safe, and take care of yourself.