First published by The Independent, 9th October 2016
In a leaked tape from 2005, Republican nominee Donald Trump can be heard bragging to TV host Billy Bush about how he is able to use his fame to sexually assault women. He describes his attempt to “fuck” a married woman and his penchant for kissing and groping women without waiting for them to give consent. He tells Bush that “you can do anything”, even “grab them by the pussy”, if you’re famous.
Several key Republican figures have been swift to condemn Trump, including Mitt Romney who tweeted: “Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.” Former 2016 Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, who has backed himself into an increasingly tight and embarrassing corner by his flip-flop endorsement for Trump, tweeted: “Every wife, mother, daughter – every person – deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The key word here is “person”. Every woman deserves to be treated with dignity and respect because she is a person, not because she’s a wife, mother or daughter. This couching of women as appendages to their husbands, fathers and offspring suggests that men might not be able to see Trump’s comments as “bad” if they can’t imagine women as being intimately connected to them. They can’t – or won’t – empathise with women as fellow human beings; they will only go so far as to think of their wives.
Trump is currently polling at near-unseen levels of unpopularity among female voters. He has previously referred to women as “dogs”, “pigs” and “slobs”, accused Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly of being on her period because she asked him difficult questions in the first primary debate, and called a Venezuelan winner of the Miss Universe pageant “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping”. When taken to task over the last incident, Trump falsely claimed that Alicia Machado had made a sex tape, as if that would in some way discredit her.
Trump was sued for sexual harassment in 1997, with the plaintiff Jill Harth describing him groping her, pushing her against a wall and trying to kiss her. Reportedly, she remembers vomiting to keep him away from her. She dropped the lawsuit a few weeks after it had been filed, but has restated her allegations this year. Trump’s former wife Ivanka used the word “rape” to describe an assault by Trump during a deposition in the 1990s.
After the tape of Trump’s blatantly misogynistic comments was released, former Miss Utah Temple Taggart has recounted an instance of Trump kissing her on the lips without consent when she was 21, and CNN anchor Erin Burnett has quoted a statement from a female friend describing the same behaviour, right down to the Tic Tacs.
He might have released an apology video, but Trump’s attempt to say sorry quickly devolved into an attack on the Clintons, accusing Bill Clinton of abusing women and Hillary Clinton of bullying her husband’s alleged victims. Trump has since retweeted a woman who claims to have been raped by Bill Clinton, as though he can make the latest blundering controversy go away by making the Clintons appear even more monstrous in the eyes of the public. This is a strange strategy for a man with a current federal lawsuit filed against him, brought by “Jane Doe”, a woman who claims to have been tied to a bed, hit in the face, and raped by Trump when she was 13 years old. Jane Doe has the support of a witness and describes her rape as occurring when she attended the party of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile. Trump has always denied the allegations.
Former model and Trump’s third wife Melania has urged voters to forgive her husband in a statement issued by the Trump campaign. She said: “I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.” Unfortunately, Trump’s heinous comments are part of the “important issues facing our nation and the world”, because they are part of rape culture.
Rape culture describes a social environment where the bodily autonomy of women is not recognised, where rape and sexual assault are normalised, and where men are not held accountable for their actions. In the leaked tape, Trump’s remarks manage to neatly espouse all three of those attitudes. He was demonstrably proud of how his celebrity status allowed him to kiss and touch women without their consent. This is sexual assault. This is a violation of women. This tells women that their bodies are not their own: they are merely objects to be fondled by men who know they can get away with it.
Canadian writer Kelly Oxford appealed on Twitter for women to share their stories of “pussy-grabbing” after Trump’s memorable remarks from 2005 were leaked, and was met with an outpouring of grief, pain and heartbreaking resignation. Millions of women responded with their experiences of sexual assault and rape culture and replies flooded in at a rate of 50 per minute, for 14 hours. I added my own story to the cacophony of voices.
Trump is a dangerous, grotesque political parody, and should be removed from the presidential race. His misogyny is so unabashed and so obvious that he shouldn’t be entrusted with a community bake sale, much less the White House. If he hasn’t got the decency to drop out of the race, I can only hope that America’s women will use their votes on 8 November to send a clear message.
We are not pussies to be grabbed. We are people.