Donald Trump, the oleaginous pre-ejaculate that somehow gained sentience and is now running for president, is a bad dude who says horrible things. These things are not merely “lewd comments,” nor is it “potty-talk.” His comments form an implicit admission and explicit endorsement of sexual assault, which to most folks who have studied Trump for more than fifteen seconds, does not come as a particular surprise. And watching him in the debate stalk Clinton across the stage like the monster from It Follows (and then inexplicably dry-humping a chair, quite unlike the creature from It Follows) only enriches our picture of what a brutish, loutish abuser he is.
Here’s though, where it gets a little weird, at least for me.
Normally, the #NotAllMen crowd comes from the alt-right side of things, like, “Hey, don’t you dare talk about rape culture, because NOT ALL MEN blah blah blah,” and then the progressive side steps up to say, no, not all men, but yes all women, and yes some men. Clearly, certainly, surely some men, and clearly, certainly we need to talk about them.
Given that this entire election has been delivered to us through a portal leading straight to BIZARROLAND, that narrative has shifted somewhat, and it’s honestly a little uncomfortable for me. Now we have the alt-right and GOP side of things saying, “Well, pfft, pssh, this is locker room talk and all men do it,” thus effectively taking on the role of YES ALL MEN, while on the other side, the progressive side, you have a lot of dudes who are saying, NOT IN ANY LOCKER ROOM I’VE EVER BEEN IN, which is to say, they are taking over the position of NOT ALL MEN. Some of the vigorous advocacy of men in this regard has been almost flailingly defensive — things said like, real men aren’t like this, or I’ve never heard this kind of talk, ever.
Hm. Really? Really?
I’d encourage you to read into Kelly Oxford’s hashtag, #NotOkay — here’s an article about it, and note, it’s triggering. (Troublingly, this entire election is triggery.) She asked for women to tweet at her, effectively cataloguing their sexual assaults.
Now, unless we are to assume that these millions of women have been assaulted only by Trump and his cronies, I think it’s woefully fair to expect that these women are telling the truth and have been assaulted by everything from ex-boyfriends to husbands to family members to random men on public transportation. Which is to say, Trump is not a singular creature. He was not created in a vacuum. If there are millions of women assaulted, then there are millions of men doing the assaulting. We need to believe what these women are telling us.
I don’t know that in my life I’ve ever heard commentary like what Trump uttered at quite the level of pure, unmitigated rape culture he’s spouting — his words were, like I said, an admission and an endorsement of that kind of culture. It offered a clear picture of terrible men holding power and expressing that power not on behalf of women but rather, against them. Power serving as a weapon of desire and control.
But just the same, I’ve heard some nasty shit.
I’ve heard men talk about women as if they’re objects. Not people, but just disconnected body parts suitable only for lust. I’ve heard men take away a woman’s identity as a person and turn her into a receptacle for their urges. That’s not to say an admission of desire or an expression of proper human sexuality is bad — but when it comes at the cost of un-personing a woman? When it fails to form the recognition that the woman is a human being with autonomy over herself and her body? Nnnyeah, now we’re starting to get close to Trumptown. I never heard talk like this from close friends, no, but I’ve heard it from some family members, I heard it in high school, and in college, and at jobs. Early on in life I was not good enough to push back against it because that can be tough, and it requires courage that I didn’t then possess. But it’s there now, and I think it’s vital that men summon that courage when they can — and even when they can’t, to understand the danger in themselves and to raise their children (sons in particular) with the understanding of what this is, what it means, and how our sons can grow up to be better men to women and to one another. Because seriously, this shit is real. Toxic masculinity and rape culture are not separate from one another. Those two demons have their tails neatly entwined.
I’ll give you a good example — you ever heard any men give the friend zone talk? You know the drill: oh, I’ve been such a good friend to her, but she won’t date me, won’t sleep with me, oh woe is me, I am relegated to the friend zone. It’s shitty. It’s shitty because it assumes:
a) friendship is just a key to unlock a woman’s panties
b) that decency on behalf of the man means the woman owes him something for his efforts
It is on the same spectrum of what Trump said, just at the other end of it. Trump is speaking from a place of power — he’s rich, he has celebrity, he has unlocked that door and can walk through any time he likes, thank you very much. Friend-zoners are speaking from a place of perceived non-power — oh, I have no power, I’m a nice guy, I should be owed what a guy like Trump can take. It’s the same coin, it’s just the other side of it.
Nigel Farage, that blunt and clumsy thumb, says that this is just how men talk. All of Trump’s supporters are saying that, right? Oh, this is just how men talk, it’s just boasting, it’s just locker room talk. When they bring this up, our defense cannot and shouldn’t be:
“No, men do not speak like this.”
Because men do talk like this sometimes.
And some follow it up with actions, too. Or other men become emboldened by this kind of talk, and then choose to act accordingly. It normalizes all of it.
The trick is, that doesn’t make it okay.
It doesn’t absolve the sin. It does not change the problem. It doesn’t stop the fact that these “just words” are the backbone to actual actions, to a culture both personal and institutional that treats women like toys, like pets, like something you own rather than a person with whom you are equal. But they are real. This happens. One’s vigorous defense of NOT ALL MEN is not appropriate here. What’s appropriate is acknowledging the reality of this by listening to the women at the #NotOkay tag, and saying, okay, this is endemic. These are millions of women with millions of stories. Trump was not made in a vacuum. He was not born from some other place, some heinous clown-stuffed hell-realm. He isn’t a monster out there on his own — he’s a monster we know. And he’s damn sure a monster women know, and watching this election is reminding far too many women that they know guys like him. They’ve been stalked. They’ve been dismissed. They’ve been grabbed. And as men, I think it’s on us to not simply dismiss Trump’s comments simply because we want the purity of the political win. We want to believe that OUR SIDE isn’t like that, like no men we know could ever do such a thing, but statistically, we absolutely do know men like that, even if they’re not saying this stuff out loud.
This is real.
No, it’s not all men.
No, it’s not all “locker rooms.”
But it’s some of them. It’s more than we’d like.
Just ask women. And when you ask them? Listen to their answers.