On Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Rape Culture

break-the-silence

Break the Silence. At a sexual assault awareness event. Wisconsin State Capitol, Madison. Photo by Callen Harty.

 

Here’s the deal. Donald Trump’s video discussion with Billy Bush about women is a disgusting display of male privilege, misogyny, and the rape culture in which we live. It is indefensible. Donald Trump’s behavior in that recording is inexcusable, and so is Billy Bush’s behavior. And please, don’t try to defend it or excuse it. You can’t defend Trump by saying that Bill Clinton also treated women badly. He did, and that is also indefensible. Using someone else’s behavior to excuse it is like a child who got caught doing something wrong and then defended himself by telling his parents that all his friends did the same thing. If my neighbor or brother does something illegal or immoral that doesn’t give me license to do the same thing. That kind of justification is the larger problem encapsulated for us. According to Trump’s defenders all men behave like this–it’s just locker room talk–and while saying all men do it is an exaggeration to help their cause it also summarizes the issue: we live in a culture where rape, sexual harassment, objectification, and degradation of women’s bodies is regularly accepted and excused.

Many of Trump’s supporters are now out there accusing the growing number of victims of being liars or seeking fame and fortune. To be clear, in this society one doesn’t get fame and fortune by claiming to be a victim of sexual assault. It is a far greater likelihood to have abuse and shame heaped upon oneself after coming out as a survivor. Victims of sexual assault would typically much rather not have to be public about what happened. They would much rather that it hadn’t happened at all, but we live in a society where assault is all too commonplace.

There are memes asking why these stories are coming out now, during the election, as if to suggest that it is some grand plot by the Democrats or the government to ensure a Clinton victory in the election. If it were that easy the same ploy would be used in every election against every candidate. The reality is that victims of sexual assault often feel alone and afraid and because of our patriarchal culture that devalues the human body they don’t feel they will be believed. So they stay silent. They may tell a few friends and family, but they don’t go to the police. Instead they go to a therapist and try to piece their lives back together as well as they can. What often happens, though, is that someone else will finally come forward or the rapist will be caught, and once that happens a floodgate opens and sometimes a few and sometimes dozens of other victims will realize they were not alone, that now that someone else has accused the perpetrator they feel they may now be believed, and they will finally come forward, sometimes decades after the abuse.

This is what happened with the child molestation cases in the Catholic Church. Children who were abused did not believe that anyone would believe a child’s word against that of a priest. They stayed silent, sometimes for decades, until other cases were reported in the news or until others named the same priest as a perpetrator. This is what happened in the Bill Cosby case, and in other cases of famous men who thought they could get away with rape because they were famous and powerful. It also plays itself out repeatedly in cities and towns across the country on a daily basis, in stories that make the news and in stories that we never hear. It is what is now happening with Donald Trump. Women who thought that no one would believe them, or who questioned themselves about whether what they knew happened had really happened, are gaining the strength to come out about it because they finally know they are not alone.

Donald Trump’s behavior is inexcusable. Even if he never touched a single woman inappropriately–which seems unlikely at this point–the attitude expressed by him that he could do so and that he has a right to do so because of his fame and power is not acceptable. It is simply not acceptable. I would hope that most men do not talk the way that he talked on that videotape. I would hope that most men do not believe they have that kind of power over others’ bodies. And for those like Scott Baio who are out there saying that women talk about men the same way when they gather together I would hope that it is also not most women who behave that way.

We live in a society that devalues women, children, and others. Just yesterday it was reported that a man in Montana who had raped his own twelve-year old daughter was to be sentenced to months in prison. Months! Not years. Earlier this year Brock Turner was convicted of rape and has already served his time. Football stars, movie stars, and others are still held up as role models after we find out they have molested women and children. Men like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton are given passes for their behavior. They are ardently defended by people who excuse or minimize their behavior. They are the product of the rape culture in which we find ourselves and we need to change that culture.

We need a major overhaul of our culture. We need to come to a place where we understand that each person’s body is their own and that no one has the right to it without consent. We need to make it unacceptable to objectify a person’s body, to make sexually suggestive (or the opposite) comments about someone based upon their appearance. We need to support women and men when they are victims of sexual assault or harassment. We need to instill in men that spaces where men gather are not spaces where violent language about women is acceptable. We need to take responsibility for doing what we can individually to prevent this kind of language and behavior.

Donald Trump has shown himself to be a disgusting man. So have many others, including those defending his behavior. They do not represent the best of humanity. They represent the worst of us. The rest of us have to rise up and stand with those who are victimized by men like him. We need to call out misogynistic behavior when we encounter it. We need to remake our culture into one that respects everyone, not just in lofty words, but in actions, and we need to do that now.

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About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Both are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he has been an actor, writer, and director since 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events.
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