Confession: when the tape came out of Donald Trump talking about kissing and grabbing women and getting away with it because he was famous, I wasn’t shocked. Not because I already assumed he did those things – though I did – but because, in my late teen to early adult years, that kind of talk was pretty prevalent. My family didn’t speak that way, and my dad branded himself as a feminist from my earliest years, but when I got to college, many of my guy friends just talked that way. No big deal.
I dated the same guy for most of my college years, and was often the only girl in the frat house or in the suite of rooms he and his friends shared, and was usually treated as just “one of the guys.” This meant that I was privy to their unfiltered discussions. Talk that objectified and denigrated women was just normal. And these were not bad guys. These were guys I actually really liked. And while it made me slightly uncomfortable on occasion, I normalized it because those kinds of conversations were so ubiquitous. I didn’t realize until later the damage that it was doing to my own psyche and sense of self-worth. They weren’t doing it to be mean. They weren’t trying to hurt me. And I sincerely believe that they would never have acted on those fantasies or actually assault women. They were just being braggarts and puffing up their chests and making light of sex and probably making themselves feel better in the times when they weren’t “getting any.” But words matter.
I’m ashamed to admit that I never once asked the guys to stop talking that way; that I didn’t realize at the time that I was hurting myself and my friends by staying silent, or worse, laughing along. I enabled that backward, chauvinistic thinking. I made it okay by silently condoning that kind of thinking and speech.
But I guarantee you that none of those guys would speak that way now. They have families, and jobs, and are good, decent, loving people. It was never their intent to hurt anyone back then, and as they’ve matured, so has their thinking.
So what is it about our society that teaches young men that that kind of talk is acceptable? Why do we continue to judge women based on their physical attractiveness and/or availability? It seems like it’s only gotten worse because of social media. We are sexualizing girls at younger and younger ages. There have been several high-profile rape cases which resulted in the perpetrator getting only a slap on the wrist. And now we’ve reached the point where an obliquely chauvinistic and thoughtless man is within a stone’s throw of the presidency.
I apologize that I didn’t speak up back then to my friends. I apologize that I wasn’t brave enough, or smart enough, to figure out how wrong it was. It won’t happen again.