Published in MidWeek on October 26, 2016.
On the day the Trump bus tape aired, it took me a while to absorb the enormity of what I’d just heard. After all, it’s not every day you hear a candidate for President of the United States boast about kissing and grabbing women against their will. We’re not used to hearing men openly brag about committing sexual assault.
I decided to write about it. I started. And then I stopped. This was hard. I started again. Stopped. Decided to scrap the idea and move on to something else.
And then, during debate number two Donald Trump tried first to evade the direct question posed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. But when asked repeatedly, Trump, in front of a national TV audience of millions, denied he’d ever kissed or groped a woman without her consent.
“No, I have not,” he said. And then he described his conversation as “locker room talk.”
By now you all know what happened. Furious that the candidate lied to the country, woman after woman stepped forward. Their stories were similar. They did not hide their identities. Trump responded badly, attacking their looks and threatening to sue. His surrogates, and many Americans, made excuses for him.
And I felt– awful. I wrote to a friend, “Ugh. I am sick. I have managed to forget a lot of things until all this came up. I’m sick.”
My friend replied, “Yeah I was just talking to my sister and I feel like a lot of women are having stuff brought up that they’d tucked away. Nov 8th cannot come soon enough. So sick of all of this.”
A few days later, I saw this headline in the Huffington Post: “Donald Trump and his Supporters are Actually Making Women Sick.”
So I wasn’t the only one. Women all over the country were– and still are– having unwanted feelings of déjà vu.
Let’s face it. Most of us have endured more than one instance of inappropriate touching, comments and come-ons in public, in private and in the workplace. One of the most egregious situations I found myself in happened very early in my career, with a boss who propositioned me while his wife and my husband were in the next room.
I fled the room and stood next to my husband for the duration of the party. I told my husband later that night, but did not tell anyone else. I never mentioned it to my boss, and he never mentioned it to me. But he continued to make remarks and pay lavish attention to me during the time he was there. One night, as we stood and talked in a dark parking lot, he leaned over and kissed me. I did not respond. I just went home.
It may sound naïve, but back then I didn’t think about it as sexual harassment. Instead I did the tightrope walk I imagine many women did back then, and still do today— laughed off some remarks, ignored others, avoided being alone with him as much as possible. And said nothing.
For a long time I felt ashamed and embarrassed. I wondered if I was to blame. I wondered if my silence meant I was encouraging his behavior. I felt confused, angry, and most of all I felt like a coward. But I wasn’t willing to risk my job.
My fears appeared to have been well founded when, years later, I finally told someone what had happened. He was a friend who knew my former boss, and his response? He defended him, talked about what a great guy he was, how smart, how his behavior was probably a compliment to me.
Think about it—this man, whom I considered a friend, either didn’t believe me or worse, didn’t think it was a big deal. Imagine what would have happened if I’d complained way back then?
If there is a silver lining in the smut Donald Trump has brought to his candidacy and to this country it is this—women have realized they need to be part of the conversation. They are talking about themselves and their experiences. They are telling their daughters, don’t accept this type of behavior from any man—you deserve respect!
Men are thinking about it, too. Many are speaking up, renouncing Trump’s words and actions, not only on behalf of their own daughters, sisters, mothers and wives, but on behalf of decent people everywhere.
And men AND women are telling their sons—don’t be fooled by the macho swagger. This is not what it means to be a man.
It’s been a few days now since Melania Trump tried to excuse her husband’s words as “boy talk.”
If decent Americans have anything to say about it, “boy talk” and “locker room talk” and “boys will be boys” will no longer be code for unacceptable behavior.
So—and I never, ever thought I’d say this—thank you, Donald Trump. Thank you for exposing the rot behind the façade. Thank you for helping us evolve.