Like everyone else on the planet, I have an opinion on the US election. And yes, you’re right, if I had a vote, it would go to Hillary Clinton. Because, you know, the other guy is a sexist, misogynist, self-confessed serial groper.
We all knew this stuff about Donald Trump anyway. So why did every woman across the globe have such a visceral response to his words on that infamous Access Hollywood tape? Why did they send a shiver up our collective spine? Why did First Lady Michelle Obama confess that it shook her ‘to my core’?
Why did all women take the Donald Trump tape so personally?
Well, because all of us have had a Donald Trump rub up against us – quite literally – at one time or another.
The truth is that if you are a woman – no matter what shape, size or colour you may be, or where in the world you grew up – you will have come up against a Donald Trump at some point in your life. Or even several Donald Trumps at different points in your life.
The uncle whose ‘cuddles’ always made you feel uncomfortable as a child but you couldn’t figure out why until you were all grown up. The neighbour who regularly brushed up against you on the common stairwell and didn’t even bother to look apologetic. The faceless man who felt you up on a crowded bus, his marauding hands all over your body. The boys who stood at the street corner to shout out loud comments about parts of your body and what they would like to do with them. The work colleague always ‘accidentally’ touching parts of your anatomy that should remain inviolate. The boss whose eyes undressed you every time you walked into his office.
We have all known these men, these Donald Trumps, who feel entitled to grab a woman, kiss her, molest her, objectify her, treat her like a piece of meat rather than a human being. Because even in the 21st century, the medieval, feudal concept of ‘droit du seigneur’ – the right of powerful men to make free with a woman’s body without her consent – is still kicking ass and grabbing female genitalia with complete insouciance.
What that Donald Trump tape did was to bring back to all women every buried memory of being violated, of having their bodily integrity breached, of being treated with disrespect, of being reduced to a sex object, of having sexual assault ‘normalized’ in social discourse. That was why it felt so personal.
Small wonder then that it inspired such Twitter hashtags as #NotOkay started by Canadian author Kelly Oxford, who shared four stories of her own experiences with sexual assault and encouraged other women to speak up. In less than a week, Oxford tweeted later, 30 million people had read or contributed to the #NotOkay stories while a million women had shared their stories over the course of one night alone.
But for every woman sharing her story, there were probably ten others who remained silent about past assaults on their bodies. And there was another Twitter hashtag that explained why: #WhyWomenDontReport.
Not that any woman needed that explained to her. We know all the myriad reasons women don’t report sexual assault all too well: because we are embarrassed, ashamed, afraid of creating waves, terrified of being disbelieved, and mortified at the thought of being known ever after as ‘that girl’.
It seems so much easier to just brush it off as just another drawback of being a woman in a man’s world, to shrug it away as one of those things that women have to ‘deal’ with and carry on with our lives. Because if you started complaining about every such event, you probably wouldn’t have the time or energy to do much else.
The more important question is why men commit sexual assault. Why do they feel entitled to feast on our body parts? And why do believe that they can get away with it?
Well the short answer is because they can. And they do. Time and time again. And one of the reasons they get away with it again and again is that women are too ashamed, too humiliated, too traumatised to call them out on it.
And because they know that even if we do, we will not be believed but blamed. What were you doing there? What were you wearing? Did you lead him on? How much had you drunk? Why were you alone with him? How come you were out so late at night? Why are you speaking up now? Why didn’t you complain at the time? Why didn’t you try to fight him off?
Why? Why? Why?
The questions pile up until the accuser ends up feeling like the accused. And she starts to believe that she would have been better off if she’d just shut up and put up.
Well, you know what. It is time to tell her that that’s #ItsOkay to speak up. And to listen hard when she does.