Excusing Trump Comments: More Tacit Approval for Violence Against Women

Our society — through advertisements, movies, television . . . and now attempts to ignore and/or accept blatantly predatory comments coming from presidential candidate Donald Trump — gives tacit approval to male domination and violence against women.

Donald Trump — photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

When people accept Trump’s sort of aggressive language against women merely as “locker room chatter,” they reinforce the dangerous idea that men are dominant and can can take any action imaginable to get whatever they want from girls and women.

Most men, thankfully, would never speak in that manner, nor would they consider taking what they want from women without acceptance and permission.  However the sick individuals of our world hear the words of Trump and the acceptance of such remarks as society’s permission for them to exert their “rights” of male domination, allowing them to commit acts of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and even murder of women who resist.

New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow got it exactly right in his October 10, 2016, column entitled, “Donald Trump, Barbarian at the Debate:”

“When the moderator Anderson Cooper said to Trump, “You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You bragged that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?” did Trump actually respond: “No, I didn’t say that at all. I don’t think you understood what was — this was locker room talk”?

Did Trump essentially say that he didn’t actually say the things we all heard him say? Did he actually try to deflect and normalize sexual predation as ubiquitous jocular language intrinsic to maleness itself? Does he not actually realize that this is precisely how rape culture is maintained and perpetuated — through normalization? Does he not register that that answer should scare the daylights out of every woman and shame every man who knows full well how aberrant and not at all normal those comments were?”

More recently Aishah Shahidah Simmons expanded on these ideas in her New York Times article (October 13, 2016), “Still So Much Work to Do to End Violence Against Women:

When high-profile white men assert what they see as their right to do what they want to women, it sanctions all men to do the same. This type of behavior becomes normal, excused as a “boys will be boys” phenomenon. It transcends race and culture because it’s about dominance over women, but more often than not, it is the most marginalized women who suffer the most. Men may not be able to degrade a famous actress to her face, but if they feel free to speak in such vulgar terms about her in private, imagine what they might feel they could say or do to another woman without the same visibility. Or, more broadly, imagine if Trump’s defense of “locker room” language is accepted by judges or those who end up on the jury of a sexual assault case.”

Correcting this deplorable situation is more than being sensitive to the rights of women and girls.  It’s about creating a society that no longer accepts patriarchy and male domination — the gateways to violence against women. What can be done?  The New York Times writer, Peggy Orenstein has some answers in her October 15, 2016, article, “How to Be A Man in the Age of Trump:”

“Boys need continuing, serious guidance about sexual ethics, reciprocity, respect. Rather than silence or swagger, they need models of masculinity that are not grounded in domination or aggression.

Last year, California became the first state to make lessons on sexual consent mandatory for high school students. Meanwhile, the Our Whole Lives program — a model for positive, comprehensive sex education that was developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ — encourages students to dismantle stereotypes from a young age. The Population Council’s It’s All One curriculum offers adolescents lessons about gender, power and rights within intimate relationships (not for nothing: including those discussions in sex ed has been proven to reduce rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections). And, of course, we can meet kids on their own turf, with clever internet resources such as the viral video comparing sexual consent to a cup of tea (just because a person wanted tea last week doesn’t mean she wants it now; unconscious people never want tea) or “The Sexually Enlightened R&B Song.”

The murder of Marilyn Sheppard began as a sexual assault.  When she resisted, she was was brutally murdered. Read my earlier blog post, “Did Society “Authorize” this Murder?

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Did Our Society “Authorize” this Murder?

indexReading Carol Lee Flinders‘ book, At the Root of This Longing, is like being hit with a bolt of lightening called “Truth.” She writes with profound insight about violence perpetrated against females throughout history, culminating with the murder of Polly Klaas – a 12-year-old girl who lived in Flinders’ home town of Petaluma, California. Polly was abducted from her bedroom at knife point and callously murdered by a man named Richard Allen Davis in 1993. The passages that hit me the hardest follow (the bold-face emphasis is mine):

“I had kept such a silence for some time, and the effort had cost me dearly. Polly Klaas’s death was a real watershed, because I simply could not look at it, as I once might have, in isolation. Its resemblance to the only two other violent deaths that had ever touched my life was just not to be denied. The truth that forced itself upon me now involved a connection that I’d been close to making for some time but had resisted. It was that the men who deal out violence upon women and children — the rapists, the kidnappers, the molesters, the pornographers — are the unacknowledged but systematically groomed ‘enforcers’ of a system of values and priorities that it seemed to me inaccurate to identify as anything but patriarchy.”

Flinders goes on to explain that her husband Tim, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade kids in a school located near Polly’s school, reached a similarly disturbing conclusion.

“One morning as he stood before his class trying to talk about galaxies and black holes, the hum of twelve-year-old girls all around, he went absolutely blank. For a moment all he could hear was a voice inside: It could have been one of these girls, one of my own students.

“That first insight set off a kind of chain reaction that he would describe later in his journal: ‘ When her body was found, and we learned what had happened, and I felt the devastation in the faces of my girl students, the voice got more insistent: she was one of my students. What happened to Polly that night, it was clear, had happened to them all. They would never be the same again.’

“But his grasp of things enlarged still more: ‘During the week after Polly’s body was found, and details concerning her alleged kidnapper and murderer came into focus, I realized that he  [Richard Allan Davis] was one of my own, too. I wasn’t prepared for this. . .’

“Tim experienced his connection with Davis in two different ways. As a teacher, he knew firsthand that ‘Richard Allen Davis is sitting right now in fifth-grade classrooms all across the country, alienated, abused, angry, helpless, with little sense of right and wrong, and with nothing to lose.’  Teachers see these kids, they know what direction they’re headed, and they know what it would take to redirect them — know in fact, that in many cases it wouldn’t take that much. They know of such kids, and know how poorly our educational system is equipped to intervene.

“But the connection was not just that of a teacher to a student; as an adult male, Tim also knew ‘that Davis was on a continuum with every other man in this culture.’  The utter contempt for women that had allowed him to destroy a young girl was abnormal only in degree. Like me, Tim had been reluctant to read this crime as an expression of patriarchy; we’d all rather have classed it with earthquakes, meteor showers, bolts of lightening . . . We’d rather have demonized the act and distanced it from everything familiar. But then he saw a quotation attributed to Polly’s alleged kidnapper, describing a violent assault on a woman Davis had abducted several years earlier: ‘We both got something out of it’

“This is the timeless, terrible rationalization Tim recognized, of men who rape women: the great lie that justifies not just the serial rapist but the college boy, as well, who just decides to ‘push things along.’  Try as we might to place Davis outside the norms of human behavior, he is not the utter aberration we would like to believe. ‘He is part of a male culture,’ Tim wrote, ‘that bolstered his feelings, however bent they might have been, however distorted or self-serving or even irrational. At the center of that culture, driving it, is the understanding that sex is domination and that women want it to be. And whenever any man tells a lurid joke or rents a pornographic video or brags about last night’s conquest, we’ve done our little bit to perpetuate it.'”

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How does Flinders’ insight tie to the murder of Mrs. Marilyn Sheppard?   Evidence strongly suggests that Marilyn was murdered by an “enforcer of patriarchy.”  She was murdered by a man who believed that she encouraged and “wanted” his advances; and when she refused, biting and fighting him off with every ounce of her being — he killed her.

Boys who grow up in homes where they witness their fathers or other men using using violence against women, tend to repeat that pattern of behavior in their own lives. Compounding the problem, such boys — who often have been abused themselves — see male domination over women given tacit approval from our society.  They see it every day in movies, on television, in advertisements, video games and in their own homes. They grow up believing it is their right, as males, to dominate women and do whatever they please to get whatever they want.

These boys desperately need help!  Teachers and other adults who sense what is happening can intervene and make a difference.  If just one responsible adult will take action to counsel and care about abused and alienated boys (and girls), lives can be saved!