Upon hearing or seeing something outrageous from a presidential candidate, I do what everyone else does: I vent to like-minded people so my outrage is effectively validated.
The second thing I do is look at the comment/action/gesture through the lens of a woman raising two boys. Then I translate that comment/action/gesture into a teaching point – what can I do as a mother to ensure my boys do not end up like that.
Which is why I paid close attention to the sexual assault allegations against Donald Trump. I heard the sound bites, I watched the cringing video from Access Hollywood, and I digested an obscene amount of commentary from both sides.
I also unearthed myriad articles about Bill Clinton’s sexual assault history – because let’s be fair here, all accusers deserve a voice – and reviewed lists of politicians who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct while in office (and those lists are lengthy). When it comes to unwarranted groping, flirting, touching without consent, and using offensive language, sexual assault and misconduct knows no political party affiliation.
When Donald Trump says he doesn’t even know these women – his accusers – I believe him. I believe he has no memory of groping a woman on a flight in the 80s. I believe he has no memory of trying to kiss a receptionist in Trump Tower. I believe he has no memory of walking into a dressing room full of disrobed pageant queens.
Why do I believe him? Because when you don’t respect women, when “bro culture” allows this behavior with no real consequence, when women remain too afraid to speak up and defend themselves, sexual assault and misconduct become as commonplace as ordering from a menu, as normal as a handshake, as unforgettable as turning right on red.
He has no memory of these women because they were nothing to him.
Are there outliers? Sure. Some women might be eager for the spotlight. Some might be embellishing, and some might be outright lying. However, we’ve seen enough video and heard enough soundbites to apply context clues. We know enough about Trump’s megalomania to discern that he doesn’t have a record of respecting women.
That being said, let me tell you something: I remember the name of the boy who snapped my bra strap in sixth grade. You remember that time, don’t you? That awkward age when the relationship between boys and girls shifted into some weird, gray area because girls became physically interesting and boys started testing boundaries. We, as young women, hungry for attention and uncertain of the source of our worth, let a slew of things happen… hands on knees, the intentional elbow brush against breasts in the school hallway, the slip of a hand from between the shoulder blades to the low back to the behind… It meant a boy liked you, or perhaps sensed your low self-esteem and capitalized on it, even when the actions and comments were uncomfortable. We lacked the courage to speak up, to push them away, or to tell them, in the most colorful words, to bug off.
I guarantee you that the boy who snapped my bra strap doesn’t remember doing so. None of the boys who tried to look up my skirt remember doing so. I’m almost certain that the boy who I had to push away from me and lock the door and continually say through the peephole, “Go away,” because he wouldn’t take no for an answer doesn’t even remember my name.
But I remember his. His name was Tony.
It was Billy who ran up to me on the playground in sixth grade and snapped my bra strap, and he was also the one who made fun of the girls who weren’t developed enough to wear one.
There are three more names I’d like to mention, but now isn’t the time, and this isn’t the place.
I have sat through hour-long interviews where the man I’m interviewing looks back and forth, back and forth between my eyes and my chest, and I’ve said nothing. More recently I’ve felt uncomfortable in casual conversation with a certain man – who knows I’m married – whose compliments go too far, and I’ve said nothing. (Don’t worry. Chuck knows who he is.)
As recent as on the flight to Key West, a man gripped my hips and shifted past me in the narrow aisle on the way to the bathroom, so intrusive that the front of his pants rubbed against the back of my pants while I was bending over to pick up my carry-on bag. A simple tap on the shoulder and “excuse me” would’ve sufficed. But I said nothing.
Lest you think I see women as victims, I can assure you – we have responsibilities too. We can discuss the innate power girls and women know they have in their sexuality. We can acknowledge when girls and women have used their sexuality to persuade and sway the decision or action of a man. We can recognize when a girl or woman has positioned herself in harm’s way. Men and women alike play The Game.
But that is different and separate from the ongoing and underlying behavior acceptable in boys that lay a foundation for a lifetime of sexual misconduct and disrespect.
To be exact, as long as snapping bra straps and trying to look up skirts and stealing kisses and catcalling and unsolicited flirting is accepted as “boys will be boys,” [some] men will continue to see women as a perpetual playground. It starts early. It starts when they’re very young. It’s in this arena, the one I’m in with my ten and thirteen-year-old, where I must be different, be bold. It is now that I tighten my view and look directly at my boys and consider, “What else can I teach them? What else must they know?”
Case in point: On the way home from our homeschool co-op yesterday Jeremy told me that one of the boys in his circle of friends accepts dares each week. When I asked what the dare of the day was, he said, “To go put his arm around a girl.”
“That is not okay,” I told him. “Do not ever put your hands on a girl without her permission.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s fine to give a friend a hug or a high five or whatever, but don’t ever throw your arm around a girl, or touch her in any way, as part of a dare or means to show off. She is not a toy.”
“Okay,” he said. “But I wasn’t the one –”
“I know you weren’t the one, but I need to you to understand girls aren’t to be treated like that. That girl wouldn’t have known she was part of a dare. She would’ve walked away with an entirely different interpretation, and she wouldn’t have known there was a bunch of boys laughing at her expense.”
Am I overreacting? Maybe. Maybe this is just how boys and girls figure things out. But since I’ve been on the receiving end of dares, teasing, harassing, catcalling, and other behaviors that chiseled away at my self-worth, I believe it’s important to tell my boys what’s okay and what’s not. I correct inappropriate comments and interject a woman’s perspective so the boys understand that words can have just as much power as actions. Motherhood is my ultimate calling and charge, so I take each step of it seriously.
So yeah. I believe Donald Trump doesn’t know those women. I believe there are plenty of men who don’t realize they’re offending women and acting inappropriately. And I wonder if it’s because we aren’t diligent enough in the earliest years when we have the most power to shape our boys into honorable men.