In the wake of the released tape of Donald Trump’s “lewd” comments about women, I have seen any number of reactions to what any psychologically healthy person would recognize as a glorification of sexual assault. “Have you forgotten what Bill Clinton did?” is one such reaction. “It’s just locker room talk. Guys talk dirty all the time,” is another. “If women are so outraged by Donald Trump’s comments from 10 years ago, who bought those 80 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey?” is yet another.
I’d like to address these comments here, in an intelligent fashion, rather than wasting my time on the thousands of men and women I have seen posting these comments on Facebook. Two of these comments have a good point hidden behind really terrible reasoning, and one of them is utterly indefensible. But I’ll get into that.
The indefensible response is the one I’d like to address first: dismissing the entire incident as nothing more than “locker room talk.” The insinuation that it is normal for American men to shamelessly admit that they’d like to rape or sexually assault women they find attractive is nothing short of insulting, and it is also disturbing. While I’m sure that there are many XY-chromosome-carrying individuals who partake in this kind of disgusting, animal behavior, it is outrageous to claim that it is something the general male population does with impunity. If this is indeed something that every male does, then this is quite a sickening revelation. Fantasizing about or acting upon impulses to commit sexual violence against a woman is normal? We are people, not pieces of produce to play with at the supermarket.
Claiming that what Trump said is “just words” is part of the problem, too. In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says the following: “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” I’m appalled that self-proclaimed Christians would try to sweep Donald Trump’s comments from 10 years ago (which aren’t all that different from a lot of his comments now, by the way) under the rug as “just words.” No, they’re not just words. They are verbal evidence of how he views women: as pretty playthings that exist solely for his enjoyment. A few generations ago, a man’s word was tied to his honor, and people recognized that what they said had major significance in terms of what kind of person it made them. “Just words”?
The next comment on the list of items to address is the “But Bill Clinton” interjection. Before I get into why this reaction to Donald Trump’s comments is inherently problematic, I want to point out that there is a good point here lurking beneath the surface. While most people who make this comment want to mitigate Trump’s accountability because “Slick Willy did it too,” the actual relevance it has to the conversation is about the culture at large – not politics. Our former President took advantage of women, cheated on his wife numerous times, etc. That much is fact. That much, in light of Donald Trump and recent outrageous judicial decisions like that of Brock Turner, is evidence that there is a major problem with our culture. Rich white guys can get away with anything, including treating women like disposable objects, with impunity. The worst part is, everyday people are the ones making excuses for them – men and women alike! There is an epidemic of entitlement to women’s bodies, entitlement that escalates to sexual violence when its expectations of acquiescence are left unmet. You won’t give me what I deserve because I’m rich/famous/powerful/athletic? Then I’ll take it.
I’ve seen (and heard) this attitude a lot, especially during my time in college. It has proliferated to the non-rich, non-white guys as well. The only reason you’re single is that you’re “nice” to women? The girl you asked out said no to you and yes to someone else, so she’s a whore? She was raped, so she must have been asking for it somehow? Your new girlfriend wants to wait until marriage to have sex, so that makes her selfish?
Nobody has the right to have sex with a woman. Nobody. If a woman give you consent to touch her, that is a privilege – your social status be damned. We are not blow-up dolls for you to pleasure yourself with at will. Our bodies are intricately tied to our minds, and vice versa, because we are both! If our body gets sick, we don’t say “My body is sick,” we say “I’m sick and I feel awful.” To treat our bodies like objects, like possessions, is to completely deny our personhood. Not okay. Ever.
Now to get into 50 Shades of Grey.
First off, I am appalled that they are making a sequel movie for this garbage. Second, I’m disgusted that people have this notion that all 50 Shades is, is kinky erotica. “It’s just fiction about 2 consenting adults having kinky sex.” Um, no. Like the Twilight series it was based on, 50 Shades is a glorification of emotional and psychological abuse, plus the fun benefits of stalking, domestic violence, and rape (yes, Christian Grey ignores Ana’s safe words and physically threatens her outside of the roleplaying – which is rape, and threatened physical violence). That is the good point that I want to pull out of this reaction to Donald Trump; again, while commentators are typically trying to make Trump’s words seem less bad, I choose to see this comment as a fair point in the face of a much greater problem. Our culture does not know the difference between kinky sex and domestic violence, clearly.
We have people defending Trump because what he did and said isn’t out of the ordinary (which should be scary in itself), and people defending 50 Shades of Grey as “harmless fiction.” No, it’s not harmless. According to one study, 25% of female 50 Shades readers were more likely to be involved with an abusive partner. Neither Trump nor abusive trash like 50 Shades is excusable or okay, period. They are symptoms of a greater problem, where violence against women is pooh-poohed away at best and romanticized at worst. People critique Ana Steele as a “weak” character while gushing about how “hot” Christian Grey is; here again, we see our cultural programming of blaming the victim and making excuses for the perpetrator. If it was really so bad, why didn’t she just leave? (Besides the fact that he was an outrageously rich super-stalker who threatened her with bodily harm if she so much as went out to a bar with her friends, you mean?)
The fact that the first 50 Shades of Grey film adaptation was released in theaters on Valentine’s Day should send chills down your spine. Countless women dragged their significant others to see what was marketed as a sexy romance, only buying into the idea that abusing women is normal, permissible, even desirable. Many of these women probably enjoyed the Twilight series as well, where the two main love interests for Bella Swan were as follows: Edward Cullen, a vampire who has a stronger-than-usual desire to hurt and kill Bella but falls in “love” with her and proceeds to stalk, follow, and control her every move… and Jacob Black, a horny Native teenager-werewolf-thing whose only desire is to get into Bella’s pants and whose favored mode of attempting to do so is manipulation and emotional abuse. I can distinctly remember liking Jacob better – a character who, in retrospect, wasn’t all that different from my abusive ex from high school and early college. Some of my high school friends would say things like, “I wish I had an Edward.” “Jacob is so hot.” Identifying as either Team Jacob or Team Edward was the cool thing to do. Hey ladies, which type of abuser do you think is hotter?
Neither Trump’s comments nor the abusive literary trash that our culture glorifies is “just words.” Both are insidious and both are the results of a culture that reduces women to sexual objects for men to take at will – and not only are they the results of that culture, but they are also perpetuating it. And we, the consumers of this culture, are simply increasing the demand for this horrid product.
Feminists wonder aloud on their Twitters, commenting on Facebook post after post, how they can dismantle rape culture. Rightfully so, they become enraged when sex offenders like Brock Turner get off with a slap on the wrist while their victims deal with psychological and physical trauma for years after the fact; they decry predatory men like Donald Trump; they take up their ideological arms when they see other women being treated as objects. However, many seem blind to the areas where they themselves are contributing to the very culture they want to change. Popular music, rap, Hollywood, pornography, women’s fashion, you name it – some of the very things that these feminists claim are “empowering” are doing nothing more than objectifying their fellow ladies. When it comes right down to it, Donald Trump is the way he is because he is a product of a culture that already existed before he did. We should absolutely be upset about instances like the tape that was released, but we will not effectively fight rape culture by focusing solely on one symptom of an epidemic disease. We need to get to the source.
Men are not the only ones we need to hold accountable for rape culture, although most feminists I know would place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the male sex. Women are participating in this culture as well, eating up the false advertising of sexual objectification as female empowerment rather than recognizing that this, too, is merely another tool used to reduce women to “their place.” We need to treat ourselves as people, rather than merely demanding that others do so. Our sexuality is part of us, a huge and powerful part of us, but it is not our entirety. To focus solely on our “sexiness” and our bodies as our primary source of empowerment is to do the exact same thing to ourselves that we complain about men doing, and about our culture doing. Rape culture needs to end, and that end needs to begin with us.
We need to stop glorifying hyper-sexuality as the only means of making ourselves feel good about ourselves. We need to find our value in more than just our bodies, and to view our bodies as part of ourselves rather than as possessions. We need to fight the objectification of women in all mediums, not just the ones we think are “prudish.” We need to push for the right to be uniquely female, in a world where women are only seen as successful if they can be exactly like men (and as sexual objects if they aren’t).
If we’re going to change our culture, it must start with us.